Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Well, made it back in one piece last night. To all my loyal fans out there: Thanks for following the adventures of Tamee in Iraq. After Action Report you ask? The greatest gift I have gained from this experience is a greater understanding of the great mercy of our God.
Much love to all my friends and family around the world,

...be it ever so humble...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Other ways home

As I sat out in the hot Baghdad air, waiting for my flight out of that country I reflected on the journey behind me and the journey ahead of me. This is where I started last August- where I stepped off the C-130 after having thrown up everything in me. There I sat again dressed in my armor plated vest and kevlar helmet, watching the bats flutter around the barriers. Our little group had already waited 3 hours for this flight from the time we arrived at the terminal. Now under the camouflaged tent we were instructed to wait an additional 20 minutes while they loaded the “HR”. With the Black Hawks sputtering behinds us, I only barely caught the conversation and put my body back in waiting mode wondering what “HR” was. I thought of how long this “getting home" business was going to take; First a long trip to Kuwait, then a long bus ride, a long wait in the Kuwait Airport, a flight to Europe somewhere, a long wait in another terminal, a VERY long flight to the US; Then several days of out processing and then finally a wait in another airport somewhere and a flight to Salt Lake. “Wouldn’t it be great” I mused, “if some rich person came a long right now while I’m sitting here in the Baghdad International Airport, and they with their crew swept me and my stuff up, popped a sleeping pill in me and put me on a nice soft fluffy bed in a private plane. We’d speed our way across the ocean to the out processing, then (while I slept) they would do all my paperwork, turn in all my gear and speed me along to Utah where I would be transported to a helicopter and dropped off at my front door just as I woke up”. “Yes,” I thought, “That would be the best way home”.

After 20 minutes the administrator came and told us it would be yet another 20 minutes while they loaded the “HR”. “What is HR?” I thought. Then my mind turned to the day I’d just experienced in Headquarters Human Resources, dragging my stuff around with paper work to all the different departments getting signatures to clear my exit. That was a long, tedious, hot, tiring, process. Perhaps “HR” is a pallet full of paper work.

Finally we boarded the plane, not through the back like we usually do but through the side door. As we approached the door the administrator asked “Does anyone have a problem flying with Human Remains?”

Woah- “HR”

There in the back of the cargo plane was a long rectangular box with an American flag draped over it. It was an arresting sight. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. As I buckled my seat belt my first thoughts turned to the gruesome idea of what might be in there. I have seen horrific sites here in Iraq. War makes a mess of a human body. I’ve seen pictures from soldiers that were too horrible to keep on my computer and days after downloading them, I deleted them. But my mind didn’t stay on those thoughts long. I quickly turned to the scene happening somewhere in the United States- a mother, a father, a wife, perhaps children, nieces, nephews, Aunts, and Uncles, neighbors- being told that their loved one was returning home that week. The sorrow, the pain, the loss, the pit in the throat that moves to the stomach. I thought of the soldier-now a spirit- perhaps accompanying his body, sitting there on the plane with us.

The plane was very warm and all of us were sweating. The linguist next to me (also headed home) was very frustrated because our flight was not going to make it in time to connect to his commercial flight from Kuwait and he would have to rebook it. He was obviously frustrated and at times threw his arms up in despair.

We would first have to land at the Kuwait international airport to drop of “our precious cargo” as the Air Force air man called it. And then we would head to the camp. They loaded our pallet behind the coffin and closed the hatch. I watched as the Airman carefully secured the “HR” with straps, careful not to disturb the flag on top. It was a bright new flag. The red and white stripes were clean and clear and the contrast of the white stars against the Navy blue square was stark. It was secured with a rope around the bottom.

“On behalf of a grateful Nation…..” my mind turned to a scene in the near future. Again a mother, a wife, a father or brother would receive that flag, folded neatly in a triangle.

We lurched into the air for my last C-130 trip. I looked at the soldier across from me. He was sweating and hot and miserable. Then I noticed his wedding ring. He might be headed home on R&R to see his wife. I’ll bet she’ll be happy to see him. I’ll bet he’s tired from the grind over here. I’ll bet he’s happy to be going home. I reflected on my own selfish desire to fly home as quickly and efficiently as possible and then I looked at that bright flag draped on our precious cargo and my heart was very heavy. I suppose that there are other ways of getting home.

The dropping off ceremony was simple and profound. It was about 24:00 in the morning and we were all very tired. The plane came to a complete stop and all the engines were turned off. An Air force crew on the ground flanked the back of the cargo ship after our luggage pallet was taken off. Then six soldiers boarded the plane from the small door in the front where we had entered, and they walked down the isles where were we all seated. The artificial lights from the plane made the flag all the more bright. The six men stood at attention on either side of the coffin and as instructions were given, all together they reached down, picked up the flag draped box, turned on que, and marched with the coffin, down the ramp and placed it in a cargo truck waiting behind the plane. All of us passengers stood in respect. And I wept.

