Friday, February 12, 2010

Support Our Troops!

After a long 24 hours of travel, a nap and a quick shower, I'm home safe and trying to relax, most of you know I don't do that very well! I wanted to wrap up my blog/journal with some final thoughts and feelings from this entire experience.

First off I want to say how blessed I am to have had this opportunity through the Houston Texans. The average citizen does not have access to visit our soldiers in Iraq even if they wanted to. To be an average citizen who is also a Texans Cheerleader and to be able to have this experience, I am one lucky girl!
Prior to this trip I was some what ignorant about everything that is taking place over there and what our soldiers are doing. Throughout the trip I took in as much information as I could. It would almost be impossible to share everything I learned so I'm going to try and sum up the important information. Our soldiers are working hard to make this world a better place. The living conditions vary from base to base but no matter the condition, they are far from comfortable and far from home. No one WANTS their son, daughter, dad, mom, brother, sister, husband, wife or friend in danger in the Middle East but the truth of it is, they ARE there right now. Agree or disagree with the war or all the politics that go along with it, every branch of the military is over there and they are serving our country and I'm proud to have these service men and women representing our Nation. It is about supporting our troops that lay their lives on the line every day and blessing them any chance we can! It may have been the Texans Cheerleaders that brought the smiles to all the soldiers faces while we were over there but it was Meg, Sonya, Ashley, Marisa and Larisa that have been personally touched and affected by this experience as a whole. To be able to touch so many lives in such little time is an indescribable feeling.

As I was told by many before we left, this experience has changed my life. It has opened my eyes to the services our military men and women partake in and has encouraged me to be more involved and interested in politics. It has also made me appreciate everything we have here individually as well as the safety we have as a country. No one has to worry about their children getting blown by and IED while playing outside in the USA.

In closing, be thankful for what our service men and women do and if you know someone serving always remember that the smallest token of appreciation will brighten their day. Every day is the same to them over there. It only takes a few minutes to be the change in their day with a care package or a special email. Take the time for them because they take the time for us!

I hope those of you who followed the blog enjoyed learning and living vicariously through me. It's been a pleasure sharing my daily dairy with you and I hope it benefited you in some way as well!


Thursday, February 11, 2010

February 9, 2010 | Day 2 in Balad

I’m not even sure where to begin with today. It started at 7:35am and it is now 11:45pm and I’m just typing my blog in Microsoft word because we do not have easy internet access here.

Of course the day started with a trip to the DFac for some breakfast. I forgot to mention how good the coffee is here! Regular coffee is awesome and strong coffee is almost like tar – Love it! Following our regular morning routine we headed to the hospital, Balad Emergency Department – Arrowheaded. We were shown the landing area and the proceeded to a flag covered walk way
known as ‘Hero’s Hwy’ where all the soldiers enter the hospital through. Once in the hospital we were taken through each stage that a trauma patient would go through; emergency room, CT Scan area, operating room, ICU, ‘normal’ care unit and the recovery unit. While in the CT Scan area we were shown the computer images of a soldier who was stabbed in the head, he survived with no long term affect. The technology that is used in this process is indescribable. From there we met the medical staff and viewed an operating room which was the backdrop of many of our pictures with them! After the operating room we headed to the intensive care unit. There was a soldier in there with a gun shot wound to the face and a little 5 year old Iraqi boy who fell victim to an IED (improvised explosive device) placed by their own people. Iraqis are welcome to the care at this hospital as well. If any Iraqi shows up at a base in search of medical assistance they are not denied help from our soldiers. This little boy was in containment behind glass windows. We could not go in the room but we could see him from the window. This was sooooo hard to see. The nurses talked about reading how the Iraqis are feeling through their expressions due to the language barrier; let’s just say the expression on this little boys face put a wrench in all of our hearts. He is at the right place and being taken care of by all the right people, now we can just pray for him. Moving on to the next area we met Tarrik, a 3 year old boy who was severely burned by boiling water while playing in his home. He has been there for a few months and is a favorite of the hospital staff. He was so cute and is doing so well. He and I blew each other a kiss and he gave a high five or two. We then proceeded to the recovery area where there were a few more soldiers and write on the wall of their back 'hang out' room. In this area they were able to move around and get up for pictures and things so it was nice to end here seeing some soldiers in the recovery process. This hospital is also where soldiers come to be stabilized before being sent back to the states if they are in need of excessive medical care.

