I believe in Miracles
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
I believe in Miracles
Sitting motionless in my web strap seat inside a C-130 aircraft (Google this), earplugs blocking out the mind numbing drone of the engines, my mind attempted to digest the extraordinary events of the last three days. Except for a few personnel and some gear, the belly of the large plane seemed empty. The lights dimmed for takeoff, I hadn’t even noticed the Iraqi prisoner sitting Indian style, blindfolded and harnessed to the floor, under the constant surveillance of an armed guard. I asked myself, “How did I not notice that?”. Perhaps I was just too tired, but more likely that I just couldn’t believe what had transpired. All I knew was my heart was full of thankfulness for all the small miracles that had just occurred.
Just three days earlier we were concerned about how we were going to pull off what at the time seemed somewhat impossible (I know better than to think that way). The Women of Future Iraq were sponsoring a week long women’s conference in the beautiful city of Sulaimaniyah (Google) in Northeastern Iraq, some two hours from the Iranian border. Orchestrated by my dear friends Fareed and Joan Betros (who were bringing a large group of Gold Star Mothers (Google) from the states), I was expected to bring a large number of boxes full of handicrafts for the women to work on during the second day of the conference.
Miracle One: Round trip for two
Sulaimaniyah is a large city of some 400,000 people, in what is considered to be Kurdistan (Google). Even so, there is really no US military presence, with no regular flights there (that we were aware of) and normally way outside of my lanes of travel. There were two of us traveling, the LT and myself, without any idea of how we were going to get where we needed to go. We just knew it would happen one way or another.
Over the last week or so, I had put out the word to a few people I thought might be able to help, with no real expectation of hearing anything back. One contact lead to another contact, leading to a possibility and by the time Friday rolled around, we had two viable options, pretty much out of the blue, of getting us to our destination in Suly (as it is often referred to).
One of the options was to accompany a General who was expected, unbeknownst to us, to speak at the conference. This later proved to be the best option, as on Sunday morning there we were, the General and his entourage in one Blackhawk and the two of us in the other. Unbelievable that we would be traveling with a General to the Women’s Conference in Suly.
The General was only staying a couple of hours, not exactly what we were hoping for. So now the problem was how do we get back? Never yea worry.
Miracle Two: The arrival of handicraft humanitarian supplies.
The email from Fareed read, “We are planning on utilizing the handicraft supplies on the second day of the conference, so please bring as many boxes as you can”. Up until that time I really hadn’t bothered to check the conference itinerary, upon doing so I was alarmed to discover that the whole second day was built around the utilization of the handicraft humanitarian supplies. The problem was, up until a few days earlier, I hadn’t received them yet and if I had they would be in Mosul not in Sulaimaniyah.
Knowing how things usually go, we had several contingency plans in place to make sure our bases were covered. Back in June we had sent 30 pallets of boxes in one of the forty foot ocean containers but the Humanitarian Center in Kuwait had, inadvertently or not, sent the container to Afghanistan. Many other boxes had been sent to me in the mail but hadn’t arrived yet. Other boxes were loaded in the containers we sent with us when we left the states, but they hadn’t arrived yet either. Needless to say we were a little concerned. The conference was only a few days away and we had no boxes of humanitarian supplies.
Word of numerous people back home praying for our success help to bolster our unwavering faith. We knew where there is a will there is a way. We knew something was going to happen to make this all possible. Surprisingly a few days before the conference the Sgt in the mail room called to inform me that some 25 boxes had arrived for Chief Wiggles. Although very grateful for the news, the dilemma now was how are we going to get so many boxes to Suli?
25 boxes was ok though, not nearly what he had hoped for, but ok. We still had hope that our container of military equipment would arrive with the four pallets of humanitarian supplies we had loaded in. We have been in country now for over a month and still there was no word when the container would be arriving, until earlier in the week, when we got word that the container was moving and should be arriving this weekend. Perhaps too late, we thought, to do us much good.
Late Saturday afternoon the word came that the container was in the yard. Wondering if it wasn’t too late, we dashed over to the yard, located the container, swung open the doors to find our boxes right there at the end of the container, ready for the taking. Grabbing around 25 more boxes, we were on our way over to the heliport.
Miracle Three: Loading the boxes
Earlier on Saturday, the day before our departure, we had dropped off the boxes at the heliport (Having gained permission from the General the day before to load the original 25 boxes on the Blackhawk). Now with an additional 25 boxes in the back of our truck we went back to the heliport only to be told that it was too late and we would have to come back in the morning.
Sunday morning, backpacks and battle rattle (Google) in hand, with 25 boxes piled up in the pickup truck, we headed to the Blackhawks. One of the pilots, upon seeing the additional boxes, told us the birds were full and there would be no room for the additional boxes. Hearing that we stood there somewhat stunned by his words, thinking silently to our selves, there must be a way. Come on, the other miracles had already happened. We had come this far, there was no way this wasn’t going to happen, after all the boxes on the conex (Google) made it in time.
Fortunately, the pilot, seeing the disappointed looks on our faces, motioned for us to bring them out to the bird, so he could see how many would fit. As our luck would have it (luck had nothing to do with it), one of the other flight crew members thought all the boxes could fit if they reloaded everything into the front row of seats. A few minutes later the last box was loaded and we were on our way to Suli, with all 50 plus boxes aboard.
Miracle four: The Women’s conference
My eyes fixated on the ground below, I watched as we flew over the dry desert terrain, noticing the occasional green fertile farm lands along the banks of the Tigris River. We headed east into the mountainous region of Kurdistan (Northeastern Iraq). Surprised by the height of the mountains, they appeared much like the mountains of Utah, even majestic.
Excited for the journey ahead, my heart was full of gratitude, as I pondered the course of events that had lead up to our departure. I couldn’t believe we were actually on our way to the Kurdish city of Sulaimaniyah. I couldn’t stop smiling the entire way, as happiness filled my soul, knowing that we had been truly blessed. Someone above was actually down in the weeds with us making sure all the little things that needed to happen, happened.
