Thursday, March 1, 2012

60 (ish)

Well, here we are.  125 days down, 60 days to go.

I'm sure I've been here 125.  I'm not sure I have 60 days left.  For those who have deployed before, this needs no explanation, especially for Randy S.  For those of you who have not deployed, I'll do my best to explain this precise, clear, seamless process.

1. Take the "Proceed" date from your orders.
2. Add the number of days of your tour length.
3. Add 3 days for overlap to train your replacement.
4. Add 10 days to allow for travel contingencies.

The resulting calender day from this equation is the day you MUST BE GONE by.  Of course, my replacement is scheduled to arrive 1 day prior to my MUST BE GONE date.  Which means there is no way I'm getting out of here on time, with the required training period and travel times.  However, my friendly local readiness officers have officially petitioned for a change in my replacement's arrival date.  I'm actually optimistic (Randy S. is shaking his head at my optimism, I'm sure) that his arrival date will be moved up and I will get back home at the originally appointed time.  Fortunately, I'm pretty sure that whatever day I return home is the date that God originally appointed, so I can't really argue too much with that.

The days have been passing steadily.  My clinical practice has slowed a bit, but I've managed to do about 40 cases so far.  I've been able to busy myself with other projects here including our mobile surgical team stuff.  Oh, and Mustache March.

As most deployers know, there is some strange appeal to growing a mustache- something most men, and almost all women (except perhaps my mother) agree is a very odd fashion statement.  But, still, we deployed men feel a calling, a destiny, a magnetism, as the moon tugging gently at the oceans, toward dawning this facial hair.  Our Med Group has even managed to somehow make it a fundraising event for the Wounded Warriors project.  Each participating mustache grower receives votes which each cost a nickel.  There are three categories: Biggest mustache, Most disturbing mustache, and most "Wannabe" mustache.  (I think the last category is for the 19 yr-olds here who still haven't had their testosterone surge yet...).

This is the flyer I sent out to make sure everyone understood the regulations for proper Mustache Wear.

In case you can't remember what I look like without a mustache, here I am with the help of a couple jet engines.

I'll post mustache updates at scheduled intervals.  I know you're on the edge of your seats.

I know it's been several weeks since I've blogged.  I've missed a lot more than you've missed.  Over the last few weeks:
1. A. broke her arm, and will probably lose her first tooth anytime now.
2. S. officially changed his name to Batman.  He also got his first (cap)gun. (Thanks Cory for introducing firearms to my family).
3. little E. has gotten somehow even cuter, with long hair, and has learned to say her "K" sounds.
4. big E. has managed to make me even more proud of her, and fall even more in love with her from 8,000 miles away.

I'm so ready to get home.  Counting the days- however many there are.

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."  Isaiah 41:10


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Psalm 51

"Create in me a pure heart, O God,
  and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence
  or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
  and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me."

Psalm 51:10-12

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Updated List

Well, the holidays are over here, and it's back to the regular routine.  As I was warned by others who have deployed before me, the middle of the deployment has a tendency to creep along quite slowly.  There is wisdom in that assessment.  I've gotten over the jet lag and the newness of being here.  I'm well acquainted with my responsibilities at work, and the monotony is starting to drag on me.

In my first blog post, which I wrote a few days prior to deploying, I listed 17 things I expected to miss.  I was talking with a friend here about how a lot of my assessments were wrong.  I wanted to take a look myself and see how accurate my predictions were.

1. My Wife, my kids:   Absolutely, without a doubt, the hardest part about being here is that they are not.  Skype, texting, pictures, video, FaceTime all help immensely, but there is no substitute for the love and affection of my family.

2. My church (  I definitely miss worshipping alongside my brothers and sisters in Christ at Crossbridge.  I'm able to watch the sermon videos a few days after they are delivered via their website.  The Chapel here is not bad, but I still miss my pastor and my home church.  If you go there, you know why!

3. Indian food, Mexican food, Italian food, my mom's chicken fried steak, my wife's Italian cream cake (okay, GOOD FOOD!).  The Indian food here is actually quite good, though only every other Saturday.  The Mexican food is wretched.  There is no chicken fried steak.  I actually had a really good piece of Italian cream cake on a trip to B@ghdad (though I wouldn't recommend going that far for a piece).  Overall the food is quite good for a deployed location.  I miss me some FreeBirds and Chipotle burritos, and TACOS like these:

E  sent me a clipping from the Express News of marvelous South Texas TexMex.  Can't Wait!!!!

4. Bird-watching with my kids.  MISS IT, especially sharing it with my 3 kids.  I have only seen 4 different species of birds here.  I've counted about 30 in my backyard.

5. My backyard.  Vegetation in general!!!!!  There is no grass anywhere!  There are a few bougainvilleas near the DFAC, but that's about it.  I was excited to see this large grassy area:

The only grass I've seen around here.  The natural scenery surrounds it.