Dear God, I thought. This mortal experience is so perfect for what it is. This test is so real, so poignant sometimes. I prayed for the soldier’s family. That somehow, they would know they would see their loved one again- that it was not in vain, that it is all part of a plan.

As we lurched into the air and the sweat poured down my face, I felt nauseous and tired and miserable. But I felt. I was a live. I would see my family in just a few days. I would hold a baby again, kiss a man again, drive in the cool breeze, sit in church, go shopping, go to school. I would live on.

I knew I wouldn’t die over here. I don’t think the Lord would have let me off that easy. He’s going to stretch out my mortal experience until I’ve learned every little bit of what is needed, and knowing this stubborn heart of mine, that might be until I’m very, very old. But I didn’t really appreciate my gifts until then.

As tired as I was, the experience changed my perspective and my anxiousness turned to gratitude and a feeling of excitement and love for life. I will take this long tedious journey home and I’ll sit in airports and watch people, read signs in the terminal over and over again, try and sleep in uncomfortable places and positions and be just fine. I’ll be just fine.

Coming home mom, I’m coming home.

As a parting thought- my respect for military personnel has grown deep and strong. God bless them for their sacrifices. Until next time, I say a loving goodbye to the Middle East.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

I'm published!
It only took a year and a half but cool huh?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My co-worker (Rick) and I were walking through the chow hall yesterday and we passed one of our US linguists. Rick recognized him and stopped to talk a bit. They exchanged pleasantries and Rick mentioned that it should be his vacation coming up soon. Towards the end of the conversation Rick said "Man, you look tired, are you tired?"
The linguist, with a serious, concerned and sincere face, paused a minute and then explained with a smile "Ah man, we are trying to solve the problem in Iraq".

I laughed out loud right there in the middle of the chow hall.
too classic.

Today our little group is fasting for peace in the region. Hey, if your going to ask a being that is all powerful and knowing and loving, shoot for the stars ey?

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A sweet little person sent to earth in the middle of a war ...sigh... good thing there's a just and merciful God to fix everything in the end huh?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Pioneer Day

I thought about the pioneers today. I took three more foot lockers to the post office to send home and I thought about putting my junk in a wagon or hand cart and pulling across the desert. I would probably die on a day like today because it’s about 118 outside. So I’ll just let the postal service get it back to Zion for me. I want to include a story here written by what I’m calling the first Iraqi convert to the church. I don’t know if he really is but it’s a nice thought and probably more accurate than not.
He’s a real live pioneer and I’m honored to know him.
This is a copy of the talk he gave in church in June here in Balad.
I’ve not included names and some specifics for his safety.

Dear Brothers and Sisters
My name is ********, I’m born from Christian family (Protestant Faith. I’m ** years old (19**). Finished my high school in Kuwait 1978 and finished my college in Baghdad 1982 in that time there is war (Iraq-Iran). They get US in this war working with military Engineers in the army. I finished 15 January 1990. All this time I teach the Bible in my church (Protestant) for kids. We call it Sunday School. In the same year start another war (Iraq-Kuwait) and in 2nd August 1990 they get us again with that war and finished in 1991. After that our life began worse and the economy get worse in Baghdad too. Then I must find another job in another country. I find job in Jordan 1993 mechanical cars and get money to feed my family. In Jordan I see my old friend in high school in Kuwait. They are member in the LDS church. They invited me to visit them in the church, but in the first time I didn’t care about the church because I have no time for church- just work. In 1998 I returned back to see my family in Baghdad and give them money. In 1999 I back again to work in Jordan same work in that time. I see my friend again. They invited me to visit them in church again. In that day I had strange feeling to read the Book of Mormon. What in this Book?. I see the missionaries name is ***** and *******. They live inside the church (Amman Church) and I take the six discussions and in 13 Sept 2002 they baptize me in the church of LDS in (Amman Jordan). After one month I baptized my girl friend in same church in the end of month. October something happened I didn’t expect I been arrested from Jordanian police. It is order from President Saddam Hussein). We didn’t know what the problem they send us to Iraq border to Iraq police. They put us in the Jail and ask us what are you doing in Jordan. They investigate with me. They see the scriptures and pictures also I have money from my job about $7,500. in Iraqi money . It’s mean Dinar 15,000,000. They took it all from me and this money I have it from my work. They said this money from your friend in USA and what contact you and your friend from USA and those scriptures printed in the United States of American. They put me in the jail six weeks with many questions, in that time there is problem Iraq with USA. But this money I get it from my work. After this they didn’t find with me anything but they give me another chance get out of the jail if you give us ($1000) we will sent you free. It’s mean Dinar 2,000,000. I still have my own car. I call my brother to sale my car and bring me the money after that I make another passport going to Lebanon. Before the war I call my friend in the LDS church in Jordan. They give address in Lebanon. Before the war one month I been in Lebanon working there, and I find the church they had Sunday meeting. In September my sister in Baghdad she call me to tell me you have message from your friend LDS chaplain (******* ******) in USA Army. He want from me to return back to Iraq. He will help me in that time I talk with Brother ******* ***** he is the presidentative in that time church in Lebanon. He try call the chaplain about if I will back how can I find a job to work and get money to feed my family. First step I sent my brother Loay to Baghdad and meeting with Chaplain. He talk with him and he said we need your brother back. We can help him to find a job. Yes he find me job with RTI International (Research triangle Institute) in Iraq local government project. The name of the Team leader Albert E Haines. In that year I had two meetings with LDS church, on e in the National Zone (US Embassy). 13.30 hours with ******* ********* the leader team. In the morning I have another meeting camp victory Chaplain ****** ****** and LTC *** ******* all the year on Sunday the last meeting it was in the International Airport Baghdad. And I have another meeting in Friday with my leader team ****** ******** in the company one hour to make sacrament services meeting. It’s another story now he’s in Chicago Stake president and before he back to USA he give me a blessing because it’s very dangerous in Baghdad. It’s another story. And I have another story with President Saddam Hussein. In 1996- 1986 Four times I met him. Now this is my story. I lost my money and my car but I win in the end. I love Jesus said
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
Matthew 6:21

