Update from Sharon in Kuwait

The wind has stopped blowing. We have had a sandstorm blowing for 3 days. I am told this is called a Shahlam. Here’s a link to some pics of a dust storm here last year.

Constant dust, dirt and sand blowing constantly everywhere in everything. This is a regular weather occurrence that lasts 1-3 days.The world as I know it is covered in sand, dirt and dust in my bed, my clothes, hair, skin. I am a bit weakened and rundown from working 7 days a week for months on end. And after what has amounted to inhaling pounds of dust and dirt, my lungs have become a haven for an upper resperitory infection. I cant breathe, coughing,and congested, general unwellness prevails. So, the Shahlam has ended and Inshallah (God willing) I will be leaving here in about 35 days.

I also attended a briefing, which is mandatory for all returning military and deployed civilians. The briefing includes information on financial issues and a chaplain’s briefing on readjustment to normal life and suicide prevention. Last month 24 soldiers committed suicide. The highest suicide rate for one month in history. What can someone say about such things? I ask you to think about this issue with your heart and spirit. I think the number speaks for itself. For every
soldier who commits suicide, friends, family, wives and children are left to bear the pain.

So, not only 24 soldiers committed suicide, if that does not give you pause, 24 families were decimated to the point of despair and lifelong heartache. You must hear this with your heart. Enough Said!

As-salaam Alaaikum ( Peace be upon you/Peace be with you )

Sharon’s journal from Kuwait (Part 5)

I’ve got a busy week coming up! (Nancy, not Sharon – although I’m sure she’s busy too.) She’s busy helping soldiers in much less happy ways than I get to help people around here. I’m glad she’s there to help.

  • I helped with a 1/2 day event at work today
  • Planning a (post-holiday) Ladies’ New Year dinner for 13 for Monday night
  • Coordinating all the food for a Ladies’ Sneak-Away local retreat at our church for around 120 next Friday/Saturday.

Needless to say, there’s a lot to be done. Pray for me for stamina, focus, creativity, attention to detail and lots of volunteers. I didn’t plan it this way, they just all kind of fell close together on the calendar. So instead of writing more about me, I thought I’d post a new journal entry from Sharon in Kuwait. Here are a couple of pics that she sent too.

Outside the wire there is nothing. Nothing but dirt, dust and sand, nothing. The perimeter wire is a very tall fence topped with razor wire, like the ones surrounding prisons. Inside the wire is more sand, dirt, dust topped by concrete buildings, beige tents, blast walls, bomb shelter bunkers and military tactical vehicles.

But there are small signs of life. Underneath a camouflage net, a little way from the bunker, a watermelon seed grows in a pot placed on a homemade picnic table constructed from scrap lumber. I am told that a soldier who planted it now lives at Walter Reed VA Hospital as a Wounded Warrior. He was so desperate to see something grow he dug the seeds from his watermelon at lunch one day. He found a pot and some dirt and planted the watermelon seeds. He nurtured and watered the seeds, until he got wounded and was sent to the hospital.

His battle buddy found the plant while cleaning out his friends hooch after he was injured. He brought it down to the table for sunlight, where he waters it regularly. The watermelon plant is now 3 inches tall and growing here in a war zone, in the middle of the barren desert, inside the wire of Camp Arifjan. There is a sign of life here now. A sign of growth and nature. A thing to be nurtured and cared for and coaxed into creation. A seed of Hope and Faith . A spark in this place of dreary lives and landscapes. A seed is growing in this place. Imagine that, a seed growing, so tiny and fragile.

Growing the way all of life and hope begins, from a tiny seed.

Quite a different world she lives in right now, huh? Pray for her as well, for stamina, creativity, compassion, patience and that she continues to see God’s beauty in such a desolate place.

If you want to read more about Sharon’s journey go here.

Note from Sharon in Kuwait (Part 4)

Laying in bed one morning, peacefully sleeping in my pod/cell/closet and I hear the camp-wide loud speaker screaming…
“Wha, Whaw, WHAW”
“Put on your gas masks. Put on your protective gear.”
“Put on Your Gas Mask! Put on Your Protective gear!”

While I am stumbling and fumbling around my pod wondering who is screaming at me and why and where the hell is my gas mask and gear. Wondering if I am dreaming and thinking it may have been a good idea to take the gas mask out of the box and try it on previous to this
insanity. My heart begins to beat a bit faster and I am now fully awake.

The next voice I hear says, “This is an exercise. This is only an exercise.”

What a rude awakening! I cuss to myself and go back to bed. I return to my sleep thinking about what kind of crazy life I got myself mixed up in this time.

More posts about her adventures here.

Sharon in Kuwait – Part 3

Here’s an update from Sharon. I’m pretty far behind on posting her communications, but don’t want to bury you with information, so I’ll continue to inject these as time/space allows. If you want to catch up on previous posts, go here.

