Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fuel movement

This week we have a pretty big mission. We're going to provide helicopter airlift to the President of Honduras, the American Ambassador and a variety of other dignitaries. We'll be flying out to the eastern part of Honduras, and it's going to be pretty far. There isn't a lot in eastern Honduras, especially important... there are no refueling locations. Last week, we took 2 blivets of fuel to where we're flying so we can refuel ourselves. This is a picture of the helicopter sling-loaded with 2 blivets (each carries about 1,000 lbs of fuel I think). This is a CH-47. I thought it was a cool picture!

My job is to monitor the movement and coordinate details for missions like these.

Carpetas - part 1

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is very important in Honduras. In fact, Thursday and Friday before Easter are national holidays. In Comayagua (the local town; it was capital of Honduras until the mid 1800s), they are famous for making "Carpetas." Carpetas are intricate sawdust pictures made on the street. They start at midnight on Good Friday and finish by 10 am when they do the stations of the cross reenactments. Part of the reenactment includes walking across the Carpetas.

I went down to see the Carpetas with a group from work. These are some of the pictures from our trip. In another post, I'll publish pictures of the carpets.

The first picture shows me and my friend, Jana, taking pictures. There were ladders between many of the carpets to enable picture taking.

This is one of the carpets. It's hard to believe you can make saw dust this colorful! This is part of our group.

This is the J3 team plus our commander. It's a great group of guys!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Helicopter movement

This was an interesting weekend. Last week we were notified to deploy 3 helicopters, plus support and command/control, to Haiti to provide an air mobile asset. (Mission would be movement of distinguished visitors and troops, aerial assessment of damage -- likely important in rainy season -- and medical evacuation.) Haiti is pretty far from Honduras, and sending the helicopters on their own would have taken several days. We requested, and were granted, strategic airlift.

On Saturday, 2 C-17 airplans arrived at Soto Cano Air Base. Saturday's activity was to load the aircraft. One C-17 had to carry 3 UH-60 aircraft. The helicopters had been prepared for the movement by folding the blades and taking off the tail lights (reducing height). A C-17 can hold 3 UH-60 aircraft, but it's really tight.

They load the helicopters by lowering the ramp of the C-17 to be ground level, pushing (with a tractor) the helicopter to the edge of the ramp. Next they attach a winch to the helicopter. If the helicopter is going in forward, then the pilot steers and people guide the rear tire with a tow bar. When the helicopter is backed in (the 2nd one), then a tow bar on the rear wheel is how the helicopter is steered. There's almost no extra room when you have 3 helicopters on the C-17, so it took quite a while to get each helicopter into place. There were several scary moments when the helicopter wasn't going exactly the right way... but by the end of the day, all 3 were on the C-17. It was amazing to watch and I was really proud of our military for the teamwork that took place to get the helicopters to move.

As of today, the helicopters have moved and are operational!

Copan Ruins (Ruinas Copan)

In February, I visited the Mayan ruins in Copan. These are some of the things I saw. I still am amazed at the ability of the Mayans to carve in rock these images. And they've last for thousands of years! Amazing. First, is a turtle. The next is a jaguar. The Jaguar is carved into the wall of their collesum. Mayans would pair a warrior against a jaguar much as the Romans paired prisoners against lions.

This next image is part of a parrot face. The parrot is a very important animal to the Mayans. This was inside the temples. (Every so often -- 52 yrs I think -- the lunar and solar cycles align and the Mayans would rebuild their city, so this is much older).

Next to the parrot is a picture of part of the wall of hyroglypics. The hyroglypics wall is about 4-5 stories high and I think is one of the biggest discovered.
The picture with me and Maj Jana "Diva" Nyerges is in the collesum.

There were several statues like the one here. The square is an altar, and each of the 16 Mayan rulers is depicted on the outside. One of the rulers was 18 Rabbits. His pictures always have the number 18 and a conejo (rabbit). He's the 2nd from the left.

This is a picture of one of the buildings (there were about 2 sq miles of ruins... a number of buildings but also some fields and statues).
It was a great trip. I learned a lot. Now I think I'll need to pick up a book on Mayans to be sure I really understood (our excellent tour was in Spanish) the nuances.