6. The support and encouragement of my Life Group at church.  They've been extremely supportive of my family in my absence.  They've helped E with house work, put up Christmas lights, invited my family to dinner, and have covered us with prayer.  I'm so thankful for them.

7. My Taylor acoustic guitar (Cory- I hope you enjoy it!) The one I brought will suffice.  Actually, the one I brought isn't bad.  A little rough on the fingers, but it has a good sound (at least when i play it [Ha, JCB!]).  Have definitely enjoyed bringing this along.  It allows me to pass the time, and allows me to worship the Lord through music in my dorm room (seen in the picture below).  The walls are concrete, so I don't disturb the neighbors.  Concrete does make it challenging to put thumbtacks in the walls, however.

Me and Oscar.

8. Long, hot showers (3-minute combat showers are not going to be the same).  WRONG!  The showers in my dorm room are hot, high pressure, and I haven't taken a 3-minute shower yet.  In fact, I think the only reason I go running is so I have an excuse to take an extra shower.

9. Toilets that flush.  Normal toilets.  Not sure what I was thinking.

10. H-E-B.  Definitely miss the options of the grocery store, but mostly just miss that H-E-B is close to my family.

11. Starbuck's.  I've been shipped incredible coffee (I'm running low now, so if you're looking to send some... shameless, I know!).  Plus I brought a French press (thanks Jordan), and have a percolator.  I am the coffee king.  Which also makes me the insomnia king, but that's for another entry.

12. Operating in my own ORs.  Actually these ORs are fine.  And there is so much less red tape and bureaucracy around here, so it's a pleasure.

13. My son's coy smile when I answer his "Dad, are you going to work today?" with "Nope."  MISS IT.
14. My oldest daughter's suffocating hugs.  MISS IT.
15. My youngest daughter's "I MISSED YOU" yell when I get home.  MISS IT.
16. Muffin night.  MISS IT.
17. Fresh produce.  The produce here is actually pretty good.  Can't complain too much.

With all the above, I must make it clear how thankful I am to be here.  I am safe, I am warm at night, and I work with great people.  Most notably, this time here in the desert continues to allow me to grow closer to God.  It's given me time to memorize scripture, to read the Bible, to pray, to meditate on God's Word, and to seek His will for my life.  I wouldn't have chosen this, but I'm glad he has brought me here.

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in."  Proverbs 6:11-12

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Psalm 24

As I walked from one side of base to the other today, I spoke the words that often come to my mind when I find myself in awe of the the Most High God's creation: "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it."

I knew these words were from the Bible, but I couldn't remember where, exactly, they were from.  These words have always brought me peace when I speak them aloud.  I am reminded that the God who created all that I see is the same God who whispers into my ear.  These words calm me, assure me, and they settle me.  Most of all, these words fill me with thanksgiving and praise for the Creator.

This evening, I was watching a John Mark McMillan video from his website, (video entitled "Who Is This"), and the caption states that "the song is basically a contemplation of Psalm 24."  So I looked up Psalm 24 in my Bible, and was overcome with peace when I read the familiar words:

"The earth is the Lord's and everything in it."

Amen.  I am in the world.  I am the Lord's.

Psalm 24
Of David. A psalm.

The earth is the Lord's and everything in it,
  the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas
  and established it upon the waters.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
  Who may stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
  who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
  and vindication from God his Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
  who seek your face, O God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, O you gates;
  be lifted up, you ancient doors,
  that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
  The Lord strong and mighty,
  the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O you gates;
  lift them up, you ancient doors,
  that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
  The Lord Almighty-- he is the King of glory.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm dreaming of a white(sands) Christmas

Just as in the US, the base here is gearing up for the Christmas season.  The chapel is focusing on the advent season, with sermons relating to Zechariah (John the Baptist's father), Mary, Joseph, and the prophets foretelling the birth of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Decorations abound, and thankfully, I have even been able to decorate my room to usher in a feeling of the season.

I certainly would prefer to be home this Christmas, helping E with all the decorating and spending time with my sweet family.  But I will make the most of this season here, doing my best to bring attention to the birth of the promised Messiah.

Lots of encouraging letters and pictures from our life group.  Can you tell which ones are from the kids?

My Charlie Brown Christmas tree (from Mom) and my Christmas Turkey (from kids)

As Cheery as I could make the entrance to my room.  No, that is not mistletoe, E.  Just the Christmas bells.

Christmas lights on my bunk.  You might notice they aren't lit.  Apparently the Christmas light wiring and the local power source were incompatible, evidenced by the 2 minutes of light followed my smoke and no lights.  Oops.

Lots of yummy food sent by care package.  My favorite: the fritos for Chili Pie.  They have great chili here, but no fritos' so my sweet wife took it upon herself to send the vital missing ingredient for this high-class meal.

