Wednesday, February 7, 2018

We want you there Yesterday!

I haven't posted in a very long time. In fact, I think the last time I posted, I was on my way to Kabul, Afghanistan.... Mmmm, so much for a post a day or something like that.

A lot has changed since I last wrote. I spent a year away from the family, came back to the U.S., had a wonderful 10 weeks off where we traveled literally everywhere. We then spent 1 year in Falls Church, Virginia for French language school and other necessary training. In October, 2014, the 7 of us, plus one very cat-like dog packed up our stuff (euphemism for "crap") and flew off to Nouakchott, Mauritania... By the way, when I say, "crap", what I mean by that is 18 suitcases, 1 dog crate with dog, and at a minimum, 10 carry on bags. What it doesn't include is the 4 thousand pounds of belongings and 1500 pounds of food that was shipped off to Nouakchott a few weeks earlier... Anyway, I completely digress. As a family, we completed three years in the Sahara desert, and were reassigned to Tucson, Arizona.

First, it is wonderful to be back in the U.S. It is wonderful to be together as a family and for the kids to not have to be stuck in the house surrounded by each other and their parents. They get to run, bike, skateboard, visit, go and do, and the best part of it is their parents, Melissa and I (in case you forgot), get to do all of that as well, including hanging out with people we like and don't have to see every day at work. Second, I did not get the position I was promised and while I was initially bitter about that, I could not be happier about being in the Tucson area. We have a house and we have generally happy, outgoing, super energetic children and I could not be more pleased with where we are, where I work, and who I get to work with.

So, now that you are all generally caught up with my life (If this wasn't enough, I would be happy to direct you to Melissa's blog, where she has done a MUCH better job than me of keeping things updated), on to the topic of the title, "We want you there YESTERDAY!".

So, as I explained, I am assigned to Diplomatic Security's Resident Office in Tucson, Arizona, which reports to the Los Angelas Field Office, which in turn, reports to D.C. I love it. I get to do investigations and I don't have everyone calling me at all times of the day and night to deal with their "emergencies" that they knew about 2 months prior and are now telling me about it because there is something they need from me but did not feel like they had to include me in their planning process the prior two months and....ok, I digress. Sorry, a little flashback but I am okay now.

Another side duty is getting Temporary Duty (TDY) trips to assist the Secretary's detail or Embassies overseas, or whatever they happen to need bodies for. Being fairly new to the office and trying to maximize my time with the family, I hadn't really pushed for any trips. Well, around January 9th, my immediate boss and I had just finished a meeting with another Law Enforcement agency when someone told us that we had a call from the LA Field Office. The person calling (the Assistant Special Agent in Charge) had asked for Jeff and when told that Jeff was in a meeting, asked for me. That was weird because I never get asked for. Since I was also in the meeting, I didn't get to find out why he called. My immediate boss gave him a call and a little while later, he was at my cubicle and it me with, "Chris, I have the privilege to tell you that you are Diplomatic Security's first pick to take a 45 day TDY assignment to Khartoum, Sudan and they need you there right away".  ****Personal note***** They figured since I had all the necessary training, spent the last three years in an equally difficult location, and didn't have anything actually going on, I was a perfect fit ***End personal note***. "Do you accept this mission"..... How can I say no....Actually, I really couldn't but I liked how he presented it as an option.

The next day, I started the process of getting tickets and finding out if I needed a visa. I was originally told that I did not need one and it would be fine. I asked the High Threat Programs (HTP) office to double check that because I was pretty sure I needed a visa before leaving the U.S. (I read the Sudanese visa requirements so I was actually sure that I needed a visa before leaving the U.S.). I got a reply back that they would look into it. I had some travel for an investigation for a couple of days so when I came back to the office on Monday, I was informed that I had to have a visa and needed to get them the application, two photos and my passport as soon as possible. I went and got visa photos and sent the photos, the completed visa application, and my passport overnight/early morning delivery. I then called the people helping me with travel and asked if they had cancelled my tickets for the following day. I kid you not, they asked, "Why, aren't you going to fly out tomorrow". I reminded them that I just overnighted my stuff to them and I doubted they would get it in the morning, get my visa, over-minute it back to me, all in time for me to fly out at 9 am... They thanked me for my suggestion and postponed my plane tickets. It is a good thing because UPS took my overnight with morning delivery package and delivered three and a half days later than scheduled delivery....Not like we were in a rush or anything...

I would like to tell you that my emergency visa request was processed the day it was dropped off at the Sudanese Embassy but that would be just funny. Fast forward three weeks (to last Tuesday), and I get a call that my visa is ready and they want me to fly out on Thursday, February 1st. I asked them if they remembered my whole overnight with morning delivery that was actually three overnights with late afternoon delivery and they agreed to book my flight out on Tuesday, February 6th (today for those of you who are counting). I got my passport and visa on Wednesday, booked a hotel in Doha, Qatar because I have a forced overnight, arranged transportation to and from the airport and got everything set with the Embassy in Khartoum. Since I am a protector of tax payer dollars, I paid for the hotel upfront because it was almost $100 cheaper (and within reimbursable allowances) and I got a better price because I went the "pay now, unable to cancel later route)...Again a good steward of your tax dollars. I will not mention I booked a room at the Ritz-Cartlon hotel...

