Monday, December 14, 2009

Asking Why!

I heard an interesting leadership story today and it went something like this.

A young private was in the middle of boot camp at Fort Dix, NJ. One day he got tasked with painting the parking lot. He had to recover all the yellow lines that marked the individual spots. He was well on his way when he had an accident. He spilled some paint in the middle of the lot. There were no parking spots there so it kind of stood out. He took the paint and evened it out into a circle. So out in the middle of the parking lot there was a big yellow circle. He went on and finished all the parking spots and reported back to his drill instructor that he was finished.

This young private graduated boot camp and never told anyone what had happened. After a few years as an enlisted soldier he went to OCS (officer candidate school). He graduated and became an officer. After being in the army for 15 years and making LTC (Lieutenant Colonel) he found himself back at Fort Dix for a conference. When the sessions where over he happened to drive by the old parking lot that he repainted. To his amazement, it was freshly repainted. All the lines where done in a bold yellow. And wouldn't you know, the yellow circle in the middle of the parking lot was still there! Not only was it there, but it also was freshly painted and bright as could be. For 15 years soldiers in basic training had re-painted the same accident circle over and over.

The moral of the story has to do with leadership. In the Army we have a lot of training that teaches us to do what we are told when we are told. The "why" question is discouraged or even punished if asked. Granted, as a leader, sometimes you need your order carried out immediately and the why question only waste time you might not have. But on a routine basis, we need to train soldiers to ask why.

Good leaders should not fear the why question. Good leaders should explain why often enough that when they can't, their followers understand. Teaching followers to ask why also ensures they understand the intent of the order. If you want a gauge of the effectiveness of your leadership, find out how often your followers know why they are doing what they are doing!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Air Assault is almost over!

The 10 days (really 11) of air assault school seems to drag on and on. Thankfully, tomorrow is "sling load test" day. I've got a written test first thing in the morning. Then after the written test we move on the the hands on test. We have to inspect 4 sling loads and find the "deficiencies" in each load. We are given two minutes per load and there are 4 deficiencies on each load. We have to find 3 of the 4 to get a "go."
Hopefully, I will find all the deficiencies quickly and not have to re-test on anything. Once this phase is complete, we move on to phase 3: fast roping and rappelling. That will be Friday, Monday and Tuesday. On tuesday we get to fast-rope out of blackhawks!
That's really what I am looking forward to. Then its all wrapped up on Wednesday morning with a 12 mile road march! Finish the road
march and get my wings! Then I'll never have to go back there again.

Hopefully I'll be posting tomorrow at 10:30am at home after getting a first time go on all the tests. If not, it will be a long day. Hope you are all well!






Sunday, December 6, 2009

This Army Life IS My Style.... Air Assault School Is NOT!

Hey Everyone,
I could only have imagined how busy I would be once things got underway for me as a Battalion Chaplain. Well, Army life has exceeded my expectations. I am going to carve out a few minutes each week to put out an update but for now, here is what's going on.

I've been on the job for a little over 3 months. There's been a ton of on the job training that I've gotten. There has been little from the Chaplain school that I've actually used, but I'm sure some of it will come in handy some day.
I've had all sorts of experiences that I didn't see coming and been able to help some people in some great ways. I've got a great commander and a top notch staff to work with. I feel privileged to work with and for such great people. I tell people all the time that I have the best job in the Army.

For some reason, a few weeks back, I volunteered to attend the Air Assault School. My commander was like "Really? Chaplain, you want to go?" I thought I did. I went to Airborne School and got through with out any issues. I thought Air Assault would be about the same. I was wrong. This school has shown me how soft I've become as I've gotten older. I can honestly say that I've not enjoyed one minute of being there. I've never quit anything in my life, however, the other day I thought about setting up my packing list wrong just to get kicked out so I could go back to my job. Like I said.... I'm becoming soft.
Its 11 days long and I'm through 3 days. This coming week, I'll take the test on phase one (hand and arm signals, pathfinder operations, and aircraft information), then start phase two (sling load). Then the following week we will move into the rappel and fast rope phase. It all ends next week Wednesday (December 16) with a 12 mile road march.

Then after that I'll go back to work for a few days and then start block leave. We will be heading back to Chicago December 23rd through the 30th. Hopefully my body will recover from all this abuse. Hope you all have a great Christmas and have some time of rest.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Life is going well!

So, I know we haven't written in a while... but it is because life is going good and is soooo busy! So much has happened since Chris wrote last, that I'll give a quick run down.

We are in Fort Campbell now, with our house (3 bedrooms, 2 baths, great back yard, dining room, etc... biggest place we've ever had, and it's single family!). We love our house! It might not be as nice as some of the houses off base, but you can't beat the location! We have great neighbors that we see and talk to everyday! We have a fenced in back yard that is great for the new dog, Cutler. He is a mutt of some sort, looks like a lab with German shepherd coloring. He is doing well. We started training today, and he learned to lay within 1 hour! Smart dog. It is great to let him hang in the back yard for a few hours a day, and he has learned to run with me really well! We go for a run/walk 3-4 times a week, and he already gets excited when I pull out my running shoes.