A small band of Kurdish Peshmerga troops (Google) in their vehicles could be seen as the Blackhawks landed. A small bongo truck (Google) pulled up to the side of the Blackhawk to unload our precious cargo. And we were all swept away through the crowded streets of Suli, our convoy weaving in and out of traffic filled streets, the General and us in tow.
Police and other security forces stood ready to react to any disturbance or interference as our convoy pulled into the parking lot of the Sulaimaniya Convention Center (Google). With the General and his entourage leading the way, we followed in the rear as we went up the stairs and into the center. We were ushered through a long line of Iraqi/ Kurdish women greeting us with smiles and handshakes on both sides. I could hear the low rumble of a large number of people talking, as I walked up to the meeting room doors, seemingly inviting us to enter. Upon entering, I was immediately embraced by two Gold Star Mothers from Salt Lake City, Utah, two individuals I have known for some time. They made such a commotion, screaming out Chief Wiggles, as I entered that every reporter or photographer in the room couldn’t help but turn to take a picture of our reunion. It was so great to see them again in such an unlikely place for Gold Star Mothers, Iraq.
A dozen Gold Star Moms from the states joined together with some 25 Iraqi war widows, to share a day in time, to heal their wounds and kindle friendships. As banners of “Seeds of Eternal Friendship” hung around the room, women told their stories of lost loved ones and proclaimed a day of peace and love.
And as was reported by a news agency, many of the women attempted to put into words in their blogs, the essence of the day their lives were changed forever.
“The gathering in Iraq’s mostly peaceful northern Kurdish region was far from the sites of the roadside bombings or battlefields that accounted for the vast majority of the more than 4,400 U.S. military deaths since the 2003 invasion, but it was still a powerful experience for some mothers to even step foot in Iraq.
Some kissed the ground during their arrival Saturday.
“I was overwhelmed at touch down. We were really on the ground in Iraq. I was almost in disbelief that it was real. This is where my son spent the last days of his life, and now, I was there,” said a blog entry by Amy Galvez of Salt Lake City, whose son, Cpl. Adam Galvez, was killed in 2006.
In another web post she said she would return home a “different person.”
“I will be in the country where my son spent the last days of his life,” she wrote. “I’ll have visited the land where a piece of my heart will remain forever.”
The beginning of the Americans’ three-day trip — organized by a Virginia-based women’s aid group, Families United Toward Universal Respect — was attended by officials from State Department and Kurdish regional government.
Nawal Akhil, deputy chief of the group’s Baghdad office, said the goal was to “talk about their suffering to find a way to ease it.”
“We share the same ordeals and suffering — the American mothers who lost their children and the Iraqi mothers who lost their loved ones during the Saddam Hussein-era and in the violence since 2003,” said Akhil.
Elaine Johnson, of Cordova, South Carolina, said the trip allowed her to come to terms with the loss of her son, Spc. Darius Jennings, killed in November 2003 in Fallujah as the insurgency that went on to rip the country apart gained strength.
“Before making this trip, I was angry for my child’s death,” she said. “But after making this trip, I feel peace, peace, peace.”
The dozens of Iraqi mothers included Kurds whose family members were killed in Saddam’s 1980s scorched-earth campaign to wipe out a Kurdish rebellion in the north that claimed at least 100,000 lives, including thousands in poison gas attacks.
“When I hugged an American woman we couldn’t express ourselves in words, but what helped us to express our feelings and understand each other were our tears. We found them as a true expression to our grief and suffering,” said Peroz Nasser, a 55-year-old Kurdish woman who lost her parents and two brothers and two sisters during Saddam’s attacks.”
The General and I were both called to the stage to share a few words and later to receive an award for the small part we have played in the big scheme of this event. I was honored and so humbled to share this incredible event with so many wonderful women, mothers, and daughters. While on stage the General leaned over to thank me for my efforts under the auspices of Operation Give over the last 6 years and coined me or in other words gave me his Challenge Coin (Google). I was honored to receive his coin, which now adorns my plastic dresser in my CHU.
Needless to say it was a full day; the specific details of the rest of the day’s events are immaterial. Amidst the challenges of this conflict ridden nation, for a moment time stood still, as women from all walks of life, from various ethnicities, and with perhaps different religious and political views, all under one roof came together to heal, to love, to share and to find things in common.
There were members of the Iraqi Parliament present and even the First Lady of Iraq, Mrs. Talibani spoke. Aside from the General’s staff there were section chiefs with the PRT (Provisional Reconstruction Team) (Google) and other prominent figures in attendance.
Exhausted from the emotional nature of the day and in true female fashion, for a change of pace they all decided to go shopping. I opted out, deciding to crash in my room at the Sulaimaniyah Palace Hotel (Google) until dinner time. Being a Green Suiter, as I am called, I thought it might be best if I didn’t traipse around the shopping markets in uniform, with my pistol strapped to my side, as if to put a bull’s-eye on my back (the Lt. opted to do the same). (The person at the front desk of the hotel had even asked us to put our pistols in our room so as not to send the wrong message to other hotel patrons).
Seeing it was dinner time, I ventured downstairs to the restaurant adjacent to the hotel lobby, to find a virtual cornucopia of exquisite Iraqi cuisine laid out in true buffet style. The women, many Kurdish displaying their traditional evening wear, all gathered together to enjoy the abundance of food and good company. It was incredible.
Wanting all of us to take full advantage of the night in Sulaimaniyah, the hotel had prepared the banquet/ dance hall equipped with DJ, for our entertaining pleasure. In traditional fashion, as the Kurdish music rang through the hall, one by one the Kurdish women rose to their feet to take their place in the Kurdish Halparke (Google on Youtube), hand holding dance line. As the Kurdish women, with their bobbing up and down rhythmic gyrations, danced in perfect unison, many of the Gold Star Mothers attempted to imitate their movements, to no avail in most cases. It was a fairly simple dance step, visually quite appealing and if one could just get the shoulder motions and keep the beat, it was not that hard to figure out.