Some time I thinking if the USA Army leave Iraq in that time I have no church to go and if the ****** finish for here how can I find job and see my friend in LDS church. I pray everyday to keep my country safe and peace. I know this church is true and I believe that Joseph Smith he is the prophet in the Latter Day Saints
Thank you brothers and sisters

End story

I feel privileged to know this great man and I do not doubt but that he will stand with the great pioneers of old when the awards are handed out to those who sacrificed everything for the gospel. He’s secured his spot in heaven and will be the foundation God will do his great work in this part of the vineyard; this very old and beloved part of his vineyard. God grant that it’s not a nuclear wasteland before then.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

30 days and counting.
"30 days?", you say. "I thought we were down to 40, like, two weeks ago!". Well, we were but they recommended I stay a week longer to secure my completion bonus. One week for that much money is going to be just fine.
I've been more observant of the things that will be different when I come home. Sleeping with out the roaring of jets every couple of hours will be different. There won't be any helicopters with or with out big red crosses on them flying over head all the time. I won't be reading the graffiti on porta-johns any more. I will probably put on a different pair of shoes periodically and I might wear a dress to church. There's probably green grass and shady trees to walk around under and indeed I might stay out doors for longer than five minutes because the temperature will be about 20 degrees lower. I'll have to pay for gas and I'll probably be doing my own cooking and laundry. I won't freeze or bake at night because the air conditioning will automatically adjust itself when it reaches a certain temperature.
There will be children in cars and walking along the streets, holding hands with their parents and playing in water and dirt and grass. They won't just be in the hospital all broken and cut to pieces. I will be able to drive for an hour or more with out showing any one my identification card. I will be able to walk into any store I like with out someone checking me for weapons or ID cards. I'll be able to get up in the middle of the night and walk barefoot to the toilet, do my thing and walk back to bed, probably on carpet. I won't have to get up, turn on the light, get dressed, find a flashlight and a disinfectant wipe, walk outside in the dark heat to the porta-john, knock to see if anyone is in there, open the door, flashing the light on the toilet seat, put it down if it's up, wipe the pee from someone else off it if it's down, do my business, walk back to the trailer, get another wipy to wash my hands, undress, turn off the light and get back in bed.
I will be able to eat what ever i feel like eating for any meal I want, when ever I want during the day. I probably won't have to drink as much water because my damaged dehydrated body will be healed. I'll probably have a day off each week- maybe even on Sunday so that after church I can relax. I'll probably be able to communicate with my family to their faces and not on our family website, or via e-mail or delayed voice over internet phone. I'll have to pay for gas. I will be able to sit with my head on my father's shoulder and listen to him talk about life and the scriptures and I can lay in my mother's lap and let her play with my hair. I won't be alone all day everyday. Men probably won't stare at me all the time. There will be a lot of other women to look at. My laptop computer won't have feelable dirt on it after sitting open for one night. Everything that I buy will work properly for months with out breaking. I won't see very many people from other cultures and who speak other languages. I'll probably not be able to explain the Joseph Smith Story weekly to someone new like I have here.
And there probably won't be too much going on all the time and I will wonder why there aren't any bombs going off or alarms either. But, there will still be little lizards, huh? Did I mention I will have to pay for gas?