We also found out a few months ago that I am pregnant! Today I am 12 weeks, so the first trimester is over. It has been pretty easy, compared to others. I have not gotten sick at all, I only get tired. I probably get tired because I try to do too much, but it is hard for me to take it easy. I usually nap once or twice a day, but am blessed with a hubby with a great job, so I don't have to work while going through all this.

We have met and made some great friends. I go to PWOC each week, which is a group of wonderful Christian women on post. I have been part of a Bible study called "for women only" and I recommend it to all ladies who want to know how their men think! We also started to volunteer at Awana, and will eventually teach the 7th and 8th grade group. They are sorta crazy, but we already have some connections to our students. It's really fun to volunteer as a couple! We go to a church on base, called Chapel Next. It is considered the contemporary service on post. We only get to go 2-3 times a month, because we are on retreats and visiting Chicago the other weeks. Last night we had dinner with the other Chaplains from our Chapel, an it was a great time of fellowship, prayer and laughs. I think we have 25 chaplains that help out at our service!

Chris just left for the week. He is TDY (temporary duty station) in Atlanta for the week learning how to put on an amazing marriage retreat! We went to our first "strong bonds retreat" last weekend, and 90 couples learned how to improve various aspects of their marriages. It is great that the Army is dedicated to helping families stay together. You'd be surprised the stories that Chris hears everyday. There are so many struggles that couples are going through with stress of regular life + the Army. Everyday he knows why God has put him here. We know we are in the right place.

that's just an update... and I will be doing it more often... promise!

I hope you all are doing great. Please send us emails of what is going on in your life. We love to stay connected.

Love you all,
Christina

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Together Again

Sorry for the delay in posting. The training schedule has been very demanding over the last few weeks. However, there's lots of good news to update.

First and foremost, Christina has arrived here in South Carolina! She flew in Friday afternoon, which happened to be our 5 year anniversary. We had a great dinner at the melting pot and have been enjoying each other's company for the last 2 days. While its kind of weird having no home and living in a hotel, its great to finally be back together. Even this blog entry comes to you via pool side relaxation together. Christina is reading and I am "working."

Secondly, I only have 1 more week of training before I report to my unit. While I look back at the training I received, I am extremely grateful for the hard work of my instructors who have been over worked and under paid for the job they've done. 2 weeks ago we had a 3 day FTX (Field Training Exercise) in the 100 degree heat with the incredible South Carolina humidity. Yet even when we all were pushed to our limits, our instructors continued to teach and guide us. I've met some really amazing guys down here and I look forward to seeing and working with them in the future. There are 5 of us who are reporting straight to Ft Campbell after we finish here. In fact, all of us who are headed straight to active duty assignments (about 30 of us) following this training have become good friends. That's good because we will need it. Since every Battalion only has 1 Chaplain, it can be one of the hardest and loneliest jobs in the Army. Other Chaplain friends can make all the difference.
One particular friend I've made is almost 20 years my senior. We've made a deal, he helps me mature and grow up in areas I need to, and I'll help him with all his technology/computer issues. I think I'm getting the better end of the deal.

Thirdly, we've been added to the housing waiting list at Ft Campbell. We are currently 16 of 26 on the list. It looks like we'll have to wait about 2 months for a house to open up once we get there. Thankfully, we are getting good at living in hotels and they have a post hotel at Campbell that is a suite that has a separate bedroom and kitchen. Not that different from some of our smaller apartments in Chicago. And it will be worth the wait. When we finally do get housing, we will get a large 3 bedroom house, some of which are brand new! Needless to say, it will be the largest home we've ever had and we plan to use that space well! (thats an open invitation to anyone who wants to come visit us.... only an hour from Nashville and 3 hours from the Kentucky Derby next spring!!!!!).

Well thats all from the pool side for right now. We will be leaving South Carolina for Ft Campbell on Friday afternoon after my graduation and we'll get there sometime on Saturday. We are about to start a new chapter in our life and we are both extremely excited to see where it takes us. God Bless!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Soldiers die in war. The question is, how do we deal with it?

One of my jobs as a Chaplain will be to help soldiers learn to cope and give permission to grieve when one of their closest buddied dies. Naturally, when something traumatic happens, tough guys want to shut down and keep it all inside. That is the last thing in the world that I want to see happen. When something traumatic happens we have to open up and talk about it, talk about how it effects us, talk about what it has done to us.
Here is an example of part of what I'll be doing. It's a tough video to watch because its real.