I took an administrative day off of work on Monday so I could pack, get work done on the Van, and run a bunch of errands for Melissa so she would have less to deal with with me gone. Tuesday morning (again, still this morning) rolled around and Melissa, along with some of the kids, took me to the airport, dropping me off at 0915 hours. Plenty of time for my 12:40 flight out. In fact, it really was a lot of time because my flight was delayed. I checked in at the United Counter and was told my flight was delayed but with my later connection, I would be fine. I got my backs checked in, went through security, and proceeded to wait around for my flight to take off. After a couple of hours, I went and checked the flight board and found my flight had been pushed back three more hours, in fact, past other flights headed to Houston on United. Taking a deep breath, I left the terminal because there were no United agents anywhere to be seen, and went back to the ticket counter, where there were now billions of people in line... Ok, slight exaggeration but there were a lot. Go figure, most of them were supposed to go to Houston but because of all the delays, were going to miss their onwards. I waited and waited. One lady got so exasperated, she told the ticket agent to cancel her flight all together and her job would have to just deal with her missing the important work meeting and it served them right for booking her flight on United... I see this not going well so I called my folks in D.C. and let them know they may want to start getting me different flights. Finally it was my turn and I explained that I had a connection in Houston that would take me to Doha. I actually think she snorted. She explained there was no way I would make that flight, especially since my flight out of Tucson had been cancelled and there other flights were equally as delayed. I explained that my bags had already been checked and asked her to please return those bags to me, fully expecting it to be a fight. She said no problem and disappeared to find the bags, wherever they may go.. I called my folks in DC again and told them I definitely needed different tickets and begged them not to allow United to have any of the connections.

My bags were returned to me and I received a call back from D.C. that said I was not on the 1445 (2:45 pm) flight on American Airlines and would arrive in Doha at midnight the following night. I rushed down the the American Airlines counter and had to use the stupid Kiosk to check in. Imagine my non-surprise when the Kiosk told me there was no record of me having a flight to anywhere... I think the Kiosk was a little to gleeful but since I couldn't prove it, I stepped out of line to call D.C. back. I discovered that I had missed 2 calls from D.C. I called and was told, "Um, ya, we couldn't get you on that flight". I discovered I would now be flying out at 0930 the following morning.

I called my wonderful wife Melissa, who thankfully had taken a mental health day, and asked her if she could come pick me up at the airport. I explained the situation and she informed me she had gone walking and was at the furthest possible point away from the house that she could be. She, being the wonderful wife she is, moved as fast as she could back to the van to come and get me. I sent a couple of emails to cancel my travel to and from the hotel and also to let the hotel know I would not be arriving on the night of the 7th but instead I would be there on the night of the 8th. I figured I would be paying for two nights in the hotel since I had bought a "though shalt no cancel ever" room and I even let D.C. know about that so they could make arrangements to still reimburse me, which they happily agreed to do. Surprisingly, the hotel kindly changed my room with no questions asked and rescheduled my ride to and from the airport the following day.

Melissa picked me up and we spend a lot of time discussing the general horridness of United Airlines. The kids that went to school were surprised to see me when they came home from school and everyone seemed fairly happy to have an extra night with me, which was really nice.

Overall, it was an interesting day. While slightly frustrating at times, I didn't pay for the tickets and I got paid to stand around and wait. Getting delayed a day allowed me to switch and repack a super heavy suitcase (the case itself weight 30 pounds) into a much lighter one that could hold a bit more items, and I got an extra night with the family and unlike the last three weeks, does not extend my time away. I figured, as I sit here, I could get start this blog again and try to document the next two months in Khartoum, Sudan and what better way to start than start with an interesting, funny story like this.

The big joke of the day has been, "You have to be there yesterday!", 4 weeks later :)

Love you all,


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Day of departure :(

So, I depart today for the U.S. and then Kabul, Afghanistan. Part of me is extremely excited for the adventure to begin and another part is extremely sad to be leaving my family behind once again. Not my favorite thing to do and one I hope I can limit as much as possible in the future.
So anyway, I downloaded a new program called "Day One" that reminds me to write daily. I figured I would give it a try and see how it works. When I am ready to post, I will just try copying and pasting into the blog so the whole world can see my day to day activities and thoughts..... or something like that :)

6:28 PM
So, today has been pretty tough. I went to the office for a little bit, finished up some last minute errands and for the most part, spent most of the day either packing or hanging out with the kids. I am heading out in about 2 hours or less and still have a lot to do. I am torn because I am excited to head out on a new adventure but sad and bummed out that I am once again leaving my family behind. This is seriously getting old.

7:44 PM
So, packing is done. Thanks to my amazing wife for helping me sort through the 20 pounds I was overweight in ONE suitcase. I think I definitely see the issue with super huge suitcases. If I was not leaving in 20 minutes, I would repack into a much smaller one.

9:55 PM
So, again, my amazing wife jumped to the rescue and repacked my super huge suitcase into a much smaller, reasonable one, which should keep me from overpacking on the remainder of my travels. No sooner was she done then the expediters arrived and I had a tearful farewell with Melissa and the kids.
The ride to the airport was fairly uneventful minus the tunnels out of Jerusalem being closed for an unknown reason so after a short detour, we made decent time to the airport, which is usually a good thing but again, dealing with the whole reverse abandonment issues at the moment so it has been tough.
I had a good conversation with another passenger who is flying to D.C. for training. He is a local that works for the Consulate. We arrived at the airport together and had the same expeditor but you would have thought he had two heads and a sign around his chest that said terrorist by how the Israelis treated him. See, Issa, (the gentleman that is traveling to the states) is Arab Israeli (and an American Citizen). His bags were completely searched, he was given a hard time through the entire process. Hard to believe and I think it is one of the many reasons I am looking forward to departing here. Just wish it was with the whole family.
Anyway, I made it through security with no issues. One of the nice things about having an expeditor for official travel is not having to wait in line but of course, I absolutely hate cutting hundreds of people like I am special….well, I guess I am :)
Looks like I have a wireless connection so i am going to send and email off to Melissa and get ready to board the airplane.

Prior to boarding, I would like to comment on Israeli Customer Service, or, the complete lack of said customer service. I had to get a receipt from the counter in order to eventually get reimbursed for baggage fees (Stupid United). Anyway, following the instructions I was given earlier when I paid the stupid baggage fees, I went to the counter at the gate to get a receipt and stood in line behind a couple of other people. It was 10:15 pm. There were three employee's behind the counter doing what appeared to be nothing who stated, "We will not be taking any seat change requests until 10:30 pm" so all of the people in front of me left. I walked up to the counter. I was promptly told, "Sir, we will not to any seat changes until 10:30 pm, like I just told everyone". I smiled and replied, "Thats good, I do not need a seat change (I liked the seat I had, I paid extra for it). I just need a receipt". The reply, "I told you, you can not get a seat until 10:30". "I am sorry, you misunderstood me. I do not want a seat. I would like a RECEIPT for baggage fees".  The reply, "We wont do anything until 10:30". I said, "Okay, I will wait here". The reply, "No you wont. Other people may have questions....Like you are going to answer them.

