Random Brain Dumping

Musings and observations about life

Saying goodbye to APO AE 093XX

President Barack Obama flanked by soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Soldiers respond as President Barack Obama delivers remarks on the end of America’s war in Iraq at the 440th Squadron Maintenance Building at Pope Army Airfield, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Dec. 14, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

On the first page of my address book are these names: Maurice, John, Jeff, Lee, Lyle, and Shama. The thing is that I never wanted to write any of the names in my book.

Writing the name and address meant the person was deployed, most likely to Iraq.

Twenty-one others are on the next four pages or are scattered throughout my book.

Writing the names on the first five pages kept me from searching through the address book to find the names when I would send packages, which I tried to do regularly.

Most of the names are of people I met while serving as a public affairs supervisor at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the 2125th Garrison Support Unit, a unit that came into existence to help the Army process, train and equip Reserve Component soldiers.

Some names are of people I barely knew or didn’t know at all, names of people whom others gave me.

Some names I never put in my address book, as I had jotted down the information on sticky notes or other slips of paper and tucked them into the book’s front pocket. In a few cases, I printed the address from an email message and just never transferred it.

Some I know well. One is my son.  One is now a dear friend. One is the husband of a good friend. One is someone I’ve known since she was a teenager. One I’ve known since he was in elementary school. One is a cousin.

When I decided to join an Army Reserve unit in Atlanta, I wanted one that wouldn’t deploy overseas. While I do enjoy travel, I’ve never wanted to live in another country for very long, and I decided I didn’t want Uncle Sam to send me somewhere I didn’t want to go. In choosing a unit, I chose one that went to North Carolina when called to duty.

In hindsight, that seems cowardly, particularly in light of those 26 names in my address book and the ones on slips of paper tucked in the pocket.

As each person returned home, I drew a diagonal line through their overseas address. In several cases, I ended up writing the name again with a new address at a new base in Iraq.

Oh, how I hated that even more than writing the name the first time.

The packages I sent were well-received, but I always felt the contents were insignificant. Some home-baked cookies, maybe some home-canned fruit, store-bought wintergreen mints, and a card. Always a card.

I last sent packages to a cousin and two former members of the 2125th GSU a few months ago.

With the exception of the guys who were in my unit, everyone else I’ve sent packages to has returned safely to their families. One just celebrated a birthday in Iraq; the other one I haven’t heard from in a while. More than 4,000 who served never made it home alive.

I hope never to write another name in my address book of anyone going to APO AE 093XX.

I’m glad the war in Iraq is over. To the almost 2 million who served there, including the ones in my address book, thank you, and welcome home.

December 19, 2011 Posted by | Random Brain Dumping | , , , , , , | 4 Comments

In the middle of nowhere, but absolutely loving it

Seems odd these days to stay at any hotel anywhere that doesn’t have in every room a flat-screen TV, Wi-Fi, cable service, and at least a bedside clock/radio (or iPod docking station, in some cases).

Yet, I find myself at such a place, by choice.

Well, I figured I might not have Internet connectivity or cellphone service. I did, however, expect a TV.

Here I sit, though, at Pisgah View Ranch listening to crickets and birds chirping (That sound crickets make is called chirping, right?). Katydids are abuzz, almost in a mating call and response.

It’s as if time stood still here in these mountains of North Carolina.

In fact, on the property is a two-room log cabin built in 1790, according to the sign. My cabin is slightly larger, is better constructed, and has a bathroom.

When I pulled up, my GPS said, “Your destination is on the right.” That’s the last time my phone had a signal.

I was greeted by the cook, who immediately wanted to discuss my dietary needs, in particular, what I wanted to eat for dinner. She advised me that the dinner bell would sound at 6 p.m.

As I read through the waivers and charges, a wrangler from the barn called down to say she would be ready in 15 minutes to take me out on the trail. Wow, even before I finished checking in, my ride was ready.

Nothing fancy here, and I know some of my friends would not fare well here. A bed, two chairs, a dresser, a nightstand, a luggage rack and two hangers. And windows that actually open.

This is my kind of place – and at least for 24 hours, I’m the only guest here. Talk about service.

I dated a self-professed hotel snob, so when we traveled, we tended to stay in the finest hotel in the city, and although I do remember being impressed that the bellhops and maitre des knew him by sight and called him by name, I don’t recall a chef or cook or anyone taking our meal order as we checked in.

Being here reminds me – in an odd way – of my stay at New Orleans’ Le Pavillon about two weeks after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast but before the water from the broken levies had fully receded.

At the time, most hotels were either closed or were open only to law enforcement officers, emergency workers, utility companies employees and the like.

A fellow Army Reservist and I volunteered to travel to New Orleans to help tell the stories of Reserve troops and their mission there to support the 82nd Airborne Corps and others, as needed.

Our first night there, we slept in our respective vehicles, me in a rented SUV, to keep from sleeping in tents. The second night was in tents with other soldiers. The next few nights were at the Four Seasons Hotel in suites where the carpets had been pulled up because the pool had flooded.

Then, while searching for hotel availability online, I found Le Pavillon, which, before Katrina, featured nightly peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in the lobby as a nighttime snack.

The price per night was exorbitant, but it was within the per diem rate. The website required full payment up front to reserve the room. We booked two rooms immediately.

When we arrived, we were greeted by police officers hired to live in the hotel to guard the valuables. They told us the hotel was not open to guests, but when I explained how I found the site, I was told to call back later to talk with the manager.

For about two weeks, my fellow Army Reservist and I were the only guests at this once five-star hotel walking distance to the French Quarters.

At Le Pavillon, however, no one asked me what I wanted to have for breakfast or any other meal, as the kitchen was not fit for cooking meals for guests. I ate MREs: meals ready to eat. The other soldier and I each had been given cases to take with us.

At Pisgah View Ranch, after my trail ride – on an amazing (and privately owned) Missouri fox trotter named Gypsy that one of the wranglers let me ride because I wanted a gaited horse – I went back to my cabin and freshened up, and then headed to the main house, the one spot on premises with Internet connectivity.

After all, I needed to let someone know exactly where I was, and since I couldn’t call, email was the next best thing.

So, for the next few days, I’ll enjoy this piece of heaven and the sounds of nature, punctuated by the occasional pickup truck (everyone here seems to have one) and barking dog.

I’ll also enjoy the comforts of home … from back in the day, including the mockingbird, my natural alarm clock that woke me at 6 this morning, and the homemade biscuits and oatmeal made just for me.

Pisgah View Ranch

July 29, 2011 Posted by | Random Brain Dumping | , , , | Leave a comment

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