Best day

About 3 weeks ago, I got the opportunity to travel to DC. I got into DC late on a Monday and had an important meeting on Tuesday. That day -- Tuesday -- was one of the best days I've had in a very long time.

I got up early in the morning with my beautiful girls. We got dressed together then I took the girls to school. After dropping Emily and Margaret, I had about 20 minutes with just Sarah. We went to Starbucks (got a latte... it tasted great!). We sat at a table by the window and found a fly who must have had a broken wing. The wing would climb half way up the window and then fall down. Sarah and I spent quite some time predicting how high the fly would get before falling. We also got to chat. After dropping her, I went to the Pentagon.

I got to see friends and had several very successful meetings. My work day ended about 2:30 and I picked up the girls. We played together fora bit then we had a date night.

We went to our favorite restaurant -- Bamian. It's an Afghani restaurant. We loved our waiter who kindly took care of us. We loved the soup. In fact, the girlsl loved the soup so much that they asked the waiter how to make it. He took them back into the kitchen to meet the chef. Chef didn't speak English, but the wiater translated. We toasted each other and laughed all night. Sarah told me I should date the waiter... I told her he was too young for me and too old for her. We laughed more.

After dinner, we went to see Sydney -- our dear friend -- and her family. It was great to visit with dear friends. I miss them a ton!

After the visit and dinner, we went back to Abuela and Abuelo's house and everyone got to go to sleep. I slept with Emily and Magie that night (had slept with Sarah the night before).

I also got to see my brother and his family as well as my parents. It was lovely... and the best day I can remember having for a while.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Copan Zip lines

Recently, I went to Copan (very close to the border with Guatemala and site of a set of Mayan ruins). It was a lovely town -- cleaner than most and more pastoral. The school was well kept and had new playground equipment. there were a variety of houses... it even looked like there was a middle class. We found some lovely restaurants, cute cafes, quaint shops. There was a festival on the Saturday night of our visit. Our hotel was on the town square and our balcony faced the square. We heard marichi music all night long!

One of the cool activities is to go zip lining. They drive you to the top of the mountain and you go on 15 lines down to the bottom. Some of the lines were VERY long... all were over the trees, some over valleys, one over the Copan river. The boys (they couldn't have been more than 20) who ran the tour were very experienced and took the pictures/video I'm attaching. They have a lot of experience with this. They went down the lines backward and hands free... they were like monkeys! I tried to take the guide out on one platform... oops! I just didn't get that you pull down to slow down and I came in pretty close to full speed.

It was a fun morning!

This weekend, we went to the orphanage again. We brought peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches, milk, and popcorn. (We made 230+ pbj sandwiches, popped 50 bags of popcorn and took 10 1/2 gallons of milk.) The food was gone in about 45 minutes. I served sanwiches... so I was covered in pb and j! After feeding the kids, we had about an hour to play.
My parent's church, St George's Episcopal Church, sent a bunch of things for the kids. So, I put together a bag of toys to bring with us on our visits. The bag had matchbox cars (most went into pockets, but you can see this boy loved his ambulance!), a jump rope, sidewalk chalk, an ipod with speakers. I got to jump rope for a long time with a set of girls. Others listened to music. (The older girls think there should be a dance contest next visit... but we need to bring prizes. They think good prizes would be make up, perfume, or milk. They don't normally have milk so they have to have bean burritos or eggs for breakfast... and they'd prefer cereal with milk. They laughed when I explained that in my house it was the treat to get a hot breakfast!)
One of the girls turns 18 soon and will be leaving the orphanage. She plans to go to Tegucigalpa (capital of Honduras) to study to be a billingual secretary. Now, when I see her, I'll only speak English because she needs to practice.
We plan to have an Easter celebration with the kids in about a month. We'll have a longer visit and we'll organize games. I think we'er going to to 3-legged races, sack races, etc. We're considering playing some sports, but we're likely to avoid soccer as we'd get beaten very badly! :)
One of these pictures is of one of my co-workers with her favorite little girl. The third picture is of one of the older girls from the orphanage with a baby. She had him posed in a funny way... he looked very serious in his sleep!
It was a fun visit.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Travelig to Copan