So, I stepped back away from the counter and waited until 10:30. A line formed again and now, they had 5 to 6 people behind the counter, talking about the weekend and what they were going to do and how we were all idiots standing their watching them (Okay, they were speaking in Hebrew and I do not speak Hebrew but now that it is well past 10:30, this is what I am imagining they are saying. 10:45 rolls around and we are all still standing in line when they start boarding the plane, completely ignoring the line of many people. Needless to say, I was not getting out of line until I got my receipt, which I eventually did  but it really was not like I needed another reminder to why I was so very excited to leave this place and why I wish my family was leaving with me.....

Anyway, I will try to start up fresh when I land.

Until next time.....

Monday, July 9, 2012

My First (6th or 7th) post in my own blog

Welcome to Dad of 5. This is my first blog and I figured I needed to at least start it off in style. Of course, while I type this, I am on hold with Apple trying to figure out if my kids' Christmas present is going to get here on time but that is an issue for another post.

So why a Blog? To be honest, I have no idea but my wife has done an amazing job with her blog and I am envious so I figured I would conquer my sins and have what she has....oh wait, thats not how that works.....

Anyway, I wrote the above two paragraphs back in December when I first started this blog and never actually got around to finishing it. Since then, I have had a couple of original posts and reposted some stuff I did on Melissa's Blog (Just US).

Since I just departed Jerusalem in preparation for my next assignment, I figured it would make sense to keep everyone up to date on what is going on in my life, because, well, I know everyone is dying to know my day to day activities and such. (So egotistical, I know).

Melissa and the kids have stayed in Jerusalem for the next year while I explore the world, or at least the part of the world containing Kabul, Afghanistan, which, by the way, you are all invited to come visit :)

I plan on doing two types of posts with this. I have started a new work out plan (About 6 months ago) and will probably keep a sort of "Work out Log" here. If you are not interested in that part, please feel free to not read it. It will basically be a list of my workouts for the week and is more for me to keep track in case I lose my written logbook.

I also want to do a regular update of events as well, which I have not done well at in the past but who knows, maybe I can change my nature, which is actually a pretty big challenge but to quote the infamous train, Charlie..... "I think I can, I think I can".

Until next time....

Operation Baghdad re-post #2

And continuing my theme of recycling old stuff (Been watching a lot of Hollywood remakes), here is my second (and only other) blog attempt documenting my time in Baghdad.

Well, I have not added as much to the blog as I had originally hoped to do but I wanted more pictures to add before I posted. Unfortunately, I need a permission slip to take pictures around the palace and the Embassy compound, which I am sure I will get eventually.

Starting from where I left off last time, the rest of my belongings arrived the day I did. Unfortunately for some in my group, there was a little mix up and one individual thought she had her stuff but it was mine. The belongings that were labeled mine belonged to a third individual and the stuff that was his actually was labled with the first person's info. I guess it ended up great for me cause I got my stuff quick. Everyone else got it straightened out pretty quickly and they got their stuff a few days later. My work gear arrived in two shipments, once I received a day or two after arrival and a second I received two weeks later.

I have quickly become accustomed to my surroundings and my work. Each day is usually an exact repeat of the day before. Maybe a better title for this post should have been "Groundhog Day". For those who have seen Bill Murray's rather humorous movie of the same title, you will understand the reference. In someways, this works out well because I have a fairly set routine that I just repeat on an hourly basis. One of the several downsides of this is that I have absolutely no idea what day it is...ever. On top of that, our "weekend" is Friday and Saturday. Of course, when working 7 days a week, there is not much of a weekend for us but hey, its only one year, which I have just completed one month of.

Overall, we are doing our best to stay safe and keep those that are detailed to us safe. Most people I work with do an outstanding job and for the most part, I am enjoying the experience although I would much rather be home with my family, whom I miss very much.

Until next time, have fun, enjoy life and be safe.


Operation Baghdad (Repost from Melissa's blog)

This is another repost. I figured since I am heading to Kabul and hope to document the experience better than I did the Baghdad nightmare experience, I would start off with my first and second writings in regards to the travel and first couple of weeks or so....

Well, This is my very first post on this blog but I figured it would be a good way to keep in touch with everyone and give Melissa a break from doing all of my updates for me. As most of you know, I was assigned to a one year tour of Baghdad with the state department. I will try to keep everyone updated on this blog as best as I can with the occasional photo (or 2)

To start, I should have labeled this post as "waiting" as I have done more waiting the past two days than I have done in a very long time. Until now, I never thought the Marine Corps "hurry up and wait" training would provide me with useful skills down the road. What little we know when we are young...

Melissa, Chrissy, and the kids drove me to the Boston Airport. I will never get used to departures like this and honestly, I hope I never do. Once I got to the terminal, I sat and waited for 1 1/2 hours, boarded the flight and flew for just over an hour to Dulles International. I then met up with three other colleagues who would be traveling with me. Two of them had been at the airport for 6 hours already and decided to have a few drinks to kill the time. That is another story for an entirely different time. We waited another hour and then hopped/staggered onto our flight to England. I remember, as a young college student, I loved flying. I am not sure why. The lady in front of me thought it was a great idea to put her seat back as far as it would go the second she was able and did not bring it back up until made to do so by a flight attendant.