After watching others attempt and fail, I waited and watched until I felt I could replicate their movements. I got in line and within minutes I had it down, which brought all the cameras out, watching an older man in military uniform performing the Kurdish Halparke Dance. Actually really an easy beat to dance to, one that normal free style hip hop dance steps can be applied, which is of course where it went afterwards.
Miracle Five: Handicrafts for the Poor
The next morning, with the contents of the boxes spread out on tables in the Convention Center, the women picked a spot and began making handicrafts. It was quite a sight to behold. Iraqi and Kurdish women, Christians – Sunnis and Shiites, professionals and homemakers, educated and illiterate alike, all sitting side by side, sewing and knitting and quilting and making handicrafts from the raw supplies in the humanitarian boxes. It was unbelievable. They worked and worked until basically all the supplies were used up, turned into finished products and ready for distribution the next day to the Kurdish area known as Halabja (Google), where Saddam had used poisonous gas to kill several thousand Kurds back in 1988.
Words cannot describe the joy and happiness that permeated throughout the building. The Salt Lake Tribune had sent a reporter along with the Gold Star Mothers to capture the essence of their trip on film and in word. I can’t wait to see his report.
Miracle Six: Returning to Mosul
My cell phone rang and the voice on the other end informed me they would be over at 1930 to pick us up from the lobby of the hotel. Fortunately, we were able to arrange for our pickup and for a flight back to Mosul later that evening, the final miracle. Wishing we could stay longer to enjoy the rest of the conference, but knowing we needed to get back, reluctantly we boarded the vehicles and headed to the airport (after making a pit stop at their houch for food, drink, bathroom, and a little TV time)(Google houch). Regardless of our regret for having to leave so soon (having only spent one night and two days in Suli), we were completely content. Everything had gone as planned, smoothly without even the smallest of hiccups.
Sitting motionless in my web strap seat inside a C-130 aircraft (Google this), earplugs blocking out the mind numbing drone of the engines, my mind attempted to digest the extraordinary events of the last three days. What a trip it had been.
Take care and be grateful
“Doing it the wiggles way”
Sheiks Come to Dine
Friday, September 24, 2010
Sheiks Come to Dine:
Tonight the full moon cast its brightness down on the rock covered dirt roads at FOB Diamondback (Google this) (Where I live), making it possible for me to walk back from my office without using a flashlight. On any other night around 2000 or 2100, as I would make my way back to my CHU (Containerized Housing Unit) (Google this and mine is not a wet CHU, you will know what I mean), I would have to utilize a small flashlight in my pocket so not to stubble along the way. During the day this sand, mud and dirt covered camp, looks like Shanty town, very “ghetto-ish“, with its dirt roads, garbage littered open areas, compact living conditions and worn down cinderblock buildings, but at night the blanket of darkness hides the scared face of the camp and makes me feel I am somewhere else, somewhere clean.
It is a strange thing when even though it is still over one hundred degrees at midday we comment that it is starting to cool off (We actually think 100 degrees is cool). With the occasional cooler breeze, the mornings and the evenings don’t feel too bad, actually somewhat bearable. With vivid memories still fresh on my mind, I will take this any day over the hot furnace like temperatures of a normal Kuwaiti summer we experienced some three weeks ago. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t out walking around in it day after day, fully uniformed, long sleeves, military cap on our heads. Even so, having adapted to this several times before, overall it really doesn’t bother me anymore. Bring on the extreme temperatures, or as we are supposed to be chanting at the end of every formation, “All Hell can’t stop us”.
I found a mouse trapped in my garbage can today, one more sign that our Company Command center (where my office is) has become home to a whole pack of mice. (Seeing them scurrying about has become an all too common daily occurrence). I am not bothered by their existence, only concerned about what germs they might be leaving behind as their little feet pitter patter about the office. There are those in the office that want the little critters dead, so we have ordered the mouse traps. I will keep you posted.
Having received an invitation from one of our teams, the Commander and I drove across camp to meet two visiting Sheiks (Google), to add value that only age and rank can add (I just happen to have both). The team was trying to show the Sheiks they valued their relationship and desired to reinforce their interest in what the Sheiks had to offer. We entered the room, somewhat late (as it should be), and greeted the two Sheiks fully adorned with the traditional black Dishdashas (Google this) with gold sashes and white Agals (Google) and black headbands. They represented quite a stark contrast with the slightly worn, dirty uniform clad soldiers. You could tell immediately that the Sheiks clothing was crisp and new, not even slightly soiled.
As is their custom, they came bearing gifts and delicious food, once they were told we would be attending their meeting. It was all too reminiscent of past experiences, as we sat crowded around the small coffee table placed in the center of the cramped room, chatting and discussing personal pleasantries, partaking of the Shawarmas (Google) and later drinking tea together, as we began the process of developing a relationship. I had done this hundreds of times before, but still it was good to be back at it, feeling comfortable in this setting, totally in my element. I was back, doing what I love doing, eating and talking (I know none of you knew that, right?).
Of course they came with their resumes, their pictures, their certificates accumulated over many years; a display of their long history of supporting many rotations of US forces through this area. They are important people from their tribe for their area, respectful people, with wealth and position. One’s history, one’s heritage is a valued commodity, which reflects greatly on the person in a way that defines who he is. A great deal of time is to be spent discussing the narrative of one’s past, if a relationship is to be developed, for the past determines the present and perhaps the future.
The key is to not rush the discussion. Having a good listening ear becomes your greatest tool, as you allow the meeting to flow towards where you want it to go but in their time, as they stop along the way to narrate the journey. It is a process, one they are all too good at and one, we being somewhat culturally inept, are not accustomed to. The meeting went on for several hours, as we discussed high level issues and solutions; returning at times to ask questions about the details.
Being somewhat wealthy and wanting to give a gift equal to their stature, the two Sheiks spared no expense in preparing gifts for all of us, as the brand new disdashas and agals were presented one by one to everyone in the room. Adorning the new apparel over our uniform, we took pictures of the group, had our hugs and kisses on the cheeks, and we were on our way; with the feeling that we had done well in our first meeting with the Sheiks.