From Sharon,
“Yesterday, when I came into work we had a message from a wife who reported that her husband had told her he was wanting to end his life. This is a desperate situation for a soldier with a gun. We began to work on locating this soldier. We found his command in Baghdad about 30 minutes after we received the emergency message. Command will find the soldier and take steps to protect him from himself. I hope we found them in time. I may have made a difference to that one.

Through out my shift I pass messages relating to the death of grandparents, actively dying parents, brothers and sisters in ICU and children’s tragic accidents. Any form of tragedy, illness or death in every form imaginable passes through the Red Cross and we handle the cases for all of Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We also assist Afghanistan and Iraq by locating service members with a secret security locator program that is supposed to track all service members. Here in Kuwait we pass about 30 emergency communication messages per day.

At the end of my shift yesterday, I was sent a message from Afghanistan that they were having difficulty locating a soldier. The address provided by the family was in Afghanistan, the locator system provided data indicating he was in Kuwait. I was torn on how to focus this search. I made two phone calls here to reliable connections and they did not see him anywhere in the system. The locator system for this soldier had not been updated since April so it was hopelessly outdated and unreliable as a resource. In the meantime his mother was actively dying and I wanted desperately to help him get home before it was too late. It is important! But I did not know where he was and my resources were wearing thin. I made a decision. I believed that since the locator system records for him had not been updated for him since last April, he was probably here when he first came into the theater and had moved out to Afghanistan. I dispatched the emergency message back to Afghanistan with a few more bits of information that I had picked up from the locator system. I hope they found him. I hope he got home in time to see his mother before she died…I hope.

I went home last night with specters of soldiers wandering lost and alone in the desert darkness. I know that this is probably not true, but it feels that way from here sometimes. The Air Force is always able to locate its members, they have a very good system.It takes us only 2-3 calls and as many minutes to locate Air Force service members. The Army has much to be desired in this area. Sometimes it takes as many as 20 hours and as many phone calls to locate an Army Soldier, but 99% of the time we do find them. Sometimes they get to go home and spend the
last few minutes , hours or days with there loved ones or they are able to pay their respects and attend the funeral. It makes a difference to those ones.

Kuwait rewind…
My sister pointed out that I missed posting her entry about Bangor, Maine and since it was one of my favorites, I’m going back to post it. This was when she was on her way from the U.S. to Kuwait. Read the description below, then watch the video. She’s not in it, but it’s an example of what she’s talking about.

November 7th, 2008
After leaving Fort Benning, Freedom Hall, we flew to Bangor, Maine. Upon departing the plane and entering the terminal we encountered a long line of people shaking our hands and offering free cell phone calls home. Men and women of all ages, even a little Cub Scout volunteer to greet the incoming and outgoing soldiers coming in and out of the theater of operations.

As I walked through this line of well wishers I began to cry for the second time today. The dedication of this group of volunteers is astounding. Most all military soldiers depart and enter the US through Bangor Maine. So this is the last and first thing we see in the United States. This group of caring people who have been meeting all planes, every flight, every day for over five years. They call themselves the Maine Troop Greeters. After shaking all their hands, we were invited to the greeters little office in the terminal. There they provide cell phones to call home and say good bye to family and friends before leaving the US. What a gift!!!

Inside their office they have snacks, candy, sandwiches, etc for free for all soldiers and Department of Defense personnel. I called home and left a message and then called my mother(of course). I listened as some of the officers tried to make a donation to the greeters. They refuse any offer of contribution from all soldiers. Their funds come from outside the military circles.

After a couple hours we were loaded back on the plane, all weapons were counted and we were on our way. I would not encourage anyone to contribute to any cause besides the Red Cross, but if one is so inclined to give a little more this would be a good place to contribute. imagine every plane in and out of the US filled with soldiers and support on their way to who knows what, is offered a warm heart, a call home and a full belly that shows them that the people care and are supporting them on their journey. A gift from the heart to the heart. These things make a big difference in a soldier’s journey. Some citizens may not support the war, but we absolutely must continue to support the troops. I must admit that prior to this journey I was not always proud to be an American and I was reluctant to affiliate myself with the military. Today, after my experiences these last 7 weeks, I can say that I have great hope for these United States of America and that the soldiers in our military are great people, each individually bring honor to our country and our lives. God Bless America!

Note from Nancy: Isn’t that amazing! You can read more about the Greeters at the web link above.

By the way, I’ve been posting more than usual lately, and I know everyone’s been busy, so be sure to scroll down to see if you’ve missed anything. I miss seeing your comments.

My sister in Kuwait – part 2

Written Nov 14 – In the first few days at Fort Benning we continued through the various stages of processing. We had meetings with lawyers, chaplains(not a very nice one) security, finance, medical plus vaccinations for anthrax, typhoid, flu and small pox. We were issued uniforms, gas masks, Kevlar helmets, bulletproof vests etc. We attended trainings on IEDs, Geneva Convention etc. etc. etc.