Then came the fire department… this was all fun and games for us and the firemen! We took some pics and then were able to get in a truck and shoot water, of course I aimed at all the people watching and almost drenched our security guy and our tour manger Andy, we had never seen him move so fast! Five of the firemen got their gear out and we all put the gear on and shot a fire hose together. This made for some good laughs and photo ops!

On the way to our next stop we drove next to the ‘wire’. Outside the wire is where we were not allowed to go; that is considered ‘battle ground’. One of our security men explained to us that kids will sometimes come up to the gates and the soldiers are told not to give them anything including water. When they do, the kids run back to their villages and spread the word. Within the hour they have hundreds of kids lined up at the fence begging. Just beyond this wire was farm land and we witnessed
some women hard at work. Once we arrived we toured a gunship, C-130 plane that is equipped to shoot HUGE weapons. After touring the gunship and visiting with soldiers we headed to a gun range where we each got to shoot 5 different guns. Of course we all loved this. We shot an AK-47, m-9 Beretta Piston, MP-5, British Sterling and an M-4.

We also visited the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force – CJSOTF. It was awesome to hear some of their stories and also hear them describe what it is they do. They don’t really report to anyone and they are pretty much their own small unit that answers to themselves only. Most of what they do is undercover so that’s about it from that part of our day ;-)

Dinner with the winners to the spirit contest was held at the DFac in a VIP room. The entire unit, Maintenance Operations Communications, was able to join us in the VIP room. One of the soldiers mentioned that he would never again see the inside of that room. It is fun to help soldiers experience things they would normally never be able to do if it wasn’t for our visit!

Following dinner we went to our last meet in greet. Signed autographs and took pictures, the usual. At the end of that meet and greet, we took a special picture of our own…

And last, but not least we closed out our day on the runway where the m-16 take off. These are
crafts are incredible. By the time they lift off from the ground they are going 200+ MPH. These are crafts are refueled every 1.5 hours while on missions. A refueling plane meets them in the air and they refuel during flight.

I know I left out tons of details on parts of today’s activities but I would have to write a book to be able to share it all. With a 5:45am bus call to head to airport, I’m out!

February 8, 2010 | Day 1 in Balad

Below are some notes I took when we got here. I’m too tired to put these is paragraph form right now.

-This base was the first test unit of integration during WWII. They let the blacks fly… known as the Tuskagee Airmen – Red Tails – 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing. About 50% of soldiers here are Air Force
-This place gets mortared almost on a daily basis. We have been told the hits are usually on the other side of the base where the air crafts are located. We are only 50 miles from Bagdad.
-We received a commander’s coin from 332nd Red Tail One; a coin that most soldiers don’t even dream of receiving.
-Nice CHU except my bathroom was flooded!
-Even though the flight lines are miles from us we can hear the air craft taking off every few minutes.
While having dinner at DFAC we heard ‘Indirect hit, all clear, all clear’ over the intercom. We were told if it’s a ladies voice we are safe. If it’s a man’s voice then we are to run to a bunker. That did not occur!

After dinner we went to see the C-RAM in action. Currently can’t remember what that stands
for but the machine is used to detect and intersect incoming air threats. When an air threat is detected, this machine is pointed in the general direction and fired off. It shoots and finds the threat and blows it up in the air. There is a more technical way of explaining this but the best way I can explain it is by relating it to the red turtle shell you get on Mario Cart. When you have a red turtle shell you can shoot at any opponent in site and the turtle shell will find them and make them burn out!!
After watching the C-RAM we proceeded to Super Bowl party at the MWR, signed autographs, performed and held a cheer contest among units and the winner gets dinner with us tomorrow night.

We have been lucky with the rain because it keeps the dust down a little bit. Unfortunately the dust is starting to get to us. We are noticing dust in our ears more frequently, dirty snot when we blow our noses and we all have developed a minor, shallow cough. We are embracing every aspect of this trip, including the dust! It wouldn’t be a trip to Iraq with out a few dust issues! Headed to bed for another long day in Balad. All we know about tomorrow is that the entire day is scheduled and that we get to go to the hospital on base. We are a little nervous about this but excited at the same time. Updates tomorrow!