If you watch, you will see a Captain give the "facts" of the situation. This is the first step in what we call at TEM (Traumatic Event Management) intervention. Someone who knows the facts of the event comes in and briefs everyone on what exactly happened. Then that person usually leaves and the soldier are encouraged and prompted (by the Chaplain) to talk about what happened. What they heard, what they felt, what they smelled, tasted and saw. When they share their reactions to the event (weather it be anger, rage, fear, sorrow, regret, grief, or numbness) they are understood to be held in confidence within the group. But when the soldiers open up and realize that others are having the same feelings they begin to help each other cope. It doesn't lessen the loss, but the hope is that the soldiers feelings are validated and normalized and they don't feel isolated and alone.
Give it a watch:


video


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blue Force Tracker





Today we had an all day training on how to operate a "Blue Force Trackers" (BFT) also know as Force Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2). This might be the most amazing piece of battlefield technology ever developed when working properly. In a nutshell, all the friendly forces (which are blue symbols on the screen) have a computer system made up of a transceiver, touch-screen and key board, CPU, Hard drive and a GPS receiver. What it does is share the location, movement, action, and status of our entire force with everyone else and the commanders. That means, by looking at one large screen in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) the commander can see, in real time, the location of all his units. In addition, folks over at the Pentagon can also watch a battle take place in real time.

But it doesn't just track friendly forces. It also helps track the enemy. If someone sees enemy forces, all they have to do is touch the screen on the map location where the enemy was seen and give their description. Then, that enemy position is loaded onto the entire system and becomes available to all our forces (Ground, Air and Sea).

Additionally, messages can be sent over this system including specific operations orders, status reports, Medical Evacuation, and my favorite, instant messaging. The biggest improvement to this system when compared to the old system is distance. Previously we would still use a normal radio that worked on an FM radio signal which means line of sight. Well when you get to an area that has lots of mountains, line of sight is not always the best way to go. This system instead uses satellites in orbit to communicate. That's sweet.

While the Army and the Military as a whole has lots of issues (and believe me... it does!), it is really cool to see technology like this that continues to help us maintain our status as the worlds greatest military.

Now, how does this help me as a Chaplain. I will be a Chaplain for at least 4 different companies. Each of these companies can be at a different FOBs (Forward Operating Base) or en-route to different bases. When I turn on my BFT I can get the real time location of all my units and check on their status reports. I can also send them a message and let them know when I will be at their location to provide Religious Support. It is going to be a really great tool. Plus, it combines 3 things that I love: 1) maps, 2) cool technology, 3) things I can touch.

It was a great day of training! Hope there are more like it coming.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Unit Assignment

2 weeks down, 5 to go. Week two seemed to be a bit easier and less stressful. I think I am finally comfortable in the uniform and with the training we are doing. It took a little while but it is beginning to feel normal.

Yesterday I finally talked to someone with answers at Ft. Campbell. I called the Deputy Division Chaplain (who will be one of my many bosses) and we spoke briefly. He gave me my unit assignment. Drum roll please............. I will be the Chaplain for the Support Battalion in the 4th Brigade Combat Team. I am sure many of you need that explained. So here's my attempt.

A few years back the Army decided it restructure itself. Instead of sending entire divisions (like the 101st Airborne Division) to combat, which would be tens of thousands of soldiers, they came up with the idea to make a brigade (which is one level lower than a division) a self sustaining unit which could be deployed on its own. So the higher brass restructured the Army around this brigade model. They call the Brigades "BCT" = Brigade Combat Teams.

At the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) there are 4 normal BCTs and there are 2 Aviation BCTs. I have been assigned to the 4th BCT.
Within every BCT there are 6 Battalions. There are 2 Infantry Battalions which are really the heart of the unit. The other 4 Battalions are essentially in a support role to those infantry guys. They are made up of an Artillery Battalion, a Special Troops Battalion, an Aviation Battalion, and a Support Battalion.

That Support Battalion is now mine! Their official name is 801st Brigade Support Battalion.

The mission of my Battalion is to rapidly deploy by land, sea or air and provide integrated combat service and health support to elements of the 4th Brigade Combat Team. The 3 essential elements of the Battalion include a supply company, a medical company, and a maintenance company. My soldiers provide everything that is needed to make sure the guys in the fight have everything they need.

Now what does this mean for Christina and I in terms of deployment? The 4th BCT has been deployed twice. First to Iraq from Nov 05 to Nov 06 and the second deployment was to Afghanistan from Mar 08 to Mar 09. I will arrive in September which means they will have been back for about 5 months. As of right now there is no public announcement of the next future deployment for the 4th BCT but from what I have heard we will most likely deploy in late 2010.

That's the latest update. I hope you are all doing well. I am going to enjoy a nice weekend off and I hope you do the same.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The dog-less family :(


As most of you know, we have a crazy dog. We've been working with him for the past 3 years, and really intensely over the past 2 months. He shows signs of aggression to tall adults, kids, strollers, bikes, moving plastic bags and anything else we call an "apparatus". It's really been a crazy ride trying to work with Rex. He bites us often and we've learned to dodge his attacks.


A few months ago, we agreed this was not good enough. We're looking to have/adopt kids and there is no way we can have him act this way. We decided to invest in helping him get better. He recently was kicked out of boot camp (first dog in 10 years) and I began a training at home with him. We've established a pack and been working on obedience. We make some good strides, and then he regresses. A few days ago, he attacked me 2x in a day, and now I have cuts and bite marks all over both feet.