It was 0900, all of us in full battle rattle (Google this), the heavy metal door was lowered by the hydraulic arm, extending the steps leading up into the inner cavity of the MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) (Google this), we stepped up into the first of four vehicles to begin our day long excursion into the City Center of Mosul.
You have got to check out these MRAPs, this is how we roll now. We have all turned in our HMMV’s for these gigantic MRAPs, the new combat vehicle of the future, in all its models and variations. I am sure you will see these offered for in car dealerships someday.
Stay tuned, more to come
Doing it the Wiggles way
It’s a Girl!
Sunday, September 19, 2010
It’s a girl
The word finally came yesterday in an email informing me of the birth of my next granddaughter, Maleah. After eight hours of labor, She was born Saturday morning at 0845, Sept 18th, 2010, (just for the record), which blesses me with two great granddaughters (I know, cousin Steven, I am way behind in my numbers compared to you. What are you at now 20?). Emails had been going back and forth between the family and I regarding Maleah’s status, since she was a few days overdue (I was hoping she was going to be born on my Daughter Dana’s birthday the 16th). I was sitting on my bed, having just returned from my travels to Kirkuk, checking my emails for the first time, now that I have internet in my CHU and read the amazing news. I was overcome with joy as tears streamed down my face, so happy for the new addition to the Holton Family. Perhaps there were a few tears of sadness that I wasn’t there to share in the happiness of the moment and perhaps tears of days gone by when I was there in the delivery room for the first time having my first child Dana.
Words in the email from my wife expressed that Michael, the proud father, did a great job taking care of his wife and new baby just like I did, or so she said. Like father like son or I hope that was the case, as I recall my own experiences of being in the delivery room for the birth of my four children, (ok, I know women do most of the work, but we, men, like to think we were useful in some way, perhaps more in the way than actually helping out). All I remember is crying as I witnessed the miracle of birth (I know I am a big cry baby). There is nothing so miraculous as a child being born; the exit from the womb, the cutting of the life line to the mother and a new life on this earth begins. Wow!
I can just imagine how my son Michael, being such a tender soul, must have reacted to the whole experience for his first time. And of course I am sure that mother Kaitlin did a superb job, as she is such a determined mother to be. Her strong desire of becoming a mother has finally come to fruition, for she is now a “Mom”. Thanks also to my wife who was there for the whole ordeal, by her side every step of the way.
Congratulations to the new parents. May God bless your new family.
I marvel at the realities of the cycle of life, with its births and its deaths and all that transpires in between. Life, with all its happiness and sadness, the growth and development, the good and the bad, and perhaps most of all the change that occurs along the way, it is an amazing thing. How it seems so long in the beginning and so short at the end. How it times it seems it will never be over and how at times it seems it goes by way too fast. No matter, we all seem to get through it, one way or another, and none of us are going to get out of here alive, so we might as well enjoy the ride while we can.
As Mark Twain put it so eloquently, “There are no accidents, all things have a deep and calculated purpose; sometimes the methods employed by providence seem strange and incongruous, but we have only to be patient and wait for the result: then we recognize that no others would have answered the purpose and we are rebuked and humbled.”
Life really is a tapestry of interconnected events, all taking part in the creation of a beautiful picture of one’s existence on earth. I know the realities of life are not always enjoyable or pleasurable but all things do serve a purpose in the bigger eternal scheme of things, as all things are to fulfill the plan of our creator. For there is purpose and meaning in all life and hopefully we will put forth enough effort to fill the measure of our own creation.
Filling the Measure of our Creation
I hope you don’t mind me digressing for a minute, as these are the things on my mind I wish to share. Please don’t be turned off by what I am about to put in my blog, because of its religious nature.
Brigham Young once said:
“Will you spend the time of your probation for naught, and fool away your existence and being? You were organized, and brought into being, for the purpose of enduring forever if you fulfill the measure of your creation, pursue the right path, observe the requirements of the Celestial law, and obey the commandments of our God. It is then, and then only, you may expect that the blessing of eternal lives will be conferred upon you. It can be obtained upon no other principle. Do you understand that you will cease to be, that you come to a full end, by pursuing the opposite course?”
I found this in a talk once given by Ralph N. Christensen at Brigham Young University,
Firstly, fulfilling the measure of our creation requires us to understand and accept the doctrine of who we are and what we can become.
We will never fulfill the measure of our creation until we have a deep and burning testimony that we are sons and daughters of Father and that He wants us home. Without first accepting this core doctrine, it is impossible to fulfill the measure of our creation. Paul clearly taught who we are when he wrote:
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;4
The adversary would love to distract us from this profound truth. I know a man who once said that he simply does not believe that he is cut out to be celestial material. He said that while he loves the idea and believes that others may achieve such a glorious eternity, because of poor choices that he has made, he simply does not believe that these blessings could possibly be for him. As a result, he professes to be satisfied with a telestial lifestyle and inheritance. Brothers and sisters, this is to buy in to one of the greatest lies in Satan’s seemingly endless arsenal. Never, no never, accept the lie that you are just not celestial material. You were celestial material before you came to this earth. You are celestial material as you journey through this telestial experience, and you will continue to be celestial material as you do all that you can do and then rely on the Savior’s marvelous gift to carry you through the hardest parts of life. That is exactly what He is there for. I testify to each and every one of you that we are all within the healing power of the Savior’s atonement—that is what makes you Celestial material.
I am always interested in how we view and describe ourselves. Some might say, “Oh, I am just a C student, or I am an athlete, I am a pre-med student, I am from Boston or Kansas City.” Brothers and sisters, while these descriptions may accurately describe aspects of your life, you are not at your essence a C student, you are not at your essence star athletes, you are not at your essence a pre-med student, and even as much as I love Boston and Kansas City, that still does not describe my essence. Please do not allow a singular focus on these telestial aspects of your life to lead you away from your celestial essence. You came to this earth fit for the kingdom. You are still fit for the kingdom, if you choose so to be.