Good Night – God Bless!

P.s. The past 3 nights were spent at a place called Camp Speicher. On this base they have place called Freedom Rest where soldiers can go for 4 days at a time to rest. They have nice rooms, a pool, a 24 hour restaurant where they can pretty much order anything they want, computers, TV, every gaming machine you want, karaoke… I could go on. The neat thing about staying here was being able to witness the soldiers let lose. Most of them there are from all different bases and don’t know each other but it’s so fun to see them let lose on karaoke and even have a ‘dance party’ in the restaurant area because a good song came on!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

It's Super Bowl Sunday/Monday Over Here

February 7, 2010 Beautiful Super Bowl Sunday
Grizzly and Cobra

Today’s weather was beautiful and sunny! It was a nice change from our past two rainy days. Again we FOB hopped, to Grizzly and Cobra. Both of these places are very secluded and small. Grizzly did not have many soldiers present because they were all on a mission rebuilding a school in town. The captain showed me the pictures and it was awesome to see the difference we are making. Our soldiers are doing good things out here. After a few quick autographs and pictures they showed us their Strikers, really big machines they take on their missions.
However Grizzly was out done when we arrived to Cobra and they had the Strikers at the landing pad to pick us up and we rode the Strikers to the DFAC! The soldiers seem to enjoy showing us what they do. It’s not often they have a chance to show off to women what it is they do on a daily basis. It’s neat because they are like little boys showing off their favorite toys! One of the girls noticed a bunch of soccer balls on top of one of the strikers and asked why they had soccer balls. The soldier told us it was because when they drive to the cities and see kids they will stop and get out to play with them. This is a way the soldiers try to communicate to the kids that they are here to help. When we were at McHenry two days ago we received beanies from
them that read ‘I Love Iraq’ in Arabic. Sergeant Major Blakey explained that they had those made to give to kids and locals they meet in town, again to help them understand that we are here to help.

We did a performance for the soldiers at Cobra in their DFAC. There was no place for us to take off our cover up so we packed into a 4ft x 6ft bathroom and then came out of the kitchen of the DFAC when we were announced! It was great!! (see pic)

I took some pics from the helicopter today. There is actually a lot of farm land out here amongst the desert areas. Everywhere we have been has still been really dusty but its greener and even bluer than I had imagined. (pic to the right). So far we have had a different flight crew each day. All of them are special in their own way and so nice! Today’s crew was pretty funny. One of them had my camera and decided to have a photo shoot of themselves while waiting for the performance… hilarious, whatever makes them smile I guess. I sit on headset with them, partially because I hate wearing ear plugs, but also because I like to ask questions about all the interesting things I see below. Today (and two days ago) we flew over Sadaam Hussein’s home town where he was buried. We could see one of his many castles, right on the river. This is also the area in which he was captured.

We just got back from doing our 1:00am pre-game Super Bowl show at another DFAC but this one was BIG and there were probably close to 200 soldiers there! It was tons of fun. The had a 'pep band' of soldiers that were New Orleans music and handing out beads as we walked in. Some how they got cleared for each soldier to have two beers for the game too. I will post pics from this later... it's now 4:17am and I don't feel like loading new pics! We get back to our area to find out that sound is out on the entire base. There are about 6+ TVs in the area we are in but not one of them has volume. So I’m sitting at a computer watching live score updates and trying to find a way to watch it with volume online.

About to fall asleep at the computer desk. Hope you all enjoyed your Super Bowl Sunday. Good night... or should I say good morning!

Love- Meg

Saturday, February 6, 2010

FOB Hopping Continues...

February 6, 2010 More FOB Hopping on a Rainy Day
FOB BJCC Balad Joint Coordination Center
O’Ryan – Atruz Battle Compant

Today was probably the best rainy day I will ever have! We had a day filled with FOB hopping; woke up, loaded the black hawks and took off. Our first stop was FOB BJCC – Balad Joint Coordination Center. This Battalion is known as the Black Lions and was the first battalion first battalion in WWI to successfully conduct offensive operation. I’m not exactly sure what that means but I’m sure my G-Pa understands it, so I had to include it! Sargeant Major Lewis presented us with one of their coins and we took some ‘traditional’ pictures then followed up with autographs and pics for the soldiers! This crest has been my favorite because it’s a lion and I’m a leo ;-)!!!
(The pose in the picture is the way the lion is posed on their crest!)