We arrived in England slightly cramped but alive at 10 am. We then waited for for about 3 1/2 hours, having a wonderful little breakfast, and then boarded the next flight for Amman, Jordan. This was by far, one of the best flights I have had in a very long time. Although crammed in coach, we had leg room, really good food, and very helpful flight attendants who went out of their way to get people what they needed. We arrived in Amman and were expedited much faster than I thought possible through customs. In fact, I walked into the terminal and there were multiple people holding up signs with our names on them. They walked us through customs which took all of 30 seconds per person. They walked us out of the main airport area where we were met by multiple people with signs that had our names on them. My group of four were then driven to our hotel for the night. The city of Amman is kind of neat to see, even at night. It appears to be a fairly modern area, smack dab in the middle of an ancient city. From Pizza Hut to McDonald's, there are no lack of modern conveniences but around all of it, are really old homes and Mosques. I think Amman would be a great place to spend some time.

We arrived at the hotel and I was greeted by a very good friend of my, Daniel Erz, who had been my roommate in Kosovo. He is currently assigned to the German Embassy in Amman. It was awesome to run into him and have an opportunity to sit and talk for about an hour. I would have loved to spend more time talking but it had been a very long day and I was fast asleep by midnight. I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast and met up with my three travel companions, checked out and were driven back to the airport. Driving through Amman during the day time was much more cooler than at night. It was just an awesome city to see. To top it off, we were pulled over for speeding about 5 minutes from the airport. The driver took care of whatever he needed to and dropped us off at the airport without further incident. We were ushered into the main seating area of the airport where we say for about an hour. We then got in line and went throught the first security checkpoint inside the airport, dropped off our bags, got our ticket and then moved to the outer terminal area where we sat. After about an 1 1/2 hours, we went got in line again, went through our second checkpoint and yup, you guessed it, sat and waited for another hour or so. We boarded a bus and drove out onto the tarmac to the Air Force C-17 where our bags had already been placed on a pallet and was sitting on the plane. We boarded the plane and sat on the incredibly comfortable (read thick sarcasm) seats and were told the flight would take one hour. An hour and a half later, we took off. At about 3 pm, we landed at the Baghdad International Airport. We walked off the plane and a group of us were escorted into a small room where role call was taken and then we waited a bit. We then walked to were our bags were being delivered, waited for them to show up, got protective gear for the flight to the Embassy and then went and waited on the flight line. I guess there was a little scheduling screw up because there were no helicopters for us....yet. At about 7 pm, the Helicopters arrived and we took a short ride to the Embassy compound, where a few of our friends were waiting for us to take us to get room keys and to EAT.... After eating, I walked my gear to my new apartment. I was able to meet my roommate, call home, and unpack the little bit of stuff I have. It is now midnight and I have to get up in 6 hours but I wanted to post this, say hi to everyone and tell Melissa and the kids that I love them and miss them very much.

Until next time, be safe, have fun, and I will talk with you all later


My first Diving experience (Re-post from Melissa's blog)

Since I have started my own blog, I figured I would repost some previous posts I posted in Melissa's blog (Ok, a little over the top with the word "post") Sorry bout that....

Normally, I let my wonderful wife do all of the posting on our blog. She does an amazing job, has an incredible way with words and 99 % of the time, the stories or postings that she writes are very enjoyable to read. Why mess with a good thing? Well, since she was more than awesome once again by hanging out with the 5 children for 5 days in Eilat, Israel while I took a Scuba course, I figured the least I could do was to document the experience.
Before I begin, I would like to thank Melissa for giving me the opportunity to have this amazing experience. Without her support and willingness to be ditched a large portion of each day, I could not have done this. Also, I would like to thank a good friend of mine, Sam Murr, for giving me the diving bug over 4 ½ years ago in a pool during training. While we were living in Brunswick, Georgia for 12 weeks, I walked to the pool to find Sam reading a book. Not really all that remarkable if you stop to think about it. What got me was the fact Sam was reading the book at the bottom of the pool. He had a Scuba tank and all of the equipment and was lying on the bottom, enjoying his book. Sam took a break from reading to give me a quick lesson on the use of the regulator and mask and let me have a go at it. Fast forward to present time and Melissa, the kids, and I are living in Israel, just a few hours drive from some great diving. I figured if I could not get motivated to dive here, it probably wasn’t meant to be. I had a ton of questions and once again, Sam stepped up and gave me enough info to put Wikipedia to shame. He explained the different organizations that provided certification, courses that I needed to take, should take, and courses that are a waste of money or can be done with other certifications. He explained gear and what I needed at a minimum and what I should buy if I was single with no kids. (more than$1000 for a fancy watch? Really?) He also told me what courses I needed to take so that he could fly out to Israel and go diving with me. So, thank you Melissa and thank you Sam.
On to what I came here to write about

Scuba Diving…
I know Melissa is currently writing a post about our trip to Eilat so I will not cover the drive down (which was awesome), the hotel (which was expensive and not awesome) or the dinner we ate our last night in Eilat (which was expensive but so very worth it.). I will cover the 5 days of diving, which by itself, was way cool. :)

Picking a dive school…
I will be the first to admit, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to picking a dive school. I typed into Google “Dive schools Eilat” and came up with a ton of choices. I started checking each one and really had no idea what I was looking at. The website I liked best was very simple and professional looking and basically described the courses I would be taking or could be taking. I sent an email to the company (U-Dive) and received a very informative reply from the office manager. She patiently answered all of my questions and was incredibly helpful so, without calling or emailing any other company, I scheduled a class with U-Dive. When Melissa, the kids, and I drove by the school our second day in Eilat, I wondered if I made the right choice. Of course, as I saw all of the other schools, I realized that I could not base my decision off of the looks of the school. (One school looked like it was in a tin hut with most of the tin falling off). I figured I would have to wait and see.