I remember talking with a woman in our stake who expressed to me her feeling of inadequacy; she said that she felt dumb, even worthless. In one of those remarkable experiences of a priesthood leader being inspired to turn keys on behalf of a child of God, I told her in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ as I now tell you, that if you have grown up with friends, parents, husbands, wives or others who have convinced you that you are worthless, inadequate, or not cut out for all that Father has, this is a lie. I promise you that if Father were here in person He would not describe us in those terms. He would do all in His power to help you see yourself as He sees you: a son, a daughter, a king, a queen, an inheritor of eternities.
By Ralph N. Christensen
From another talk on this subject, by PATRICIA T. HOLLAND
”I once read a wonderful analogy of the limitations our present perspective imposes on us. The message was that in the ongoing process of creation–our creation and the creation of all that surrounds us–our heavenly parents are preparing a lovely tapestry with exquisite colors and patterns and hues. They are doing so lovingly and carefully and masterfully. And each of us is playing a part–our part–in the creation of that magnificent, eternal piece of art.
But in doing so we have to remember that it is very difficult for us to assess our own contributions accurately. We see the rich burgundy of a neighboring thread and think, “That’s the color I want to be.” Then we admire yet another’s soft, restful blue or beige and think, “No, those are better colors than mine.” But in all of this we don’t see our work the way God sees it, nor do we realize that others are wishing they had our color or position or texture in the tapestry–even as we are longing for theirs.
Perhaps most important of all to remember is that through most of the creative period we are confined to the limited view of the underside of the tapestry where things can seem particularly jumbled and muddled and unclear. If nothing really makes very much sense from that point of view, it is because we are still in process and unfinished. But our heavenly parents have the view from the top, and one day we will know what they know–that every part of the artistic whole is equal in importance and balance and beauty. They know our purpose and potential, and they have given us the perfect chance to make the perfect contribution in this divine design.”
By PATRICIA T. HOLLAND
Time to think (by Paul Holton)
Sitting in the chapel on this base in Mosul, Iraq, during our religious services, I had reason to contemplate what it means to have a faith based life. I came to the realization that perhaps the goal of life is not to achieve great wealth, or great fame, or fortune, or success as the world would describe it, but to experience all that life has to offer so that faith in Jesus Christ might grow like a seed within us. Perhaps the main goal and purpose of life is to travel along life’s path, experiencing all the bumps and dips along the way, allowing faith to expand within our mind and heart, to the end that we acknowledge his hand in all things and realize he is in charge and he will guide us along our own path through this life and beyond.
I do believe all of life is to be for our experience; so that we might fully understand all things and develop faith in Jesus Christ to enable us to endure all things, as we attempt to become as his is.
Off to KirKuk
The Blackhawk took off around 1300, this time heading east towards the city of Kurkuk. I decided to sit facing the front of the bird, so I might take in the scenery of the landscape from a different perspective this time. Fortunately, I was in the middle seat, protecting from the fury of the hot wind of the massive blades churning overhead. I could see the two gunners on each side of the aircraft scanning the horizon for any unusual movements on the ground. Seven other bodies surrounded me with their gear, making a total of 12 people aboard the bird that day.
As we moved eastward, the terrain turned from flat to slightly bumpy and further into what appeared to be small mountain ranges. The so called mountains, or hills, were barren of any vegetation, looking more like mounds of tan colored-brownish ice cream. Farms with green pastures seemed to spring out of nowhere as we got closer to the Tigris River basin. To my surprise farms were actually growing vegetables this time of year. Nicely cultivated furrows of plants could be seen on small plots of land, next to irrigation canals and what appeared to be pipes as water was obviously being diverted from the river to facilitate a certain amount of farming.
One of my friends, a sergeant, greeted me as I came off the chopper, assisting me with my bags as we moved towards his awaiting vehicle. It was good to see him again, even though it has only been three weeks since we split up upon our arrival into Iraq. More than anything I was just curious to see how the team in Kirkuk has been fairing. I was there to observe and offer my support in their efforts to accomplish the mission at hand.
I was happy to see all four of the team members were doing great; even their good positive attitudes were still intact.
More to come later, so stay tuned.
Doing it the Wiggles way.
Posted by Chief Wiggles Sunday, 19 September 2010
Operation New Dawn
Sunday, September 12, 2010
I sat motionless harnessed to my webbed seating, backpack between my legs, alongside several other similarly equipped soldiers, like a team of highly trained Clydesdales. One difference being, we were all just along for the ride, a short 30 minute Blackhawk flight to another military base, west of my location in Mosul, much closer to the Syrian border. The chopper blades churning overhead, creating the proverbial rhythmic beat, so often heard in most Vietnam era war movies. Like a pair of Canadian honkers, two birds in formation, one flying slightly ahead and to the left of the other, the two Blackhawks were transporting a full load of soldiers and civilians to their respective destinations. Due to the continual dangerous nature of the situation on the ground, air transportation is the only real safe way to move people from one point to another.
Heavy laden with my gear, Kevlar helmet on my head, earplugs inserted, I sat in my window seat (actually the doors were shut but there was no glass in the windows of the Blackhawk), enjoying my view of the countryside below. It was futile to attempt to speak to those next to me (one soldier to my left and one directly in front of me), all other sounds being drowned out by the chopper engine/ blade noises. I was engrossed in watching the movement of our shadow along the desert floor as it tracked our every move, the two Blackhawks flying smoothly and effortlessly through the hot Iraqi air.
Leaving the fairly large metropolis of Mosul and the waters of the Tigris River, we flew west over the barren tan colored gently rolling landscape, left mostly desolate after a long hot Iraqi summer. I could not see any vegetation for miles, only the occasional farm house and what appeared to be plots of farm land, with the familiar tracks of farm implements scaring the desert floor, in apparent furrows (I’m not sure what they might have been attempting to grow). But, there was nothing left only dirt and sand long sense flattened by the wind and heat.
The farm homes spotted the ground in no apparent order (like blackheads on a teenagers face), seeming to follow areas where water once flowed, along now dried up stream beds, etching out snake like designs through the sand. There were no canals channeling water from the Tigris River to these now totally separated farms, disconnected from any life giving fluids, seemingly left to dry up and die (which it appeared they had).