On our way to our second stop our flight crew did what I refer to as ‘crazies’. They had a little fun with the helicopter and they would go straight up and then drop straight down and it was literally just like a roller coaster; we floated out of our seats, stomachs dropped, hands went up and we all just laughed. It was so fun!! We then landed at O’Ryan – Atruz Battle Company and were immediately treated to some DFAC food. When the soldiers came in for the appearance we had the opportunity to hold the flag again for a reenlistment ceremony. There were 12 soldiers who reenlisted and 2 of them had captured 4 ‘bad guys’ just last week. At the end of this appearance we received another coin, but this one was different. These coins were made for just this group of soldiers that arrived in December. There are only 250 of them in existence and they chose to share one with each of us. I have number 136!!

Stop three was Cruz-Morris which is an Iraqi and U.S. base. They picked us up from the landing pad in a MRAP- Mine Resistant A (the flip over thing we road in yesterday). This is the first time we encountered Iraqi soldiers and it was neat to see the interaction between the U.S. soldiers, Iraqi soldiers and Ugandans. Again it was an autograph and meet and greet session. They then presented us with Certificates of Appreciation and we departed back for our current place of stay. We are here for two more nights which is why I currently can’t talk much about it. I will say this place is NICE for our options in Iraq!! (Pic is us with the Iraqi Soldiers)

During the black hawk rides I wear a headset and listen to all the flight crew conversations. At times they will talk to me too or I can ask questions if I have them. While we were flying over the middle of nowhere I caught a conversation about a cave looking thing. They then went into describing landmarks surrounding this ‘cave’. When they were done I clicked in and asked if that ‘cave’ is something they will later investigate. They said yes! They landmark mysterious areas and will later send soldiers on a mission to find out what it is. Sometimes the Iraqis will hide their weapons in places like this. When flying we noticed random squares of palm trees and learned that the Iraqis used to hide out in these palm groves and would come out and shoot at the U.S. aircrafts.

Once we got back we were taken to the ECP – Entry Control Point. This is where all the trucks that come in and out of this place get cleared. They x-ray every single truck and truck driver and then physically search every vehicle individually and finger print each passenger. The security around here is crazy. At the bigger bases many of the workers are TCNs – Third Country Nationals or local nationals.

I likely will not blog tomorrow night because we have a 12:30am performance for a Super Bowl pre-game show then we will be watching the Super Bowl during the wee hours of the morning. The bases some how got approval to have beer on base and each person is allowed two beers during the Super Bowl ;-)!!!

Thanks again for keeping up with my travels through my blog. I hope all is well back home! Miss you all!!

Good Night!

p.s. there was kareoke in the dining area of the place we are staying and the cupid shuffle came on so we taught some soldiers the cupid shuffle!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Two VERY Long and Rewarding Days!

February 4, 2010 Q-West Northern Iraq

So this morning we had a lobby call of 2:30am for a 3am departure. After walking to the car, eyes half open, backs hunched and feet dragging we load our SUVs and continue on for 1.5 hours to Ali Ah Saleem where we received our body armor (battle rattle) and waited for 2 more hours.