Day 1….
I was supposed to arrive by 9 am to start my first day but being the overachiever that I am, I was up by 6:30 am and Melissa, the kids, and I walked out the door of our ridiculously overpriced hotel room at 8 am. After the 8-minute drive to the school, I realized we (I) might have been a little over anxious. We sat in the van for a little while talking and laughing as we watched the employees arrive and set up the school. Melissa left with the kids and I went and met the office manager, Claire, who was very friendly. She took me into the classroom and had me watch a video about diving. I covered three chapters and then met my instructor, Tamar. At this point, I also found out I would be the only student for the open water class. I was excited I would get one on one instruction and figured I would have an even better experience because of it (and I was not disappointed). I was issued my gear, which included fins, mask, and snorkel, a wet suit, weights, tank, regulator, and BCD (Buoyancy Control Device). At this point, I had no idea if I was being issued good gear or not but I was impressed with the quality of everything and I found out later that the gear was fairly top of the line and the school let me try out different types of gear as the course progressed so I could decide what I liked better. Tamar showed me how to set the gear up and then she had me do it. She then had me take it all apart and then set it up again. She then told me to go get the wet suit on.
I do not know how many of you have had the experience of putting on a wet suit but for me, this was the very first time and if I could have been a fly on the wall watching myself, I would have fallen off the wall from laughing so hard. They make it look so easy in the movies. I managed to get both legs in (in the right leg holes even) without falling over and was working on getting my arms in at what seemed like a snail’s pace when Tamar came in and said, “good, your almost dressed”. She told me she has had many students take an hour to get the wetsuit on the first time. She gave me some pointers, which mostly involved taking a shower while getting the wet suit on (It really works). After I managed to squirm into the wetsuit and get it zipped up, we had a pre-dive brief where we talked about what we were going to do. Because I had paid attention to the video I watched earlier, I was able to answer all of her questions correctly. We got our gear on and headed down to the beach. I failed to mention previously that it was a very windy day and as we walked into the water, I was immediately knocked down by the waves. Then, I tried to put my fins on. I ended up drinking a lot of salt water and that was before we even started swimming. I got everything on right (to include my mask) and we waded the rest of the way into the water. The section of beach we were at was waist deep at like 3 feet from the shore and then dropped dramatically after that. I was now underwater and breathing.
I was a SCUBA Diver. (Ok, not yet but that was what if felt like by this point. I mean, I had on a wet suit for crying out loud and it only took me 15 minutes or so to get it on). The water life in the Red Sea was absolutely amazing. As we swam to depth (about 12 meters), I had the opportunity to see so many different fish. I saw some lionfish, I watched clown fish swimming around their sea anemone (thank you “Finding Nemo”) and saw several “Dory” fish (later identified as Surgeon fish). There was beautiful coral, colorful parrotfish and many large fish that looked as tasty as they did scary.

Before I get too far ahead, I should mention that most conventional dive schools carry out the first three days of the open water certification course in a pool. I was getting to do this in the Red Sea and cannot begin to express how awesome it was.
When we touched down on the bottom, we did a bunch of drills that included filling my mask half way with water and clearing it out, taking out my regulator (which means no more life giving oxygen to breathe), and practiced using an alternate air source, which in this case, means taking the secondary regulator (called an octopus) from my instructor and breathing with that. One of the things I struggled with initially was kicking up sand from the bottom. At one point, my instructor pointed out the cloud of silt I had accidently kicked up. She then pointed out the Moray Eel that was ticked off at me for kicking up all the sand. He was a beautiful green color and very unhappy with me. All I could think of was the old dude who comes out of his house and yells, “Get off my lawn you crazy kids.”

After approximately 30 minutes of bottom time we swam back up to the surface and exited the water. The surface was still very rough and actually ripped my face mask and snorkel out of my hand as well as knocked my instructor face first into the rocks. Even after eating gravel, she managed to find my snorkel and mask for me. We went back to the school; I eventually wiggled out of my wet suit, got dressed, and debriefed. It was a fun and exciting first day and I could not wait to get back in the water. Of course, I had to read three chapters of my SCUBA book before the next class so water would have to wait.

Day 2…
Melissa and the kids dropped me off at this school at 8:30 am, only half an hour early this time. It was good though as I was given a quiz to start off the morning with. Actually, it was three quizzes covering the three chapters I read the night before (Yes, I actually studied). After the quizzes, I suited up and it was off to the water again. I entered the water a bit more gracefully this time and seemed to get better at adjusting my buoyancy and did not kick up nearly as much sand while I was on the bottom. In fact, we had an observer with us (a guy from Dublin, Ireland who was becoming a dive instructor), who kicked up a ton of silt and got the same, “What are you doing” look from Tamar that I got the day before. We completed several of the required drills, such as taking the mask completely off while underwater and another drill where the instructor has you watch your air supply on the gauges and slowly shuts off your tank of air. The reason for this drill is so the diver gets to experience running out of air in a controlled situation and will be able to recognize an issue before it becomes an issue. I watched the gauge drop to zero and did not like the experience of not being able to breath while 30 feet or so under water. When I gave the “out of air” signal, which does not involve waiving my arms frantically around, Tamar turned my air back on so I could breath again. We finished a few other drills and returned to the surface after about 40 minutes or so. We debriefed the dive and I headed back to the hotel so I could read the next two chapters of the book.

Day 3…
I arrived at the school at 8:30 today and had no tests or quizzes to take. I discussed dive charts with Tamar and learned how to figure out dive planning. We then suited up and headed out to the water. We had several drills to do so we wanted to get started on them as soon as possible. We dove to about 12 meters (36 feet) and started working on the drills. Our first drill was dropping the dive weights while on the bottom. I dropped the 10-kilo weights and almost floated to the top. After a struggle, I got them back on again. The next drill involved taking off the BCD with attached tank and then putting it back on again. While Tamar demonstrated the drill and I watched, I saw something large and grey swimming at us at a very fast speed. I quickly turned my head to see what it was while my heart stopped beating. I initially thought it was a shark but it was a bottlenose dolphin. He swam past us so close he almost bumped my right shoulder. Tamar, who could not see him until he passed her was really excited after getting over the heart attack she almost had when she too thought it was a shark. About 15 minutes later, Tamar was demonstrating another drill, which involved taking off the mask when the dolphin came back. The timing was perfect, as Tamar had just taken off her mask. The dolphin swam past my left shoulder, again almost hitting me, and then cut between Tamar and I (we were only about 3 feet apart). I think I heard the dolphin laughing as he swam out of sight.