Every now and again a village of homes would pop up in obscure areas along our flight path, for no apparent reason other than perhaps there were those that wanted community and support only a town can give. The tan colored walls and roofs of the homes matched the colors of the desert-scape, making the entire landscape for the most part colorless (or at least a uniformity of color, creating a monotonous continuum of color).
The single storied square shaped cinderblock homes, positioned side by side, separated only by shared mud or brick walls, all appeared to be part of a large circular labyrinth. Thin dirt roads ran between some of the homes in a maze like pattern, providing a means for someone to maneuver a small vehicle through the structure. It was during the heat of the day and there didn’t appear to be much movement of people on the ground, except around what looked like water-wells, creating a spot of green and the movement of a few people carrying water.
Aside from occasionally watching for any unusual activity on the ground that might be potentially dangerous for us (highly unusual now), I was intrigued by what life might be like in one of these remote small villages, totally isolated from one of Iraq’s larger cities. There were no paved roads, only narrow dirt roads, like stretch marks on a pregnant woman’s belly, appearing to be going nowhere. These are historically nomad tribal areas, ethnically and culturally rich, with long histories of struggle, conflict and challenges (“I don’t imagine I will ever know what it is truly like to live down there”, I thought to myself).
Four of us had attempted to board the Blackhawks (going to my destination) the night before but were turned away due to the lack of seats and the number of would be travelers, after waiting for several hours at the airfield. (With the draw down, they just don’t have as many flights as they used to, or the size of aircraft.) My luck was better this morning, as I was able to get right on without any difficulties and enjoyed the view of the countryside during the day. I was trying to fly over to another US military base to visit some of our soldiers living there. Having been in Iraq for a couple of weeks now I felt it was time to see how everyone else was getting along. And I had good news to share with them also.
Two sets of parked vehicles along with occupants were at the airfield awaiting our arrival and were at our beck and call to chauffer us around for the remainder of the day. With no time to waste we hit the ground running; one meeting after another, meeting with one team after another, to discuss their operations and to relay the various bits of good news we had brought with us. Without so much of a break our meetings went late into the evening, of course taking time to meet with members of the PRT and the S3 of the maneuver unit in the area.
There isn’t a lot I can say right now about the nature of my meetings or the subject matter of our discussions, but to appease your interest let me just say, now that we are in Operation New Dawn, we have to transition over to a new set of directives, objectives, and requirements. This becomes the driving forcing for us to reevaluate our own plans and strategy, actually falling directly in line with our previous developed intel collection plans, made prior to arriving in Iraq.
My job is to advice, assist and support our teams on the ground (in the field) with their planning and execution of our strategy. This means I spend a lot of time meeting with elements of our teams discussing their operations and also meeting with our civilian and Iraqi counterparts supporting this effort. I also meet with the command elements of the maneuver units supporting the overall strategy in Iraq, to make sure we are meeting their needs and pursuing their requirements. (Ok, you might not understand what I am talking about, but it makes perfect sense to me. I am trying to inform you without going into too much detail, I hope you understand the sensitive of the nature of our business here).
Amidst all this business I almost forgot it was September 11th. At 1545, as per the President’s request, we paused and conducted a moment of silence as we reflected back on the events of this day some 9 years ago, contemplating the gravity and severity of this event in our nation’s history. I reflected on the number of lives that were lost and forever changed. And on the number of families that have suffered due to the loss of their loved ones. I thought of all the men and women that have served this great nation since then, putting their own lives on hold, sacrificing their own desires and ambitions to do their part in fighting this war on terror.
Whether you agree or disagree in this cause, or if you think this is right or wrong, the fact of the matter is that over one and a half million Americans have served their country in the Middle East fighting these two wars and many of paid the ultimate sacrificing giving their own life for this effort. We give reverence to them and applaud their willingness to fight for the freedom of others, remembering we are all volunteers engaged in this effort.
During our moment of silence, I prayed for those suffering from the affects of terrorism and war. I prayed for peace, for truly it is what we all desire. I prayed for our leaders hoping they will seek divine guidance and inspiration, putting their own agendas aside, in making decisions for the people in this country both US and Iraqi. I prayed that love will prevail and be the guiding force for our interaction, as we truly do work to make things better over here for the Iraqi people, amid all the evil and corruption that exists. May God bless us all with his love.
I am continually amazed at how this tapestry of events is unfolding as we go about this work. I see his hand in all things, as miracles continue to occur, doors opening and opportunities appearing. We are being guided along a path for some reason and for some purpose, not fully understood at this time. It is not just my journey but our journey, as all of us here work unknowingly for the betterment of the whole, one person’s efforts being the link to another person’s efforts, along a continuum of critical steps towards I am sure many amazing things.
“Doing it the Wiggles way”
Posted by Chief Wiggles Sunday, 12 September 2010
It is no Coincidence
Sunday, September 05, 2010
It is no coincidence
The daily routine of military life was broken up today by religious services, the one thing that lets me know another week has passed. Even Sunday is like any other day except for this, at 1500 we have LDS services. It was my first Sunday at Camp Diamondback, a much needed spiritual break in my daily activities. Stepping into the chapel I noticed how exceptionally quite it was, quite suitable for spiritual reconnecting. And it turned out to be a good time for self-reflection. Once I entered this religious sanctuary nothing else seemed to matter, as I forgot about the outside world.
The designated group leader for Camp Diamondback made mention of the fact that normally he only has 5 or 6 members out for services and he was so very happy to welcome all of us from Utah (around 25 were attending). Our voices echoed through the building as we sang the opening hymn, causing me to reflect on previous such spiritual sacrament meetings I attended in Iraq during previous deployments. The bread was broken and the sacrament prayers were offered up by other soldiers. I had much to be thankful for and much to ponder as the bread was passed to the military congregation.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to be serving my country and to be about the Lord’s work at this time and at this stage as Operation New Dawn begins in Iraq. Combat troops are gone and all combat operations have ceased, as we now begin our last efforts to try to leave Iraq better than we found it some 7 years ago. Hopefully more stable, more secure, with more freedoms for the Iraqi people, now with more opportunities for them to take control of their own destiny as they go forward. This is their chance to build a better place for them and their children, creating their own form of democracy, full of hope for all.