Ali Ah Saleem is a hub base where the soldiers being deployed into Iraq take off from. When we loaded the C-130 we were among a full flight of deploying soldiers. Of course we 5 cheerleaders are filled with excitement, fed from our curiosity, and smiling from ear to ear. The crew we were flying with was from Fort Hood and the aircraft proudly displayed a Texas flag. While on the flight we socialized among the soldiers at the beginning and then each of us were able to go into the cockpit during flight. About an hour into it I looked to my right (toward the back of the plane – we were sitting in the front) and saw rows of soldiers facing each other, squished shoulder to shoulder, covered in battle rattle with their backpacks on their laps and eyes closed… ‘sleeping’. This was the first real tug on my heart. These soldiers are heading into Iraq to serve our country. We have no idea what they have left behind and we are ignorant about what they are about to embark on. At the end of the flight I asked a man from the crew if I would have a chance to say something to these soldiers. I just felt compelled to let them know how appreciated they are.
We arrive to Q-West and get to our ‘rooms’ also known as our CHU (chew), which stands for Container Housing Unit and it was literally a metal container, equipped with heat of course, and our bathrooms were 70 yards away. Our CHUs and the restrooms were behind huge concrete barricades! We then were taken around to different units to simply meet people around the base, this is when we found out were doing a performance that night, remember we were up at 2:30am and still had not recovered from jet lag! During our tour of Q-West were able to ride in an MRAP (Military Response A? P? – can’t remember). This is a simulation of a roll over in one of the HUGE military vehicles. It was awesome. We all buckled in, got the briefing and began to roll. We had our helmets on for this but unfortunately my head it too small and as we started going upside down my helmet fell off my head and tagged the soldier across from me in the stomach. It should not have been funny but I was upside down and the soldier was okay so I proceeded to have a laugh attack while hanging upside down. I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head!
That was our last stop before we had a measly 40 minutes to rest before going to the MWR center to prepare for the performance. The performance went well for how exhausted we all were. We followed the performance with autographs and pictures, and then called it a night. I’m pretty sure I was out the second my head it the pillow. It was the first good sleep I had in 4 days!
FFD – I am too tired to think of one since that was yesterday… you have now learned what a CHU is, so that’s your fact for the day.

February 5, 2010 JSS McHenry, Combat Patrol Base Daria & FOB Bernstein

Today’s activities came as a surprise to everyone. Last night we were informed that we would be loading Black Hawks at 9:00am and we would be on them for approximately 5 hours before we arrived at where are staying. They mentioned it would take this long due to stops. Unfortunately nobody said the stops were appearances of ours at small secluded bases. So we all decided to dress warm and comfortable for a long day of stop and go on a helicopter. As soon as we land, about 20 minutes later, I asked the guy if he knew why we were stopping if we were the only passengers on the Black Hawks. This is when we found out each stop was an appearance. Needless to say, with out showering, some in glasses (they don’t recommend flying in contact due to dust and possible chemicals) and helmet hair from our battle rattle, we pulled it off!! Oh, and Black Hawk helicoptors are the coolest thing I have ever been in.
The ride is so much fun and from Q-West to JSS Mc Henry we had to do some crazy maneuvers that felt like a rollercoaster!!!!!!
Our first stop was JSS Mc Henry. This place was just west of Kirkuk, the #1 oil producing city in Iraq. All of the places we stopped today are in the region of where Saddam Hussein was found. This was quick and fun appearance. It’s nice to visit the secluded camps because it is very rare that visitors see these soldiers. We received an excellence coin from Sergeant Major Blakey and then were on our way to the next FOB (Forward Operating Base).

Stop two was at Combat Patrol Base Daria. The black hawk ride there was the first time I felt a little fear. We had been in the air about 5 minutes and I suddenly see a flair come up from behind the aircraft right passed our open window that our side gunmen sit at with machine guns. Another flair immediately followed. I was on headset with crew and did my best to understand what they were saying but Ashley and I quickly grabbed hands and tried to breath! A few minutes later the co-captain comes on head set and asks ‘was anyone scared’, I came back with ‘hell yea what was that?’. I could not hear the explanation at the time but they explained when we landed. Basically the front of the aircraft has equipment that can detect different types of threats, when a threat is detected it sets off flares from the back of the helicopter that shoot to the front of the helicopter to warn the pilots and passengers. Of course I kept asking questions and as he continued to explain, another guy interrupts and says ‘that info is actually top secret’, so they stopped explaining.
At each base were briefed for safety on what to do in the case of an emergency and we are shown which bunker we are supposed to go to. During our briefing at Daria it was emphasized how important it was for us to understand what we were to do because they had two sneak attacks in their area in the past two months. Obviously nothing happened and we are fine. After our appearance they presented us with a hat they all wear!