President's day is Monday, and following Army tradition, we have a 4-day weekend. I requested and was granted a pass and am participating in a Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) trip to Copan, Honduras. Copan is the site of the largest set of Mayan ruins in Honduras. It's VERY close to the border with Guatemala and is in the mountains. I'm not sure how far it is if you can fly, but the main highways really go in and out of major cities. So, the chartered bus went from Comayagua to San Pedro Sula to Copan. It took about 9 hours. We did stop for lunch at a cafeteria along the way. I think it's pretty typical for here (at least I've been to similar kinds of places in Comayagua and LaPaz (the towns surrounding Soto Cano Air Base). You buy a plate of food from the buffet. They always have rice and tortillas (corn at this place). They generally have 4-5 kinds of meats, 4-5 choices of vegetable and 4-5 salads. I'm not sure if it's a flat price or depends on how much of each thing you pick... my lunch was fried rice, fried chicken, steamed vegetables, beet salad, a second vegetable and tortillas (too much food to finish). it cost 80 lempira (about $4).

We stopped as well to go to the bathroom. The thing about the bathrooms here is that they don't always have water in the chamber... sometimes, you get to get a bucket of water to fill the chamber so you can flush. That's not a big deal, but it's not a favorite part for me! Thank goodness charmin makes the little rolls for your pockets and that I got a big shipment of hand sanitizer this week! (By the way, if you're in the market for hand sanitizer, I highly recommend Bath and Bodyworks... they've got great smell/feel in their hand sanitizer.)

The trip was through the mountains. I was impressed with how pretty it was when we were away from the city. There were farms along the mountainsides. Lots of farm animals. (It's pretty common to see a cow or horse tied to something on the side of the road with a leash that's short enough to keep them out of the road.) A lot of the trip reminded me of northern Arizona. When we got closer to Copan, it got greener and more tropical looking.

Tomorrow, I'll go see the ruins and we have reservations at a nice restuarant. Sunday, I think we're going to go the Copan river where we can do the zip lines and swim. I plan to take photos (and write more).

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Trip #1 to Orphanage (7 Feb)

Today, I went to the orphange sponsored by my office. The office goes down every other Sunday. We bring food and then we play with the kids. Today, the guys also installed fire alarms in the rooms. (the house is all wood but they didn't have any fire alarms.)

I got to play with the little boys (pictured at the bottom) and talked with girls. I also served pizza. there are about 120 kids in the orphanage. The older boys work a ways away on a farm. We bought 30 pizzas from Domino's (yes they have Domino's here). We also brought cookies and milk (8 gallons) and juice. Could have made healthier choices, but the kids enjoyed it. Actually, the kids circled through the line as many times as possible and stashed the pizza. some even had zip lock backs to put the pizza into...
These are my pictures.

Kids eating pizza... guy in the orange shirt is the oldest boy and he kind of guides the other boys.

These kids were hanging out after eating.

This girl really enjoyed her pizza!

I played with this boy a lot.

This girl was really cute. She reminded me of Emily.

This is Wendy. she held my hand and gave me hugs/kisses as I was leaving. She just wanted affection. I liked her dress.

These boys were the ones that I played with most. We spent a lot of time playing with my camera. Aren't they cute!

Here we are playing with the camera.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Flying to Duyure, Honduras

Getting to Duyure, Honduras is pretty hard. It's a remote, isolated village. The last part of the trip is dirt, mountain roads. We took a black hawk helicopter.

We flew over the mountains, villages, fields, and plantations. The people we flew over came out to see the fly over. The animals tended to scatter.

The villagers really loved seeing the helicopter up close and personal. These boys also enjoyed posing for pictures. While the medical team was looking at the facilities, the flight crew got to play soccer (at the end of this field) with these boys and other children in the village.

This little girl also wanted to see the helicopter.

It was really cool to go over the mountains and villages. I took some pictures and video of the journey. They didn't come out great, but it's the best I have.