When we finished everything and explored for a while, we headed back to the dive school to tell everyone about the dolphin. Tamar was really excited about it, as was I.
We dropped our gear and Tamar told me we would head back to the water with our fins, mask, and snorkel to do some drills on top of the water. We got into the water and Tamar told me to give her my mask, fins and snorkel. After I complied, she told me to swim to a buoy that was about 15 meters away. I swam out to the buoy, not liking the heavy waves one bit. When I got there, she told me to swim back. I went back to where I had started only to find Tamar was at the buoy. I had to swim back to her. She gave me my fins and told my I had to tread water for 2 minutes. After finishing, I had to tread water for another two minutes, this time with my hands over my head. I started thinking that if this was a swim test, I probably should have done it on day 1 but I was too tired to actually say that. Tamar then gave me my snorkel and told me I had to dive down to the bottom, which was about 15 feet away. Trust me, it was a lot harder than it sounds. After finishing, we went back to the school and then took quiz number 4 and my final test. I passed everything with flying colors.
Tamar had arranged a special tour of the underwater aquarium just up the street. The aquarium gave the tour free to dive students so that the divers could learn about reef conservation and about the fish in the area. It was an incredible tour and I learned a ton about fish. For instance, did you know that clown fish (yes, the fish in Finding Nemo) are very interesting fish. A male and a female clown fish live in a sea anemone. The female is the bigger of the two fish and the more aggressive of the two. It is the female’s job to protect the anemone and drive away other fish. Because of this, the female gets eaten a lot. In the likely event the female gets eaten, the male fish changes sex and becomes female. Sometimes, there is a third fish that lives with the male and female but it is always a much smaller clown fish and never grows until the female dies. When the male turns into a female, the smaller fish grows to full size and takes over the role as the male fish. I don’t know how this information is actually useful but someday, it might be a question on Jeopardy.

Day 4…
Today, we started the portion of the course that would start in open water for those who take a conventional course that has the first three days in the pool. Our first dive of the day was to the deepest depth I have been to. We dove to 18 meters (about 60 feet). It was awesome going that deep and I look forward to going much deeper in the future. There was a military ship that had been sunk (hence it being 18 meters underwater).

We swam around it and through it and I enjoyed the experience immensely. It was a lot of fun seeing the fish living in an area so man made yet still be in nature, if that makes any sense.

As we left the area, we came across a puffer fish that refused to hold still for a picture but Tamar finally got a few of it.

We went back to the school, debriefed and rested for a bit prior to our next dive. Melissa stopped by to see if we were done yet just prior to departure. She and the kids enjoyed seeing me all suited up and I think they only laughed a little bit at the sight of me in a wetsuit…not the most flattering style of clothing.

We then went to a different area and Tamar had me do a drill that would have made everyone laugh at me. The idea is to remain floating on the surface and remove your gear, holding on to it and bringing it to the front of you. The idea is to be able to fix something or, as Tamar told me, sometimes a boat will be too small to put your gear on while on the boat. After taking it off, you have to put it back on, which is easier said than done. I did a lot of flopping around in the water, very ungraceful like. After she finished laughing at me, she told me all drills were completed and we swam around at about 12 meters, checking out the fish and the coral. It was another awesome day in the water.

Day 5…
I showed up this morning at about 0830, got my gear and we headed to a new location to dive. There was a University Dive spot where they had coral farms which was a lot of fun to see. Prior to diving, Tamar was kind enough to let me do the drill I did so miserable at the day before and I managed to pull it off really well. I was pleased. We swam around the coral and I finally started getting my buoyancy under control so I felt like I knew what I was doing. We finished up the first dive of the day after about 40 minutes or so and took a lunch/rest break. Our final dive of the day and my final dive of the course was uneventful but still a ton of fun as we swam around a bunch of coral formations and through a coral cave. Tamar pointed out the largest moray eel I have ever seen. Granted, at this point, I had seen two but this guy was curled up in a coral and he was as thick as my thigh. We swam wide around the coral and we saw what looked like a field of snakes. There were hundreds of them floating straight up out of the sand. As we got closer they all sunk back into the sand (straight down). We moved away and they all came back again. I was not that crazy about swimming through their little snake farm so I was okay with them not hanging around to say hi to us. We finished the dive and I signed some papers and officially became a certified open water diver.

The course was fantastic and the Red Sea was awesome. I will be heading back in March to do the Advanced Open Water course as well as a Deep Diver course and a Nitrox course (which is an air mixture that helps diving be a bit easier).
I will make sure I blog about those experiences as well when they happen. Until then, please continue to enjoy Melissa’s posts and I will stop in later. :)

Monday, January 16, 2012


 Almost 6 years ago I was having a discussion with some of my friends and colleagues as we went through training with the State Department. Our talk worked its way around to races and marathons, as one of our classmates was currently training for the Marine Corps Marathon.. I mentioned that I would someday like to run a marathon and the group laughed at me. A couple of them commented that I would "Never run a marathon". I asked them why they thought that and the reply was basically, "Well, look at yourself".

Because I don't do well with being told what I can and can not do, I decided that I would in fact run a marathon and then promptly forgot about it for a few years.