I couldn't do anything except cry as he was trying to eat my feet off. Luckily my mom stepped in and said the trigger word, "treat" and he snapped out of it. That was the point that I decided this wasn't going to work. I know he has bitten me many times, but this was different. After all our obedience and pack training, we've really established a bond. It was too hard to have him snap on me after working so hard with him.


Tonight I take him to the city vet where the rescue that we got him from will take him back.


Most of you are probably thinking, it's about time. Well, I know that's easy to say, but this is sooooo hard. I love him. I've spent the last 3 years trying to work with him and teach an old dog new tricks! He runs with me every day. He is my little buddy. But... I can't take it any more. I don't want to move to a new place and not be able to have people over because of the dog. I want kids to be able to pet my dog. I want to be able to pet my dog!


Hopefully the rescue can help him more than I can. My mom is going with me downtown tonight, so that I don't have to do this alone. I know Chris wishes he could be with me with this tough situation. As the tears run down my face finishing up this post... I just wanted to let you all know that we are now the dog-less family.


I do hope to have a dog again some day soon. We'll just have to be more picky about the right choice for our family.


We love you Rex!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Much Needed Day of Rest

Week 1 is in the books. I made it through our first week of training without any problems. The training day has been long, I typically leave my hotel room at 4:20am and return around 6:30pm. We've covered a wide array of issues in the first week from counseling, to confidentiality, to Operations Orders, a Staff ride to Ft Sumter, to Ramp Ceremonies, to Army Doctrine, Ethical issues, to Traumatic Events Counseling, to Sexual Assault counseling. I worry that there is so much we are being trained on that none of it will actually set in. All I can do is study hard and hope thats not the case. My soldiers need a competent Chaplain who will serve them and work hard to meet their spiritual/religious and emotional needs.

This weekend I was able to hang out with some new friends. We've spent so much time together over that past week, it feels like we've known each other for years. Yesterday I slept in really late, did laundry, ate, ran and went back to sleep. It felt sooo good. Today, I got up and went to the Jewish service. We have to observe the various chapel services on post while we are here. The Rabbi was very charismatic and quite funny. This afternoon I spent some time reading my homework by the pool and then going for a swim when it would get too hot.

I miss Christina a lot. We talk a few times each day, but this phone relationship is getting old already. She is doing well with her family and its nice to know she is in good hands. Thankfully I'll get to see her in 2 1/2 weeks.

One of the biggest frustrations is not having a kitchen. I have a small refrigerator, and a microwave. That means frozen dinners, lunch meat sandwiches and cheese and crackers. But I can't complain too much about that.

I'm really looking forward to next week. At 5:00am tomorrow I have a Fitness Test. Then we have more Operations Orders training, and Counseling Soldiers on the Moral Implications of Combat. Latter on in the week we have some cool events coming up. We are heading down to Paris Island where they conduct Marine Boot Camp. We will meet some Navy Chaplains serving with the Marines and see what their ministry looks like. We will also get a briefing by an Air Force Chaplain about Chaplaincy in the AF.

Hope you are all doing well. I miss everyone a great deal and look forward to seeing many of you in September.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What's going on at "home"

As you've probably read, Chris is off at Fort Jackson and I am at "home". I say "home" because I'm at my parents home, which used to be mine, but I'm staying as a visitor right now for an extended time. It's been good so far. 2 days before Chris left we had morning coffee with my mom (a ritual each day she is home from work!). Her opinion about it all was, "well... this could have been really bad... but it's not". She and my dad have been great at making us feel welcome and helping us anyway they can. It was really cute on Saturday (the day Chris left for South Carolina). She came home and said she was quiet at work all day because she misses Chris! We had a lot of fun over the last month hanging out because Chris and her get along really well. Now... it's me and her! We get along well too... but I have to be careful about how much I try to "change" around the house. So far so good.

My mom took this week as a vacation so that we could hang out and I wouldn't get too sad. We've been busy so far. She wants to get in shape so that she can give bone marrow to my uncle in a few months. We've been going to a school down the road with a trail around the fields. We take resistance bands and mix muscle work with walking laps! We've done 2 days so far and I'm hoping she'll be able to walk today (yesterday's workout was a little harder than I meant it to be). I'm also doing my own workouts (p90x), so this should be a good month in the weight loss category! I've lost 18 pounds since January, an I am hoping to lose 2 more this week, and be at the 20 lb mark. I had to eat gluten during the month of June, so needless to say, I ate everything I couldn't have for the last 5 years and was happy that I didn't gain! Now, I'm off the gluten and feeling better than ever. Today I have an arms and chest workout for myself and I'll be working out with my mom and her friend Diane this evening.

I do get to go see family and Chris in two weeks. I'm going with my mom and dad to Florida for a week and a half. We're going back to Sarasota, which is where Chris and I got married. I'm excited to relax and enjoy time with good family. We also hope to head a little south of there to see some family from St. Louis as well. On the way home, my parents are going to drop me off at Fort Jackson and I will stay for a long weekend! It will be fun to hang out with Chris. I LOVE staying at hotels. I figured out it is because there is nothing to clean! As long as I am home, I have trouble relaxing because there is always something to be done. At a hotel, there's not much to get done, so it is easier to relax. It will be a fun few days. I know Chris is also looking forward to it!