Wish you all have a Merry Christmas.  E has my address if you want to send a card or letter.  Hand written cards are like gold!  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving Thanks in SW Asia

Though this Thanksgiving was spent many miles away from my Texas home, there were certainly a lot of similarities.  Since I didn't have the opportunity to hang out with E and the kids before the traditional  extended family gathering, I decided to punish myself with a 10K run starting at 6 a.m.  About 100 people from the base came out for the "fun run," and despite the wind and the cool weather, it was quite enjoyable.  I ran it in 46:52, which was pretty reasonable for 6.2 miles for me.  The real reason I ran it, of course, was to minimize the guilt for being lazy the rest of the day.  It was technically a work day, but I had moved my clinic to earlier in the week and didn't have any OR cases, and the Nebraska surgeon was on call.

Starting off the morning in the cool, crisp air, watching the sun rise certainly served to focus me on the incredible creation God has fashioned.  Though I'm away from my precious family, I am still in the middle of God's hands.  Even in this desert land, the Lord provides.  Jesus said: "Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14-15

The Thanksgiving meal was wonderful.  The food preparation folks did a marvelous job at creating an excellent meal for all of us.  As the pictures show, they really went all out.

As you can see, quite an extensive menu.  The Desert menu was just as long!  I have no idea why I have that look on my face.

What Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a giant butter turkey sculpture?

If you look closely at the uniform, there are two stars under the apron strap.  This is a 2-star general serving my turkey.  Ya, I'm a big deal.

I know the only vegetable you can see in this picture is corn that I mixed with my mashed potatoes, but there's also a sprig of parsley there under the bread.

The cowboy's game didn't start until about Midnight local time, so I didn't stay up for that.  But I did manage to get a good post-turkey nap in.

Thanks for all the thoughtful e-mails.  It's great to see notes from people back home.  Keep them coming!

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Each Sunday morning, as soon as I wake up, I proudly place another check mark on the marker board outside my room to commemorate the end of another week in Southwest Asia.  Today, I happily marked the completion of my 4th week.  4/26 weeks down!  15.3%!  I know there's a ways to go, but each time I add a mark I feel hope rising up.

Today I was able to attend the worship service here on the base.  It is a contemporary service with praise and worship music very similar to my home church.  I've actually been practicing with the band and had the chance to play with them on stage during this weekend's services.  No, mom, I didn't play the spoons, I actually played the acoustic guitar.  And, no, Cory, it wasn't Oscar Schmidt, it was a nice plug-in Yamaha.  Today, the Lord showed me clearly the value of corporate worship; for worshipping Him alongside other brothers and sisters.  Most of my time here has been spent alone, a choice I have consciously made to allow more time for prayer and meditation on God's word, and in listening to his still, small voice.  I've cherished this opportunity, and have grown from it.  Today, though, I experienced the joy of worshipping with the body of Christ, his church.  As other believers lifted their hands and their voices in praise to our King, I felt so thankful for the privilige I enjoy regularly at home.

In "The Heavenly Man," a book that details the persecution, struggle and torture of Chinese Christian Brother Yun, he spends years isolated in prison.  When God brings other Christians alongside him, even for brief encounters, his faith and hope are strengthened.  I can't imagine being alone without Christian brothers for years.

The weather here has turned quite nice, and I'm thankful I missed the 130+ degrees summers.  Most days are cool (60s) in the mornings with an early fog, with high temperatures in the 80s to 90s.  The sunrises and sunsets still stir me.  I can't help but to pause and appreciate the majesty of the Lord with each one.

The stomach bug is now just a painful memory.  I'm getting into a good schedule at work.  Work has been steady, mostly consisting of hernia repairs, upper endoscopy and other minor surgeries.

Living on a joint base, we work alongside personnel from Canada, France, Great Britain, and Australia. Last Friday, 11 November, we celebrated and remembered the sacrifices of military members past and present from all the coalition nations.  It was a special ceremony and was interesting to hear some of the history of the other nations' militaries.

"In Flander's Fields" was read aloud, a poem written in 1915 during WWI by Canadian physician John McCrae.  I recall reading this for the first time as a junior in high school, and still keep a printed copy at home.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Veteran's Day Retreat Ceremony

One of the things to pass the time is exercise.  The base here does a great job of offering individual and team events to motivate people to take part.  The four of us pictured below (L->R) Texas Surgeon (me), Virginia OR Nurse, Nebraska Surgeon, Mississippi Anesthesiologist, took part in a 10K relay to raise money for the Combined Federal Campaign, and had a great time.  What I love about this picture is that it demonstrates the Air Force's crazy fixation with REFLECTIVE BELTS and LOGOS!

This last picture is just an excuse for me to look at my beautiful family!  E made the shirts as a celebration of Orphan Sunday.  Great job, huh?  She carefully coordinated the kids' smiles in this pic.

Thanks for all the prayers and e-mails.  Keep them coming.  Thanks, even more, for those who have been caring for my family back home.  E tells me almost daily of someone offering to help her with the kids, the house, or just bring her a cup of coffee and conversation.  It touches my heart that they are so well cared for in my absence.