Fast forward to Baghdad, Iraq in 2009. I lost about 45 pounds and decided I was going to carry through with my threat of completing a Marathon. While home on leave, I sat down and started looking at different marathons that would be coming up on some of my future trips home and, with Melissa's help, I decided to run the Portland Maine Marathon in October of 2009 (One month before I finished my tour).  I started training while in Baghdad, running around the interior of the U.S. Embassy compound for my long runs and running up to 6 miles on a tread mill. The first time I ran 20 miles, I thought I was going to die. The muscles in my legs and back kept spasming after the run for a while and during the run, my right knee buckled once at around 19 miles. My second 20 mile run was not a lot of fun either as again, I was in a lot of pain and my knee once again buckled. To top it off, my left foot really hurt and I thought I might have earned myself a stress fracture in my foot. I flew home in October really nervous about the Marathon, especially since I had not run for two weeks since the last 20 miler, hoping my foot would feel better. I completed two short runs a few days before the marathon to make sure my foot and knee were fine and they seemed to be although I added a knee brace to each leg, just to make sure. As a family, we headed up to Portland, Maine the night before the Marathon and spent the night just a mile or so from the start line. It was fun going to pick up my race packet for the first time and seeing all of the other runners crowding around all of the displays and vendors.

We got up really early and head off to the start line. Melissa took a picture of me and the kids prior to the start of the race. I meandered my way to the start line and when the cannon fired (Yup, they used a cannon), I was off. My plan was to shoot for a 4 hour marathon and I was at 2 hours and 10 minutes at the half way point.  I then got slower and slower and slower and around the 18 mile mark, I tore the lateral meniscus in my right knee and my knee buckled. I tightened up my knee brace and limped/walked/ran to the finish line, finishing with an official time of 5 hours, 15 minutes and 25 seconds.

After the race, I hurt but not as bad as I had during my training runs in Baghdad. There was the issue with my knee and about a week after I finished my tour of Baghdad, I had a minor procedure done on my right knee to repair the torn meniscus. I was off crutches in just a couple of days and was ready to start running again in January of 2010. 

I decided that running another marathon would be a great way to rehabilitate myself so I signed up for the Potomac River Run Marathon in Virginia which would take place in May of 2010.  It was nice to get outside and run and not have to do it on a tread mill. I started running the W&OD trail in Falls Church. It was a great place to run and I felt like I was getting a lot better. I finished my first 20 miler and 3 hours and 10 minutes and thought things were going well. I had to run my second twenty miler in Arizona as I flew out for a short trip to a friends surprise 40th birthday party.  I arrived at the hotel in Tempe, AZ at about 10 pm on Friday evening (to tired to go find something to eat) and woke up at 5 am on Saturday morning to go run (Before breakfast was served). Needless to say, it was a really bad run and to top things off, my right knee did not feel well. 

Two weeks later and Melissa, the kids, and I were at the starting line for my next Marathon. As advertised, The Potomac River Run Marathon is completely flat with wonderful scenic views of the Potomac River. What they meant to say was the race is flat with views of an algae filled, smelly offshoot of the actual river. Every now and then we could see the actual Potomac but it was not a regular view. One of the other negatives about this course was it was an out and back, out and back course (Each out and back was 13.1 miles). That got really old really quick. 

                                    The 5 kids at a lookout point waiting for me to finish

Now, I made a few errors in running this marathon (other than signing up for it). I started running with a friend of mine who was a much faster runner. I thought I was ready and able to keep up with him, which I did for the first 8 miles. We averaged between a 7 1/2 minute mile to an 8 1/2 minute mile. It was a much faster pace than I could handle. To top it off, there was a record high temperature with record high humidity. Overall, to put it mildly, it sucked.
My finish official finish time was 5 hours, 11 minutes and 13 seconds. I thought I was going to die at the finish line and witnessed a much older man almost pass out. I helped him get a seat, got him something to drink and made sure he was ok. During the short distraction, I forgot about how much I hurt for a little bit, which was really nice. My buddy who I initially started running with finished at 4 hours and 18 minutes which was pretty slow for him as well. I was glad I finished and did better than my previous time but I was still disappointed in my time.

The week after my marathon, I realized that there was something really wrong with my right knee and less than a month from departing for Jerusalem, I ended up having a lateral release done on the right knee, which is where the quadricep muscle is actually cut open to allow the knee to go back to where it belongs.
Taken two days after surgery
I was on crutches with a full leg brace for almost a month and switched to a cane for our flight to Jerusalem. I managed to start bending it to walk up and down stairs about the time we arrived in Jerusalem. I decided that I was done doing marathons and was not going to subject myself to any more pain and stupidity. I took up Scuba diving in December of 2011 and discovered accidentally that swimming greatly reduced the pain in my knee. Around that time, I found out the Municipality of Jerusalem was hosting their first ever marathon in March of 2011. Although I was done doing marathons I figured I would do one more in order to redeem my previous two. Being a little smarter than before, I took training really slow. For those of you who do not know, Jerusalem is very hilly so I knew the marathon was going to be really tough. I wanted to make sure I did not overdo the training this time so I kept my mileage fairly short, with no long run farther than 13.1 miles.

The day of the race came and the area was packed. Melissa drove the kids and I around trying to a parking spot. Eventually, we found a place to park and worked our way through the booths, people, and mud... It rained all day the day before and much of the morning so the area was covered in mud. In fact, the finish line area (which was supposed to be in the grass, was now just a mass of mud so the race organizer's placed plastic down and a carpet down on top of the plastic. (more on this later). I lined up and when the race started, I was off. Well, not really off like a rocket. More like an old Jalopy that needs to go slow to keep moving. I kept moving and moving and moving. At 18 miles, I was at 3 hours but I felt like I was finished. In fact, I zoned out and got off course a little and ended up finishing at the 1/2 marathon point with all of the half marathon runners. I had to work my way out of the half marathon point and back onto the full marathon course. I saw Melissa and the kids at this point and their cheers and encouragement kept me going. It took me almost two and a half hours to finish the last 8 miles or so and I completed the Jerusalem Marathon in 5 hours, 23 minutes, and 24 seconds. Oddly enough, my official time for the Marathon is 3 hours and 8 minutes. Apparently, when I crossed the finish line for the half marathon, they recorded that time as my Marathon time..... Oops. Do you remember me mentioning the finish line. Well, with thousands of runners running over the carpet (which was on top of plastic, over mud) the 100 meters before the finish line was like a waterbed. Have you ever tried running on a waterbed? If not, it is not something that needs to be done. It was almost impossible and a rather unpleasant finish to an already difficult race.