I'm also looking into more information about work at Fort Campbell. I've looked up substituting jobs and teaching jobs on base. It's about the same pay I was making while teaching in Chicago, so it would be interesting. If I were to work for 2 or so years, we could pay off all student loan debt, cars, etc. It would be pretty fabulous to be debt free, considering that our housing would be paid for. I don't think I'll work right away, because I do have unemployment benefits for 6 months. But, I am more open to the idea because of the debt free future it allows for us. I also think it would be better for me to be working when Chris gets deployed. It would be hard for me to not have anything to do. Unless we have a kid before then, I do thinking working would be the best situation. Once the kids start coming, I definitely don't want to work a full time job, and would probably not want to work at all. I am still thinking about getting a personal training certificate. I would have to do the online option because there is not a school nearby Fort Campbell.

That's about it for now. I'll try to update more often so that the entries are not as long! Have a great week.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

School Is In Full Swing

Well the Chaplain School is well underway. Most of the people here have been here for 6 weeks already (which I completed in 2006). That means their patterns and issues have been worked out. As returning students we are expected to just fit right in, but a lot has changed in the army in the past 3 years and much has changed here at the Chaplain School.
I've got lots of administrative issues to get taken care of with no time on the training schedule to do so. What that means is, most days I won't eat lunch because I'll be trying to get various tasks done on my lunch hour.
But other than my normal issues (which many of you know well), I am doing fairly well. My body is trying to adjust to the higher stress level. I really only get 4-5 hours of sleep a night and let's just say that's not what I'm used to. I am still trying to get comfortable being back in uniform.
I'm really looking forward to the first weekend (and its only Tuesday). I'll get to sleep in and get caught up on homework, laundry and have some fun.
I miss Christina like crazy. Its not easy coming back to an empty hotel room when we have rarely spent a single night apart in the past 3 years. The added stress makes me see just how much Christina's presence in my life does for me. We got to talk on the phone for a while tonight but nothing takes the place of her hugs. Thankfully, I'll see her in just a few weeks when she comes out to visit.
I hope everyone out there is doing well! Hopefully, I'll be able to post a few pictures soon.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ft Jackson, Here I Come

I'm getting ready to walk out the door and start driving down to ft Jackson, 13 hours. Lots of emotions. 7 weeks of training. Doesn't seem like it will be long enough to train/prepare me for what I'll face. I'll miss Christina a ton.
Goodbye family and friends. I'll hopefully be back in September for a few short days and then off to ft. Campbell, KY.

Have a great rest of the summer. God Bless.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

RIP CH Vakoc

CH Vakoc was severely wounded in Iraq by an IED 5 years ago. After making a partial recovery, he passed away June 20th becoming the first Chaplain to die from war related injuries in Iraq. He served his country and his soldiers and he will be greatly missed.

Read the Full Story Here: http://www.army.mil/-news/2009/07/02/23879-chaplain-vakoc-leaves-legacy-of-care/

Saturday, June 20, 2009

No Room at the Inn

I just got an email today letting me know that the base hotels at Fort Jackson are completely booked. Awesome! (not)

There are two large hotels on the base and it appears that both of them are completely full and about 40-50 of us will be residing at hotels off base. While I'm sure this will have its perks, I'm not thrilled that I will have a 15 minute drive to get to our morning workout (PT = physical training) at 5:30am. Oh yeah, and then only an hour between PT and when we have to be back at the school.... I guess they don't want me to shower in-between.

Well at least it is a Marriott. Here is what home will look like for 7 weeks:

Friday, June 19, 2009

P90X

If you've done P90X then you know the pain I am in right now. Christina and I have been doing it for almost a week. Well that's not entirely accurate. She has done it every day. I have been building a roof (rafters, plywood, facia, soffit, felt paper and shingles) with my father-in-law and I come home exhausted every day. So this week I have done them when I have the energy, but I WILL be doing it every day next week.

The first work out does your chest and back but it also gets your arms and shoulders. My shoulders and back are still sore from day 1.

When 2009 hit, Christina and I made a New Years Resolution that we actually kept. We were going to work really hard to change our eating habits and develop an exercise routine. Since that time we have both steadily gotten healthier and gradually lost some weight. However, after 5 months of the same routine, we felt we needed a change to reinvigorate our workouts. Enter P90X.

P90X is a workout system that has you do something every day. It does Back & Chest, Shoulders & Arms, Legs & Back, Plyometrics, Martial Arts, Yoga, and Abs.