This video is from flying over the Honduran countryside.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Craft fair

Today (and yesterday) there was a craft fair on base. There were a bunch of vendors. The Hondurans make beautiful wood products: bowls, boxes, etc. There were lots of wood products for sale. Also, pots and paintings and sculpture and jewlrey. It was fun to see the various vendors and their products. I got a couple of things. My best prize was a painting of Comayagua (the nearest town). It's framed and I actually like it very much. It cost $24, but I only had $20. It was 7 PM on the last day of the fair. The lady asked if I had at least $3 more... I said I only had 1 lempira (1 dollar=18 lempira). She laughed because that's like one penny. She wanted the sale, so I got the painting. I hung it in my hootch. I'll have to take new pictures of my hootch soon.

My hootch maid has been decorating. I now have curtains, silk flowers in a vase, plants in pots, pictures on the wall (several from her), art work from my girls, pictures of my girls... it feels like a house not a camping site. I'm so very lucky to have Maria Elena!

I didn't barter much at the craft fair. it was just hard to justify negotating down the prices when my most expensive purchase was $20. I know it's part of the culture off base (and I'll barter I hope in the future), but on base it felt weird to try to talk the vendors down. First, I know they give a part of the money to AAFES to be on base. Second, the prices seem very low. Third, I know the people here are very poor and I want to be able to give money back to the community...

Anyway, it was neat to see a market. I'll go to Valley of Angels (I hope) one Saturday to go shopping... I'm hoping to go to the waterfalls this weekend... we'll see if my work schedule permits the trip. (i work mornings and nights on the weekends.)

More later!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Where am I and what am I doing?

About a month ago, I left Virginia on a 120 day rotation in my AF reserve capacity. I'm in Honduras working at Soto Cano Air Base (SCAB). SCAB was established in the 1980s to promote democracy and to help with natural disasters. As bases in central America closed, SCAB remained open. (It has a runway capable of accomodating C5s among other assets.) Today, the missions for SCAB include humanitarian assistance, medical relief, building partnerships, and counter drug.

I'm working in current operations. That means that I am one of 3 people who form the information node on the events for the upcoming 30 days (including today... so I get all the "today" crisis). I get to see a lot of information. It's my first time working in operations, and I'm learning a ton! I'm getting exposed to the military (Army) planning process as well as the missions in central America. I'm also getting to practice my Spanish!

I got here on 9 Jan, started working on 11 January. Of course the earthquake hit Haiti on 12 Jan, so things have been very busy! Our area of focus includes latin America, and it does not include the carribean islands, but we are relativley close. We ended up deploying a medical team (23 people who can provide surgical services) on 17 Jan. They are doing phenomenal work... they've treated more than 1,500 in 11 days. (They've been supplemented with medical teams from other organizations, including other countries.) I was part of the planning efforts and now am part of the tracking efforts related to this team.

This blog is my way of keeping track of what I'm up to... and my way of learning how to do the blog thing! :)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Trip to Duyure, Honduras

This week, I traveled by UH-60 to Duyure, Honduras. It was a pre0deployment site survey for a longer trip we'll take in about a month. The point of the trip was to get all the logistics for the next trip worked out.

Duyure, Honduras is in the south east part of Hondsuras about 5km from teh border of Nicaragua. It has 19 sub-districts and is one of the poorer areas of Honduras (about 70 percent live in poverty). It's an agricultural area and the primary crops are corn and beans.

Their mayor is a woman (dentist) who just got reelected. She has some ideas for how to improve her community. For example, there only is a healthcenter in Duyure but not in any of the other 19 villages. The health center staff travel to provide vaccinations, etc, but they have no facility to work out. She's hoping to be able to build a small clinic in each village to facilitate delivery of services. She also is working to turn the internet back on (2 presidents ago, there was an initiative to make internet services available in all alcades (city centers), so they have a building with computers but under President Zelaya money dried up and there is no internet service. So, she's working to get internet service. ). Anyway, it was a super cool trip and I was very impressed with the alcade (mayor). I'm looking forward to going back in a couple of weeks! Here are some pictures of the trip This is the baptist church in the village.

This is the library.