Finally came the day when we were ready to deploy with thousands of green duffel bags laid out on the ground plus all personal belongings, the bomb dog came around to inspect everything. The duffel bags were loaded by baggage detail volunteers onto two semi trucks and we were
bussed to Freedom Hall.

Now Freedom Hall is an experience in itself. This is a huge building specifically built to send out the Troops. It is amazing! Very high ceilings with huge flags from every state overhead. Hundreds of very comfortable recliner lounge chairs on each end and 8+ huge big screen TVs above the chairs.

I was laying on the floor because although there are hundreds of recliners it is still not enough for everyone and we as a Red Cross team were sharing a chair. While laying on the floor an old veteran came to me and shook my hand and told me, “Thank you for your service.” and I began to weep. I don’t know why this makes me cry, but it does and my eyes are leaking as I write this sentence. Across the hall and old military man sat with a tables full of books that he had collected from donations and were given free to anybody in Freedom Hall. This too touched my heart.

After we were there a few hours, they herded us in to the “Ready room”, well I was not quite “ready”. In Freedom Hall I had a lounge chair, free books and a huge TV with Obama’s first speech being aired. I was content to stay at Freedom Hall. It was the best place I had been for some time. But off we went to the Ready room, which is wooden bleachers in a small auditorium…

I will end this today because I must go to work, but next time I will tell you about the trip across the world, it was close to hell, but that is the rest of the story. TATA for now.
Love you all so very much. Sharon

My sister Sharon in Kuwait

I don’t think I’ve mentioned too much about my big sister, Sharon recently, except maybe the fact that she’s in Kuwait. She just left the U.S. a few weeks ago to go and work for at least six months for the Red Cross as an Assistant Station Manager over there. I’m very proud of her that she’s following her dreams and stepping out of her comfort zone. She’s a year older than I am and has left the safe soil of the U.S. for the first time in her life.

Now she’s started to send updates on her experience via email. She was supposed to be blogging, but she’s new to it and I guess it’s just too much to think about with everything else that’s going on, so she gave me permission to post her emails. In some cases, I may leave out some of her personal commentary, since this is a public forum and I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but I have been enjoying her journey and thought you might too. She’s not sending pictures yet, but I’ll see what I can do to get something to look at…we’ll see.

This photo above is from a recent trip that the 3 sisters and my mom took to Breckenridge this summer when Sharon had the chance to fulfill a dream of going sailing. Needless to say, you can tell from her expression that she LOVED it!

Here are a few of her updates to catch you up:

Oct 31 Note: Leaving this morning for Fort Benning, Georgia (U.S.) to be issued military gear and then on to Kuwait. May be out of touch for a few weeks. Limbo is a strange place to be. You live in my heart and go where I go. Be well. Be happy. I should be back online by November 15th or so. Write or something. Love Sharon

Oct 31 Activities: Arrived at Fort Benning. Very sparse quarters, 4 to a room with bunk beds and lockers. “Gas chamber” style showers. Lady next to me snores worse then me, if that’s possible. Met a guy on the way from Atlanta to Fort Benning that was Arabic translator with Jewish name who was Catholic, born in Iraq, raised in Chicago and now living in Modesto and working for the DOD as a linguist who speaks Babylonian, Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish, and English. Talk about multicultural! Does he know who he is when he gets up in the morning? Interesting people… DOD and contractors make a lot of money out here in the theater. Figure a minimum of triple any normal salary for any job. If you make $50,000 per year as a civilian, the same job with DOD here pays $150, 000. If you’re willing to sell your life for a year or more big money can be made quickly, triple any civilian salary plus some. Check it out on militaryhire.com or USAjobs.gov under the Department of Defense jobs.

Nov 1 Activities: Life is strange. This morning they line us up behind the military and we hear, “Attention – left face – march!” and I crack up laughing out loud. I don’t know anything about left face or marching, that was not in my training in DC. They like to laugh at our inability to do what they do naturally. I wake up in the mornings and it all seems so very unreal. What happened to make love not war, and here I am living in a barracks with mess halls and firing barrels. One never knows where they will end up. God has a sense of humor, that much I know is true. Population here is one third military, one third DOD civilians and one third contractors.
[Note: if you knew Sharon, you’d know that the laughing OUT LOUD is very predictable. She has a hard time keeping the status quo…she’s a rebel against establishment at heart, so following all these rules has got to be driving her crazy.]

Nov 10 Note from Kuwait: Fort Benning and the trip here were hell, but things are settling down as we get better situated in Camp Arifjan. Camp Ali Al Salem was very spooky and surreal-“The gateway to the middle east”. We got here sometime Saturday or Sunday, lost all track of time for awhile. 6am or 6pm ? I could not tell after a while. I am now working 3pm to 11pm shift. I will write more later this week.

That’s it for now. More installments to come. Since she’s already written a few others, I’ll try to post them daily so be sure to come back often to catch up.