Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Home, and Reintegrating.

Well, I've been home for over a week and I still don't know how to answer the question, "So, are you glad to be home?"
Of course I'm glad to be home. But, I also miss the sense of mission and the friends I had in Afghanistan. And even though I spent 15 months in Afghanistan, I sometimes feel guilty being home and safe while others are still serving overseas. I don't ever want to forget that I have friends and colleagues away from home and in harms way, and I'm ready to go back when necessary to do my part again.

I've often heard it said that the nation is not at war, only the military is at war. Now that I'm home I have a mixed opinion on that statement. True, there are no outward signs of war in Vancouver, Washington; No armored vehicles patrolling the streets, no bunkers, no check points. However, there is obviously a lot of support for deployed troops. In my first week back I was out to lunch with a group of Soldiers and another patron paid the bill for all of us, and didn't even stick around for us to say thank you. Everywhere I go I am thanked for my service and welcomed home. Having seen what war does to a country I'm glad we are safe at home, I'm glad it doesn't "look like we are at war" and I'd gladly go back if that is what it takes to keep us safe here at home.

And although we don't see the same level of industrial mobilization that was required during WWII, we as a nation have invented and refined dozens if not hundreds of systems to fight this current war; Up-armored HMMWVs, electronic countermeasures against IEDs, improved body armor, UAVs, as well as improved classes and training and leadership techniques. When I look back to 2003/2004 and my time in Iraq I'm reminded that in the beginning we had no UAHs, no improved body armor, no translators, no PRTs or ETTs or anthropologist assigned at the unit level. Now they have all these, and more, in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now I'm not saying that someone shouldn't have anticipated these needs and prepared accordingly, but those decisions are made above my pay grade. I am saying that the military has adapted and changed and learned while still fighting and winning the war on multiple fronts; Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Asia.

And yes, I think we are winning the war. I certainly have no insight into the "big picture" but I know that on the ground, wherever there are US troops (or British or Canadian or Polish or Romanian or any number of other countries that support us with troops on the ground) we are winning the war. Iraqis or Afghanis who work with US troops see a little bit of America, and they like what they see. We will never make them like us, and they don't want to be like us, but we can make them better, and help them make their countries better and safer.

I don't pretend to understand the politics that got us in to this war, or even the long term strategy to "win" the war, but I do know that the US military can and will do it's job whenever and wherever they are called to serve. I know that the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines with whom I have worked represent what is best about this country, they are great ambassadors around the world.

Am I glad to be home? Yes, of course. Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. In fact, I know that as long as I wear the uniform this is part of the job.

Until next time.

Phillips, out.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


A refueling stop in Leipzig, Germay, on our way to McGuire AFB, NJ.

An empty C-17, heading home to McChord AFB. A nice ride home.

The best seat in the house: On the flight deck of the C-17.

Heading toward the sunset, and home, at 34,000 feet.

Well, the deployment has finally come to an end. After almost 15 months in Afghanistan I made it home to Washington State at 9pm on 4 April 2008.
My departure from Afghanistan came earlier than I expected, and the trip home was more exciting than I expected, but in the end everything turned out well.

Originally, I expected to depart Afghanistan with the 550th Medical Company on 6 April and, after a short stop at Manas Airbase, arrive at Pope AFB, NC on 8 April. From there I would need to make my own arrangements for traveling home to Fort Lewis, WA.

Instead, on 30 March I was offered an opportunity to depart early and take a more direct route home. Obviously, I jumped at the chance, even without a clearly defined travel plan to get all the way home.

I manifested for a flight from BAF to Al Udeid Airbase in Qatar on 31 March. The flight was delayed, and delayed, and delayed until it finally departed early in the morning on 1 April. After an uneventful 5 hour flight on a C-130 I arrived at Al Udeid AB in Qatar where I discovered that they had no idea what to do with me.
After some explaining and negotiating I was manifested for a flight to McGuire Air Force Base, NJ that departed early in the morning on 2 April. Due to the kindness of an Air Force LtCol I got a seat on the plane, and after a refueling stop in Leipzig, Germany we finally arrived at McGuire AFB, NJ where I discovered that (surprise, surprise) they had no idea what to do with me.
After some explaining and negotiating I was told to come back the next day to explain and negotiate some more. There were no planes scheduled to leave McGuire for McChord AFB, the closest base to Fort Lewis, WA, until early in the morning on 4 April so I was stuck in NJ for the time being.

With over 24 hours to kill, and no room available on McChord AFB or Fort Dix, I decided to rent a car and drive to NY to visit my son, Jeremy. It would not be a long visit, but since I had not seen him for 15 months even a few hours would be nice.

So, after a few hour's rest I rented a car and drove to NY where I had a a nice visit with Jeremy before I headed back to McGuire to manifest for my flight.
I arrived back at McGuire early in the morning of 4 April to find that my flight had been rescheduled for the morning of 5 April! So, I settled in for another long day, and another night in the passenger terminal. But, as often happens when traveling on military aircraft, the schedule changed, and this time to my advantage. The rescheduled flight departed on the afternoon of 4 April, so after a 6 hour C-17 flight across the country I finally arrived at McChord AFB at 9pm on 4 April 2008, and I was greeted by my wonderful wife, Joyce.

It was a nice surprise for Joyce. She was expecting me sometime around 10 April, but with my unexpected revised travel plan I arrived on 4 April, in time to celebrate my birthday with her and my daughters on 6 April.

So, after almost 18 months away from home, including 15 months deployed to Afghanistan, I'm finally home. It's been exciting and difficult, wonderful and terrible, but now it's over. And with the end of the deployment comes the end of this blog. I'd like to blog about the reintegration, but I think that will be too boring, or too personal, or both.

So, I think I'll just close this blog with a heartfelt thanks to all those who supported me during this deployment and those who followed the story of the 396th CSH (FWD)/Salerno Hospital. I encourage you all to keep supporting the troops, those deployed, deploying or redeploying to any of the many places our troops are these days.

As I settle back into life here in the US I'll be searching for my own ways to support the deployed Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines.

Thank you, and may God bless you all.

Phillips, out.