Our third and final stop of the day was FOB Bernstein. Again it was an autograph and picture appearance. There were a few special things about this stop. We were the first visitors to ever pay a visit to the soldiers at this base and we participated in a reenlisting ceremony. Two of the soldiers decided to reenlist while we were there. The five of us held the flag behind the two soldiers while they were sworn back in.

We are now settled in at the location we are staying for the night and our accommodations are awesome. We each have our own room with big beds, across some rocky paths from a gym and lounge that has a restaurant, computers, tons of TVs, movies… it’s nice here. I will talk more about it later ;-)

Thanks again for following the blog. I hope you are enjoying reading about my experiences and maybe even learning a little bit about what it’s really like over here!

FFD – Tonight’s FFD isn’t really a fact but something I want to share. While we were at an appearance when of the soldiers was talking to one of the cheerleaders and mentioned that he and his girlfriend were going on a trip soon. She says how wonderful that is. He says he is very excited but nervous because sometimes they simply feel forgotten and it’s these trips that determine if that is true or not. If you are close to a soldier that is deployed, take the time to do something for them that let’s them know they are not forgotten!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

GREAT First Day...

February 3, 2010 Camp Arifjan (Air-if-john)
Let’s just say we have already seen over 200+ soldiers in only 2 appearances here in Kuwait today. It is amazing to be able to make so many people smile in such a short time; and our time here has just begun!
7:30am – Met in lobby to walk to the D-Fac (dining facility) for breakfast
9:00am – Met with Luitenant Colonel Crumpton for an information session and question & answer session about Camp Arifjan and the ‘Kuwaitee’ life. That information could be pages long so I won’t go into much detail, I am learning A LOT though! Colonel Crumpton was the first to present each of us with a Certificate of Appreciation and a coin (more about the coins later but you will read about us receiving coins)

10:30am – Meet and greet and autographs in Zone 6 (where the soldiers live on base). We did this for about 1.5hours signing the and taking pictures the entire time.
12:15 – Back to the D-Fac for some lunch
2:30pm – Depart for Kuwait Naval Base (KNB). Here we signed and took pictures again for over an hour at Camp Patriot which is the US Naval base within the KNB.

We had a few minutes of down time when we returned and were able to get out of uniform and into jeans and a light jacket. Then we has a special evening that was planned for us… the ‘transportation soldiers’ (the ones who drive HET – Heavy Equipment Transporters) were having a bbq and had invited us as special guests. We were got there and they cooked us steaks to order while everyone else ate hot dogs
and hamburgers. There were probably close to 60+ at the bbq. Then we were given the chance to ride in an HET. It was amazing and I almost convinced them to let me drive one. We even hung from a soldiers arms; he flexed and Ashley and I each grabbed on to an arm and literally hung from his arms!
As we were leaving the bbq they actually had a little ceremony to recognize us and give us a visor and t-shirt from their group. I then stepped up and let them all know how honored we were to be invited to be a part of their group and how much we and all other Americans truly appreciate what they are doing. Not gonna lie, I got a little choked up. It’s just crazy what we ‘normal people’ can do for the soldiers simply by being labeled as a Texans Cheerleader and having the opportunity to come over here. One soldier put it to me this way ‘Everyday here is like ground hog day. We wake up and the day looks the same, everything is the exact same and it all just runs together. When you all come out here you create a new day for everyone who crosses your path. Words can not explain what you being here does for the morale of this entire base’. I was told this trip would be rewarding, but to hear a soldier put it that way gave me goose bumps. We have yet to even get to the soldiers who really have to ‘rough it’ it Iraq.

Our departure for Iraq is very detailed and pretty crazy but I’m not able to explain until I am there. Just know I should be in northern Iraq some time tomorrow to continue our extremely full daily schedule and we will be landing combat style, I have referred to it as a ‘dive landing’, just learning the lingo!

Since everything is labeled with an acronym I’m going to start to end each of my entries with a fun fact of the day… FFD!!! (I’m a dork, I know)

FFD: Soldiers where their United States flag patch on their right shoulder but the flag is actually flipped. The stars are in the upper right hand corner instead of upper left hand corner. This is because when they are moving forward they want to be lead by the stars of the flag. Of course we asked, ‘why not put it on the left shoulder then?’ never really got a clear answer, some things are ‘just because’ around here!

God Bless!