Over the past few weeks it has become more and more of a reality that I am going to be serving with one of the most elite Infantry Divisions in the entire world. 5:30am workouts every day, 15 mile road marches with 50lbs ruck sack, repelling out of helicopters.... I will be doing it all with them in only 10 weeks. Now, Chaplains have not made the best names for themselves when it comes to physical fitness. I, however, want to show my soldiers that I will always hold myself to the highest physical standards possible as to never become a liability to them on the field of battle. So over the next few weeks I am going to do whatever I can to take my physical fitness to the next level.

Hopefully, all the tough manual labor together with P90X will get me there. I guess I'll find out soon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

4th of July Party

As the time of my departure draws nearer, Christina and I thought there would be no better time to celebrate than the 4th of July. She is calling it the "Kentucky, here we come" party.

Anyway, if you are going to be in the area for the 4th, you are invited to come by Christina's parents house in Wheaton. We will be hanging out and grilling 4th of July style. The party starts around 3pm, food will be grilled around 5 and we will take a short walk over to see the fireworks around 8.

Hope you all can make it. We would love to see you all one last time before we head out.

0N107 Evans Ave
Wheaton, IL 60187

Shoot me an email if you have any questions: chris.groenendal@gmail.com

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Official Orders

The long awaited orders have finally come!  "You are ordered to active duty...."  Most of you are like "yeah, yeah you already knew that."  But what you don't know is that everything is on hold until you have official orders in hand.  

Now that I actually have orders I can have our household stuff shipped and stored at the Army's expense (not ours), and I can begin the process of applying for housing at Fort Campbell.  It also verifies that I will enter active duty with the rank of Captain.  

I report to the chaplain school at Fort Jackson, Columbia, South Carolina on July 12.  I will finish the school on August 28.  
Then I drive straight to For Campbell, KY.  I have to report there on August 31.  I still don't know what BTC or BN (Brigade Combat Team or Battalion) I'll be assigned to.  Looks like I might have to wait until I report down there to find that out.  

I talked to the housing office down there yesterday and they said for a 2-bedroom duplex the wait is 30-45 days.  We will have to navigate that issue when we get down there.  

Right now I am reading 2 books with my free time:


I'll give an update on both of these after I finish them and have some time to reflect.  War and the Soul will take a little longer to digest and evaluate.  A Table in the Presence is a little quicker and a very interesting read.  

Hope everyone has a great weekend.  Congrats to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Lord Stanley would be proud.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Assignement Instructions

Well I just got an email that gave me some more details. I am indeed assigned to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault). With that bit of information actually confirming what I was told on the phone by the Accessions Officer, I've got some more details.

Since the 101st division is an all Air Assault division, I will be going through the Air Assault course shortly after arriving. Its a 2 week course that teaches all about being transported in and exiting various types of helicopters. The best part is rappelling out a helicopter hovering at 100ft. I can't wait! After the 2 week school (provided I complete everything successfully) I will be awarded the Air Assault wings to accompany my Airborne wings: (don't worry that's not my uniform.... I wouldn't wear it unless I was awarded it)
But here was the biggest surprise of the instructions. They read: "Officer to enter Active Duty in the Grade of Captain." I've been in the Reserves for 4 years (2 years as a 2nd LT and 2 years as a 1st LT). I was told I should expect to get promoted to Captain about 6 months after entering active duty. But apparently they are giving me "grade constructive credit." This is great news considering that its a raise of more than just a few thousand dollars.

I'm looking forward to heading back to Fort Jackson, SC next month. I report July 12th. I will be able to complete the Chaplain School training with a sense of clarity and drive with my upcoming assignment in view. I then report right to Fort Campbell.

Christina and I are going to take a few days trip on June 28th - 30th down to the base to get familiar with it and hopefully get the housing situation worked out. I'm interested to see what the housing looks like.

Still no word on what battalion or even brigade I'll be with. I'm hoping that information is on my official orders. The Brigade Combat Team (BCT) that I get assigned to will determine when I get deployed. A few of the BCT have just returned from 15 month deployments to Afghanistan. When I figure out which BCT I'm assigned to I should be able to figure out an approximate timetable for my first deployment.

Christina and I are adjusting well to life in Wheaton (suburban life). It is very quiet and we get to see stars at night. Its really great to get to spend time with her family and see mine quite often as well. Hope you all are doing well.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

A Historic Division


As I reported in my last entry, Christina and I will be moving to Fort Campbell, KY at the end of August.  For those of you unfamiliar with Fort Campbell it is home to the 101st Airborne Division known as the "screaming eagles."  It is a division with a rich history of valor and bravery.  If you saw the HBO series "Band of Brothers" (which follows Easy Company of the 101st Airborne through WWII) you would be familiar with some of their work.  


Since today is the anniversary of D-Day, I feel a special amount of excitement and pride in having the chance to serve these fine soldiers and their families.  At the risk of being overly simplistic let me give a brief history lesson.  

Most people have heard of D-Day but fewer know about H-Hour.  H-Hour was the hour that the Airborne soldiers where to launch their assault.  The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division jumped behind enemy lines a few hours before the D-Day invasion was scheduled to begin.  The 101st jumped and began carrying out 
their various missions.  These men displayed true courage jumping into areas (in the middle of the night!) where they would be completely surrounded by German forces.  They helped prepare for the beach landings at
 Normandy and stop the Germans from being able to reenforce the beaches after the landings.  