The school has classrooms on one side (long side of a rectangle), the principal's office on the short side, and bathrooms on the other short side. In the middle, there is a large, covered basketball court (shown above). There are pretty planter boxes along each side of the court. We'll stage the medical exercise in this school. This area will be where we provide the health classes and hand out vitamins.

This is the inside of the principal's office.

This also is the inside of the principal's office.

This is a view of the outside of the school. It's a primary school. There are 6 classrooms plus a kindergarten. The school is used for 300-400 primary school students. Some of the students walk as far as 5km each way. (In the high school -- close by the primary school -- some of the students walk 7km each way.)

This is thr group -- locals plus those from the base. The mayor is the 3rd from the right. I'm in the middle. We'er standing outside the classrooms. To our right is the basketball court.

I have other pictures which I'll post later.
It was a great trip!

Monday, January 25, 2010

My sitting room and one of my new plants.
My bedroom. I just got the colorful comforter.

My kitchen (1/2 of the first room I have).

Outside of my hootch. Note the fine metal shutters I prop open to get natural light and air. They put mesh and plastic over the window openings to keep bugs out. (They also spray for mosquitos twice a week.)

Where I live

I wanted to drop a note and post some pictures about where I'm living. I have a full hootch -- relative luxury here! You have to be a field grade officer (or senior enlisted I think) or here on a full year tour to rate such space. It's like living in a camp. I've got 3 rooms, only one separated by a door. It's all wood because they have a massive termite problem here... in fact, I have to clean up after termites each day (just sweep up the dust they leave behind). If the dust is too bad over my bed, I can get the boards replaced.

I hired a lady to help me keep things cleaned up and to help me with laundry (probably could do it myself, but I wanted to infuse money into the local economy... they are very poor in Honduras). It's nice to have help, especially with the termites. I do not keep food out in the open in my room because there are lots of ants here. I either keep things wrapped (granola bars that are unopened) or in the refrigerator. Mostly, I don't keep food in my room... just eat in the dining facility.

Anyway, I'm attaching pictures of my room just so you can see what it looks like. I ordered the colorful bedspread from Target and was thrilled when it arrived last week so I could break up the brown!

I'm also attaching some outside pictures. Two are of my hootch. You can see the shutters that prop up for light and air. The other two are the buildings across the street from me. One is the bathroom building. I'm lucky I only have to stumble about 50 feet to go to the shower/restroom!

(Ok, i have dial up connection, so I'll add pictures later... need to go to work now.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

After one week

I've learned a lot! Base is very comfortable. We have a small BX and a few MWR activities. Maybe I'll make a hammock at the hammock shop! We have a dining facility which serves decent food. There is a base pool.

I'm working the night shift in support of Haiti for the near term, so I have been trying to sleep for a bit in the late afternoon at the pool (why not get color, too!). Things are interesting in the current operations cell. I'm starting to adjust to night work... it's hard to sleep during the day! But it's nice to have daylight hours. It also means I don't go to PT formation... not that I minded PT.

Since I'm working nights, I haven't been able to get off post yet. Hopefully soon I'll get to do a bit of exploring (at least in Comayagua the town closest to base).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Day 1

Yesterday was the big day. I left DC and traveled to Honduras. It was a very early morning, but things moved quicker than I expected at airport. Flights were uneventful and I got a bit of rest. Clearing customs was easy, and I found the rest of my party easily.

We drove to the Air Base which is situated in a valley. The big event for the trip was being hit by a drunk driver. His front end was ruined (but he drove off anyway), and our bus had minor damage. (No one on board was hurt.)

When I got to base, they toured me around and showed me my hootch. I'm pretty lucky! I get a whole hootch to myself (3 rooms - kitchen, living room, and bedroom). I've got a tv and couch and decent storage. It looks like a camping cabin, but it's comfortable. I'm across the street from the bathroom facilities.

Last night, there was a farewell dinner and I was invited to participate. It was great to meet some of the folks with whom i'll work.

Today was a day for wandering and getting unpacked. I also started my new workout routine.

I'll continue my workout schedule tomorrow morning with PT at 0615. I'm excited about tomorrow!