The flight from Chicago landed at about 7:45 pm.  In contrast to the rocky liftoff we had back home in which our plane (buffeted by polar vortex winds) rocked alarmingly, in San Diego both the final approach and the landing gear’s touchdown onto the runway were as smooth as silk, probably because the weather outside was so perfect.  When the cabin door opened, the coastal air felt positively balmy and my first thought was that the crazy-high property values down here are obviously worth it.  I collected my “trash” (= bags in Navy speak) from the baggage claim area and lugged them to the USO where there was a shuttle bus to the Navy base.  I got a room, crashed in bed, and whispered “goodnight” to Megan and the girls although it was unlikely any of them could hear it.

On the following morning, the men and women of the company began to introduce themselves to one another in fragmentary “hello’s” and short conversations, as circumstances would allow; the individuals originate from places ranging from Florida to Alaska.  Corpsmen, Nurses, and Doctors, all of us were complete strangers to one another but united by a common uniform, a common cause, and a common mission.  Over the next several days we processed through the various “evolutions” (Intake, Travel, Credentials, Medical, Dental, Gear Issue…) and now here we are at the end of the first week, assembled, credentialed, equipped, and ready to head out for a number of days of field exercises.

The workdays didn’t allow all that much get-to-know-you time or opportunity, but our various sub-groups had the evenings for that. The medical officers found occasion to go out to dinner twice.  Each event was a fairly spontaneous foray into the Gas Lamp District via the gleaming red trolley that stops right here at base.  The first dinner was at a gorgeous sushi restaurant called “Nobu” where the chef’s special was about a seven-course meal, each one more delectable than the previous.  The second night’s dinner was at rough-hewn and energetically decorated Mexican restaurant, about one-tenth as expensive as the first (no joke), but still delicious, followed by an ultimately raucous evening at an Irish bar down the block from it  –even though we’re “only medical,” we are still Naval officers and as such have a duty and an obligation to tear it up when out on the town on “liberty.”

Although I was reluctant and a bit nervous to head out, both social excursions turned out to be fantastic:  Orthopedic, Neurosurg, ER, ICU/Pulmonology, Anesthesia, General/Trauma surgery, and a Psychiatrist attended. I imagine everyone of us to be in the same boat, still licking our wounds from saying “goodbye” to families and homes, and everyone a bit anxious about meeting the new people in their lives.  Like some kind of polygamous arranged marriage we’re all sort of stuck with one another, you know, for better or for worse, and our first tentative steps upon meeting one-another were nerve-racking and exciting all at once:  “Who did Uncle Sam pick for us?” we wanted to know.

Happily, I think we all found at first blush that we’re a great fit.  Relieved and encouraged, it’s off to the bush for field exercises.


Bon Voyage

Well, YESTERDAY was tough.  After years of knowing that it would someday come to pass and after months of knowing the precise where/when/and how it would come to pass, it finally did come to pass:  I had to go deploy.

By the time I awoke in the am Helen was already exercising in the basement and Maeve had made me breakfast in bed. She tried to awaken Fiona for it, but Fi was still sound asleep because she and I had stayed up late the night before talking about things.  Maeve sat at the foot of the bed while I delighted in my pancakes, strawberries, and coffee. Scout sat there, too, and like a rascal tried to combat-crawl closer to the pancakes, but he was rebuffed.

I picked up Mom for 9:00 am mass; the priest gave a great homily but obviously he doesn’t have any kids of his own as we weren’t done until after 10:10 and the families in front of us and those behind us engaged in protracted wrestle-matches with their kids beginning about 9:35.  Anyway it wasn’t our problem anymore, our kids were grown and didn’t fuss.  After mass we all went to Mardie Anderson’s Juice Joint for coffee and smoothies.  Mom had written letters to each of us, so she passed them out there. When we got home I sat and talked with Helen, did a final run-through of my bags and papers which had been slowly getting organized in the front room for several days now, went to Fiona’s basketball practice where the cuties presented me with a little goodbye poster, and walked the dog around the block one last time.

We all climbed in our van, “Sugarbelle,” and drove off to the airport.  We huddled tightly on the sidewalk outside of the American Airlines terminal and for whatever reason shuffled about a little bit like Emperor Penguins in the Antarctic, we pledged tearfully our love and allegiance to one another, and reluctantly, ever so reluctantly, we said “goodbye.”

As the van pulled away we waived and cried, and a big, awful weight was lifted for all of us because at long last the deployment was begun and it could start getting shorter every day from here on out. And indeed this is my final deployment.  For the first time ever the end of the Navy career is within the horizon line.  It may only be a blip right now at that junction of Earth and sky, one about 18 months journey from today, but like a seaman in a crow’s nest after crossing an ocean and finally sighting his destination, “land-ho!” I cry, “land-ho!”

“Kandahar Abbey”

It is a week before I have to climb onto a plane for a month of pre-deployment training; it will be followed by another seven month tour in Afghanistan (tour #2; first one was four years ago with the Marines in Helmand).  Outside our house the wind is howling and the air is below zero degrees; the temperature is due to drop much further overnight. Megan, the girls, and I are in the living room watching the season premier of “Downton Abbey,” sighing and gasping as the venerable estate chooses or doesn’t to remain relevant, as its regal youth chooses or doesn’t to listen and learn from the generations it is supplanting, as its staff finds and loses love… and so, I am inspired to start this web-log.

Over the next year I will do my best to present a little drama of my own:  I won’t make any attempt to tell truth in this blog or give accurate descriptions of anything.  Rather, I’ll just try my best to make it enjoyable, maybe interesting, possibly worth the time it takes to read.  I think I’ll call it “Kandahar Abbey.”