As you relax this weekend, take a second to remember D-Day and the bravery of the soldiers who took part in this effort to defeat
 the Nazis.  Many of them made the ultimate sacrifice so you and I could live free.  Remember them and live a life worthy of their sacrifice. 

Friday, June 5, 2009

Needs of the Army

It's Friday and I love to sleep in on Friday's.  This morning my phone rang at 8:30am.  I was still half asleep and it was an area code I didn't recognize.  When I tried to answer it, I was already too late.  It had gone to voice mail.  I waited a minute, got the voice mail, and listened eagerly.  

It was the Chaplain Accessioning Officer.  He said he wanted to talk with me about my assignment.  I sent him an email yesterday in an attempt to become a squeaky wheel that might get a little grease.  Well I got greased alright. 

I called him back and we discussed my first assignment.  He said, "Chris, I wasn't able to get you a spot at any of your top 3 choices.  (at this point I was just praying it wasn't Alaska)  The Army needs you at Fort Campbell immediately after you finish the Chaplain School."  

If you have been following the news at all you probably heard about the tragic suicide rate at Fort Campbell this year.  If not, either of these 2 stories will fill you in:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/30964820/

http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/05/27/army.suicides/

Apparently, the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Chaplains have ordered that no battalion (which is the smallest unit that has a chaplain) at Fort Campbell be without a Chaplain at any time.  That means, most of the people who where chosen with me for Chaplaincy back in May are headed to Fort Campbell.  

The Chaplain School ends on August 28th and I will be reporting to Fort Campbell around August 31st.  

Thankfully, Fort Campbell is only about a 7 1/2 hour drive from Chicago (its on the KY and TN boarder).  Thankfully it's close enough for long weekends or holidays.  It's not what Christina and I were hoping for or expecting, but I signed up to serve soldiers and there is obviously a huge need at Fort Campbell, so we will go.  

I'm sure more information will be coming but I wanted to let everyone know where Christina and I would be headed.  

Have a great weekend!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Temporarily Homeless

Yesterday was a huge success.  I wanted to get almost all of our stuff moved out (especially the heavy stuff) and loaded on the moving truck.  I picked up the UHaul in the morning and had 3 movers come at noon.  By 2:30 we where shaking hands, exchanging cash and they were on their way.  These guys crammed nearly everything into our truck and packed it wonderfully.  If anyone is planning a move in the city and is just looking for labor to help, you can find them on craig's list under "Blue Chip Movers."  
Anyway, we got about 95% of our stuff into the truck.  Today we will be unloading it into a storage unit in Wheaton.  No hired help for this one.  
Tomorrow, we will be heading back to the city to grab the last few items and do some maintenance on the apartment.  We have to clean, take out a bunch of trash and do some painting.  We painted the apartment different colors because we thought we would be there for a few years.  Well, one year later I'll be painting it back.  But, by Sunday night, all the moving, cleaning and painting should be done.  I can hand over the keys and we will officially be suburbanites for a few months.   I sure will miss the sound of the waves from the lake though.  But not so much the bus stop on Sheridan or the Red Line.  

Still no further word from the Army.  Hurry up and wait at its best.  I responded to the accessions officer's email with a few questions for him.  We'll see what he says but hopefully he can give us a timeline.  
For now, I need to be working out every day.  The Army does a physical fitness test when I arrive at training in July.  There are 3 events: 2 minutes of push-ups, 2 minutes of sit-ups and a 2-mile run.  To get a perfect score on the test I have to do 75 push-ups, 80 sit-ups and run the 2 miles in under 13:00 minutes.  

With that, I am going to go for a 4 mile run on the Illinois Prairie Path.  Hope everyone has a great weekend.  

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Whirlwind of Moving

If you could only see our apartment right now.  Anyone who’s lived in the city long enough knows what we are going through.  It’s the week prior to the move.  That means you want to pack up and get things ready for the move, but you can’t pack everything because you still need to have a life for the week.  So 95% of our clothing is packed up and the other 5% is in gym bags and hanging up.  To make matters worse, we are putting most of our stuff in storage but taking the necessary things for a 3-month temporary housing situation.  Needless to say, it is chaos in our place.

I just got an email from the Army Chaplain Accessioning Officer.  I was so excited to see it, only to find out that the basic message of the email was “sorry, but wait longer.”  Apparently the Army is transitioning to a digital system and the group I was accessioned with is the first group to go through the process.  That means we are the tests animals for this new program.  So it seems we won’t find out any more details for a few weeks. 

So for now… we continue to pack.  I’ll continue to keep everyone updated as we find out more information. 

Good news for all of you who’ve had a run in with Rex, our Terror…I mean Terrier.  He is reporting for Doggie boot camp tomorrow.  3 weeks of training.  We will see if the dog trainer can perform miracles.  Our fingers are crossed. 