And I believe we can and will help!
I was here in 2003 when it all began and I don’t think it is a coincidence that we are here again at the end, as we draw down our forces and prepare to leave. Yes, there are still problems and there will be difficulties, struggles, and challenges, but it was no different in our own country when our new democracy was born.
As far as I am concerned Saddam Hussein was a terrorist in his own country, ruling with an iron fist and a large club, having killed thousands upon thousands of his own people to secure and perpetuate his tyrannical rule. Cell phones, the internet and satellite dishes were all outlawed. It was against the law for people to move or travel within their own country as they so desired. People were not allowed to voice their opinions, to vote, to gather, to speak freely or to oppose his dictatorship in any way, without serious consequences.
I recall the numerous stories, almost from every person I spoke with, of the abuse, the torturing, the kidnappings, the murders, the unbelievable acts of inhumane–cruel and harsh treatment. I saw the scares on their backs confirming the beatings and torturing. I saw it in their faces and felt their pain, as they relayed their stories of what they had endured under his reign for so many years. And I specifically remember one of the Iraqi generals I interrogated who asked me, if the US hadn’t come to their aid, who would have? Who would have come to save them and set them free from Saddam’s oppressive reign of terror?
In that it was the first Sunday of the month, as expected it was fast and testimony meeting. One by one, each soldier in attendance, if they desired, stood and bore his or her testimony and shared spiritual thoughts and feelings. Based on what I heard today, I know that amazing things will be accomplished by this group of some 250 Utah soldiers over the next 10 months, as we go forward with a new mindset, armed with hope and power from above. This is going to be an incredible time for all of us. With one mind, one heart, unified together with a desire to serve the Iraqi people, we stood to confirm our belief of a divine purpose and mission for all of us.
On a less serious note (don’t want to get to heavy or too deep for those of you who like to keep things on the light side)
Being quite pleased with the way I have set up of my CHU (compact housing unit, maybe?), I feel a desire to describe it to you in more detail. I know I could just take a picture (as they say a picture is worth a thousand words), but that would take all the fun out of it for those reading this, as you try to imagine what it might look like. At least this way, when you do finally see a picture you can determine if my description was any good or if your imagination was accurate.
I do take a certain amount of pride in my living quarters, perhaps more than most, as I look at the other CHUs in my block. Even from the outside though, you can tell my CHU is different, due to the fact that it is the only one recently washed on the outside, so you can actually tell the outer skin is trailer white.
Of course there is a multicolored piece of carpet, functioning as a door mat, on the cement walkway running between the rows of CHUs, begging you to dust off your boots before entering. As you open the door to the CHU, there is another 2’ x 3’ sample of carpet greeting you, where I have orderly positioned my shoes and slippers (I guess my 30 plus years of Asian influence has paid off, since I don’t wear my boots inside and I have a pair of flip flops for just inside and a pair to wear outside to the shower/ bathroom CHU).
Before you think I have gone a little too far with this whole shoe/ CHU thing and become a little obsessive/compulsive, keep in mind I am surrounded by sand and dirt on all sides. Sorry for using this analogy, but if you can remember the pictures after 9-11 and how everything was covered with a layer of white ash and dust, that is what this entire base looks like. Everything and I mean everything is covered with an outer coating of sand and dirt. There is not one paved road to be found on this base and even though they make an effort to keep the dust down by watering all the roads every morning, by late morning it is all just sand and dirt (the water only turning the whole thing into mud until the heat of the day bakes it dry again).
As you look into my CHU, you can see what appears to be wood flooring, but is actually imitation wood designed plastic. When I first arrived you could hardly see the pattern of the flooring due to the thick dirt and sand blanketing it. To your right there are two tall free standing gym locker type clothes closets in front of the window next to the front door, blocking the inside view of any passerby’s. This way the CHU actually looks longer than it is and more spacious.
The first of two beds is positioned against the wall on the right side running long ways like a coach would, of course with another small piece of carpet stretched out in front. The bed is made but never slept in. I bought two pieces of bed top foam, doubled it up and had the local tailor/seamstress make up a cover for this oversized pillow, which functions as a coach cushion to lean against. Above the bed coach hangs a full size American Flag taped to the wall.
At the end of the bed I have placed side by side two small handmade plywood end tables, where I have positioned my electrical convertor, alarm clock, my blender, my lap top and speakers, and a surge protector to plug in all of my electrical appliances, which of course includes my IPOD boom box placed on the end of the first bed. Each of the end tables has one shelf where I put my cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous items.
Across from these on the other side of the room are two free standing plastic drawers, like the ones you would by at Wal-Mart, one with 6 drawers and one with three, where I keep the remainder of my frequently used items and supplies (vitamins, socks, underwear, toiletries, etc). Being next to my bed I use the shorter of the drawers to put my bottle of water, my religious books and a cup.
Next to the drawers at the end of the room is my bed which completely fills the narrow space and stretches from one side to the other, so actually the width of the CHU is probably only 6 foot something wide. A military blanket is draped over the bed and there is a scratchy wool blanket at my feet.
Back near the front of the room there are several plastic hooks stuck to the wall where I hang my wet towel, my laundry bag, my sweat stained drying-out uniform, my dog tags-ID-sunglasses, and my cap and that pretty much rounds out the description of my joint.
Get the picture? Sorry to bore you with the details but thanks for bearing with me. It was good for me to share that with you. Just thank me anyway for going to the trouble to explain this, ok?
Doing it the Wiggles way
Finally in Iraq
Wednesday, September 01, 2010
Finally in Iraq
The intense heat of Kuwait had turned us all into virtual sponges, forcing us to organize our daily routines around the consumption of large quantities of water, just to stay ahead of the constant sweating and dehydration. Perhaps if I had a large hump, like a camel, where I could store water, I wouldn’t have to drink so much throughout the day, but that was not likely to happen now was it, probably quite unsightly too?