The nice thing was, at the end of this Marathon, no surgery was required and other than being tired and sore, I did not have any pain or follow on issues from running this marathon. About the half way point, as I was running the Jerusalem Marathon, I decided I was done with marathons. They hurt too much and they involve a lot of running. More running that I am actually a fan of. I swore off running any more of them and figured I should probably stick to half marathons, 10K's, 5 K's and Scuba diving. In the process of deciding not to run anymore, I discovered something about myself. I do a pretty good job of working out when I am "training" for something versus just working out to "exercise". I know there is not much of a difference but in my head, the difference is huge so, once again, I decided to do another marathon.

Running on outer loop road in Chino Valley Arizona
I signed up for the Tiberias Marathon, which takes place around the Sea of Galilee. To make things even more interesting (Some say difficult), I started running with Vibram 5 fingers. For those of you not familiar with these shoes, they simulate running barefoot and kind of look like gloves, for your feet. A good friend of mine, Sam Murr, recommended I try running in them so I found a pair I like and ordered them. Sam's recommendation was to take it slow and build up mileage even slower. The day the shoes came in, I started running. I did about a mile at a time for while. It was a strange feeling running with these "almost not there" shoes and feeling every crack and crevice (and occasional pointed rock) on the ground. I noticed almost immediately; no knee pain or discomfort. I also noticed that people pointed, stared, and laughed a lot. I have another pair I use just for walking and or working out and it is amazing how many people comment on the shoes and ask questions like, " are those comfortable"? and "You can't wear those in the gym"... My shoes have seemed to inspire people though as 3 or 4 Consulate employees have started wearing them as well.... Anyway, I digress. Eventually I got to a point where I was up to a 6 miles a day and was feeling really good. Melissa, the kids, and I headed back to the U.S. for a much needed vacation and while I was there, I continued my running in Arizona, completing a 13 mile run and then on the 24th of December, I ran a 20 miler. I experienced no knee pain but boy, did the bottom of my feet hurt.
Outer loop Road with Granite Mountain in the distance
We headed back to Jerusalem and I did a few short runs prior to the Marathon. I had to work the day before the Marathon so Melissa got the kids all packed up and picked me up after work. We then drove the 2 1/2 hours to Tiberias and picked up my race packet before heading to our cabin at Ein Gev. I asked when the race began, expecting it to be 6 am (the time of my other three races) and was rather surprised and pleased when they told me the race started at 9 am. We headed off to Ein Gev, which oddly enough, was the half way point of the hotel and I eventually got to sleep, although, for some reason, I was really nervous about running the marathon.

We woke up in the morning and in rather heavy rain, headed to the starting line. Melissa did a great job finding a parking spot about two blocks from the finish line. It was raining pretty heavy and the road was really wet. Let me mention the big negative with my Vibram 5 fingers. When it comes to puddles on the ground or water, I might as well be bare foot because they do not keep out any water and the rain was cold.... Prior to the race, The kids wished me good luck and words of encouragement, such as, "Dad, I sure hope you do not die" (From Jorden) and, " Dad, I sure hope you don't have to have any more surgeries after this" (From Taylor). I found my way to the starting line and worked my way into a massive crowd of people, trying to avoid the running torrents of water and waited for the start of the race. I knew where Melissa was going to be so I made sure I was on the same side of the road as her and the kids to make sure I was available for a picture (Not counting on her moving to the other side of the road).

And we are off. Some of the guys in front finished in 2 hours, 7 minutes
I am on the far side of this picture. You can make out my shoe between the legs of the bright white guy with orange shorts

Almost at the end
The race started and I worked my way past the starting point and started running. Because of the low elevation (about 600 feet below sea level), breathing was easy and running seemed to just happen naturally. I felt good and pretty much zoned out. Other than several people coming along side me and asking, "Are those shoes comfortable" in the middle of the race, things were good. (Yes, they really did that and it was not just one or two. I noticed several people point and say something to their friends but they were kind enough to let me run without trying to have a conversation with me). I passed the half way point (and our resort) at 1 hours and 59 minutes and felt really, really good. I realized at the 15 mile mark, I was running with the 4 hour pace guy and I was feeling really good and excited to think I might beat 4 hours for the first time ever. Of course, at the 15 and a half mile mark, my body laughed at me and almost shut down completely. I had been going at a 8 1/2 minute mile pace but that started dropping off quickly. At three hours, I was just over 19 miles and realized that I could still get a decent time. I sucked it up and got my pace to about 9 1/2 minutes per mile. At the 23 mile point, I really wanted to stop and then realized I could walk the rest of the way in and still break the 4 hour and 30 minute mark which for whatever reason, caused me to speed up. It was funny because I could not keep the smile off of my face. I have not had that experience before. I passed Melissa with about 1/10 of a kilometer to go and the look of surprise on her face was fantastic. She did not expect me to finish yet. She got a great shot of me giving thumbs up and then I took off, trying to catch the people in front of me. I passed them and ended up with a time of 4 hours, 18 minutes and 23 seconds, although I think my official time will be a little faster as that was the "gun" time and not my actual time between the start and the finish.

At the end of the race, I turned in my race chip and was given a medal for completing. Melissa and the kids walked with me to a bench so I could sit down. As happy as I was, I was a little sore (The 9 Aleve i took during the race had started to wear off). I sat for a moment and just felt good that I had improved as much as I did.

My Vibram 5 fingers

Having the shoes was a big help as now, 4 days later, I have absolutely no knee pain and the only soreness I have is in my lower back, which I had before I ran and I attribute it to flying we did jus a few days before the Marathon. Melissa and the kids have been amazing in their support of me. Melissa told me that with my improvement, I should be pleased and not need to run any more Marathons. I have no plans at the moment but who knows.... I hear they do a marathon in Kabul, Afghanistan.......

Until next time