Thursday, May 21, 2009

the aahhhhh moment....

(posted by Christina)
So it happened again last night. I got the "aahhhhh" look and sigh.

Outside our current apartment (for the next week) I was talking to who I call "the cat lady". She has taken these wild cats that live in the rocks on Lake Michigan and made them her pets. They are really cute and I can completely understand where she is coming from in wanting to take them in. Chris has to hold be back often from jumping out of the car to take in a stray cat. She spent weeks trying to capture the 3 little kittens and take them into her home... only being successful with one little black one. I noticed the little black cat was back out at the rocks a few days ago so I asked her about it when I saw her by their "home" last night. She said the cat was terrified for 3 weeks in her home and vet said they cat would be better off outside. She got him fixed, and released him back to his friends. The vet said he was happier and already accustomed to the wild by the time she brought him inside. He compared it to taking a raccoon into the house... which she admitted she would not do. This put it in perspective for me as well... I'll think of this the next time I want to swoop a cute wild cat into my arms. That's not really the point of the story, but I did learn a lesson.

What happened next is what really drives me crazy. We're talking and she asks me where I live. I point to our building and referenced how we will be there for only a week more and then we'll be moving. Of course, she asks where, so I start the long explanation of how we are moving in with family for a few months before my husband is stationed, explaining that he is in the military.

That's where the aahhh... moment comes.

Sometimes it looks or sounds a little different, but it always has the same meaning. The person gives you the "that's so sad" or "that's horrible" sigh and look. Their head tilts to the side and their face scrunches up a little bit as if they don't know what else to say. Then, I usually say how this is something we've been looking forward to and we're excited for. That's when their voice inflection changes. The cat lady's comment was, "so this is good for you... ok".

This situation happens over and over again and it drives me CRAZY! First of all, we have a VOLUNTEER military. No one forced us to sign up. Chris signed the papers with his own free will. Yet, people give this look like it is somehow the worst situation that could happen. I understand being sympathetic if our situation is hard, like Chris is in Iraq for a year... but don't give me a sad look simply because we are part of the military. Traditionally, being part of the military has been highly looked upon and people show appreciation instead of disgust. I know this is somewhat a "Chicago" thing. I've noticed here that some people have an attitude that they are too good for the military or that the military is somehow a downgrade of a lifestyle.

If you find yourself responding like this (and some of you did when we told you our situation) please respond with something different. Maybe even check your own attitude and see why you have a repose such as this. I suggest saying, "thank you for your service" instead of the "aahhhh" sigh.

Another neighbor did just that when Chris told them what are situation was. Right away, she thanked him for his service and told him about her cousin that was in the military. It was nice and respectful the way she responded. We appreciated that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Long Awaited Call

Well, its finally official.  On Friday, May 15th 2009, I got the call I'd been waiting for.  It came in the middle of my graduation rehearsal.  It was from CH (MAJ) Sifferd he said,  "Congratulations Chris. You've been selected for Active Duty Chaplaincy."  
I was smiling ear to ear.  He said I should be hearing from the Chaplain Accessioning officer in about a week.  He will be giving me my first assignment.  

What a weekend.  I was able to celebrate the
 finishing of my degree (Masters in Divinity) from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and being selected as an Active Duty Chaplain in the same weekend.  This was the culmination of over 6 years of hard work and God's grace in pursuing my call to the Chaplaincy.  Wow, I can hardly believe its finally going to happen. 

Christina and I couldn't be happier!  Now we are just waiting to hear where we will be moving to.  I have to finish up the 2nd half of the Army's Chaplain School (called CH-BOLC: Chaplain Basic Officers Leadership Course).  I completed the first half back in 2006 when I was still a Chaplain Candidate.  Now I get to go back and finish it as a official Chaplain.  I will be attending the school at Fort Jackson, SC from July 12th through August 28th.  7 weeks apart from my hunny.  Not looking forward to that!   Hopefully she will get to come out and see me once or twice on the weekends.  
Then in September its off to our first duty station.  We put in our preferences in this order:
1) Fort Carson, CO (Colorado Springs)
2) Fort Dix, NJ (about an hour east of Philadelphia)
3) Fort Bragg, NC (Fayetteville... like anyone NOT in the Army knows where that is =)
Sometimes the Army is able to match up their needs and your preferences and sometimes they can't.  We will wait and see what they give us.  There are a few bases that I'd rather not sent to, but we'll deal with that if it happens.  

So for now we are packing.  Our lease on our Chicago apartment is up at the end of the month.  We will move our stuff into storage and live with Christina's parents in Wheaton, IL for the month of June.  After that, I will be at training and Christina will stay with her family until I am finished and we can move to our duty station.

We will be saying good bye to New Life Community Church in Chicago (www.newlifechicago.org).  What a great place to have called home for the past 5 or so years.  Thank you Pastor Kevin for all the hard work and mentoring you've done for me.  We will miss all of you guys especially our small group and the Sunday Night Service at Lincoln Park.  

Hopefully we will get some more news soon.  Till then,
God Bless