Fortunately, the army in its wisdom, knowing the importance of hydration, went to the trouble of putting a large ice chest in every tent for the purpose of cooling and storing numerous bottles of the life preserving liquid and resupplied the chest every morning with several bags of ice. The only problem with constant drinking is the frequent Mother Nature calls during the night to relieve ourselves. Throughout the night there was a steady stream, no pun intended, of soldiers making the trek in and out of the porta-pottie outside our tents, for most it was a nightly experience that happened more than once.
The time had finally come. All the months of intensive training and preparation were behind us and it was to time to leave for Iraq. On our last night in Kuwait, at Camp Buehring, we were going to celebrate by having a movie night, but no sooner did we turn on the DVD, then we realized we had better get some shut eye. We were scheduled to load our gear and board the buses around 0100 (1 am) and to depart for the airfield at Ali Ah Salim.
(For this very purpose I had taken the time to make some couches out of several cots, so that we might all be able to lounge (with back supports) around a laptop strategically positioned for a movie night. A few nights ago, when time permitted, I bought some microwave popcorn at the PX (along with a few other treats), popped it up over at the USO, grabbed several chilled Gatorade’s, and invited everyone in our tent for a movie night, watching “The International”, which turned out to be quite a nice event for everyone)
At around 2300, I naturally woke to run to the porta-pottie but realized I might as well stay up, since everyone was getting up in an hour anyway. One by one the soldiers awoke to make the final preparations for our eminent departure. With a quick shower and shave, we packed up our few remaining items, grabbed our two duffel bags, one rucksack, and a carryon and made our way outside to the rally point. It was 0100 but still everyone moved quickly with a purpose and in a matter of minutes the trucks were loaded and the buses packed with weary soldiers who were all ready and anxious for the next phase of this deployment to begin.
With the cots now all leaning up against the inside tent walls, the plywood tent floors were swept for the last time and with a quick once through, the tents were left as we found them some two weeks ago. They had served their purpose for this band of transient soldiers, providing us with a cool retreat during the scorching heat of a normal Kuwaiti summer. Hopefully I will never be back here again (some memories of the first time I endured this place back in 2003, still refused to fade or pass away).
With a renewed vigor and excitement we all departed that night, aboard buses bound for the airfield and onto our respective destinations in Iraq. Somewhat tired of the repetitive routine of intense training and preparations, we all shared the same mindset and feelings to begin the next stage and to get on with our mission at hand. Yes, there were still a lot of unknowns and a certain amount of apprehension but it was time to jump in with both feet, going all the way in. Hold your nose, close your eyes and jump into the deep end, going for it. Many of us have been here at this point before, for some it was our third or fourth deployment, so we know there is nothing like actually being there and doing it. OJT baby.
With our bags loaded onto the cargo trucks, our vests on, our weapons in hand and our carry-ons in our laps, bus curtains drawn, we drove off into the night each of us falling fast asleep for the quick hour and a half bus ride to the airfield.
In true Army fashion we arrived early so that we could wait for several hours in the departing soldier waiting room, in hopes that our flight would leave earlier than scheduled (which it did). There were two departing flights that day, splitting us into two groups, both of course going north into the Northern part of Iraq, one to Balad and the other to, my destination, Mosul. Before we knew it was time, our flight was called, the manifest was read and one by one we loaded the large military transport plane with the usual military configuration, that is palletized gear in the back, side seats facing inward towards a few rows of rolled in seating. Knowing what is best, I chose the seats on the side with the most leg room and we were off, once again sleeping for the entire duration of the hour and fifteen minute flight to Mosul.
At this moment I am propped up on a real bed (oh my gosh) typing this blog in my very own CHU (a military acronym, perhaps standing for a compact housing unit), made of what appears to be a 8’ x 20’ metal shipping container, or conex, all side by side in some kind of housing project configuration, surrounded by large cement blocks to protect us from any mortar attacks that might occur. At least it is my very own and I get to do whatever I want with it, let the fun begin.
At first glance the whole thing appeared to be like some unkempt dilapidated refugee camp, even the inside of my unit had a thick layer of sand and dirt on everything (even the mattress had a thick coating of sand), but with a little work I had the place looking quite satisfactory. My unit has two single wide beds, two small wall lockers, two plastic drawer sets, and two handmade plywood night stands. At least I am finally able to unpack my duffle bags and get settled into my own place.
Actually I am quite pleased with how I have fixed up my place, with convenience in mind and with a flare of creativity I have created quite a nice environment for myself; not bad for a guy. I think it is going to work out just fine. The community shower/ bathrooms are in a container right next to our units, which is doable, at least it is not a porta-pottie anymore (real toilets and porcelain sinks, yea).
With the purchase of an electrical convertor (going from 220 to 110), I am ready to rock and roll, with my IPOD boom box, my computer speakers and my blender for protein shakes, life is good (can’t help but think of Jack Black in Nacho Libre saying that with his facial expressions). It has now all come down to the simplest creature comforts necessary to make life somewhat cushy in a war zone, but of course it is still hot, but I will take the 10 to 15 degree drop in temperature any day over Kuwaiti temperatures.
Now if I could only get some kind of flavor, seasoning or spice in my daily diet of bland army food. I will have to work on that one. In Kuwait I started eating what the Indian dining facility workers were eating for their meals after serving us, it was chicken curry and Dosha (thin flat bread), really fantastic.
With thoughts of my Intel collection plan swirling around in my head, I am finally ready to embark on my path, the next phase of this journey, to fulfill my destiny, whatever that might be. Stay tuned as that unfolds. Be patient (I am really talking to myself) as all things take time and happen at the speed of a baby learning to crawl and walk. We are now in a new phase of the Iraqi conflict, going from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, as I am sure the President has announced, with the end of all combat operations. I will have to see how that is communicated to our enemies, who are still out there causing trouble? We will see if they have the same understanding, as I believe we are still on their target list.
Love all of you.
Doing it the Wiggles way”