Huts for Vets: Counting Down the Days

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New shoes for my hiking adventure.

Happy Wednesday, everyone.

Things are going well on my end. I received my Huts for Vets reading packet maybe two weeks ago or so and with my readings complete, I am one step closer to this new adventure.

I was asked recently, why participate now?

I learned of Huts for Vets last year and as intriguing as it sounded, I knew 2017 wasn’t the right opportunity for me. There were some planned and unexpected events in my life going on around that time and I wasn’t sure the timing was right. This year, I had less obstacles in my way and I realized I didn’t want to say ‘no’ this time and come to regret it.

I follow Kirstie Ennis on Instagram and through watching her journey (She is a Marine OEF veteran with an above the knee amputation whose recovery has entailed numerous surgeries and setbacks.) I’ve been struck by the way I embrace challenges with a lot more hesitation. While I don’t desire to climb mountains (literally) the way she does, she inspires me to question my hesitation to step outside my comfort zone.

I love writing and there is a certain freedom to throw my heart and emotions out there behind the scenes, but I have a hard time in-person being the center of attention, even in group settings. I often feel challenged with the fact I don’t have a more substantial amount of time to pull together my thoughts in front of others. I don’t want my words taken out of context or to feel like I don’t hold my own in the group. Public speaking is not my forte; thankfully though, any discussions we have during the Huts for Vets are to be kept private. For this reason, I am more willing to go out there and take up this new challenge.

Although I’ve done hikes with my units in the Marine Corps, I haven’t hiked at elevation or combined a hiking experience with a literature discussion. 

For me, there are two big pieces worth talking about prior to this journey: physical preparation and packing.

On September 24th, 2016, my family and I were involved in a five car pile up here in Arizona. I am grateful we were the fourth of the five vehicles, but this incident is a good reminder of why my service trauma is something to work on.

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My view after we moved off to the shoulder and waited for assistance.
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The vehicle on the far left of the photo is the one we hit.
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The object on the ground used to be the rear windshield of the first vehicle hit.
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Close-up of the driver’s vehicle that started the pile up

I heard the sudden impact and tensed up prior to our car being hit by the vehicle behind us. My husband and daughter were more relaxed so thankfully they did not have any lasting issues from the car accident. I’m not surprised I tensed up; after dealing with mortar attacks on deployment, I find myself still unsettled by sudden unexpected noises.

My response during the impact has left with my back pain that continues to this day. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a pity me post.) It is improving, but it’s been a bit of a journey to get to where I am today. I had a lot of soreness the first week and fire-like pain throughout my back. The issue was made worse when I tried to carry my daypack with my laptop from the parking garage at ASU just south of my old office. Sitting or standing for long hours drove me nuts because it would exacerbate the back pain.

While I looked to resolve the issue without medical assistance, I started physical therapy November 2016 and it continued into December. January 2017 I started working out again but I lost of a lot of strength I had prior to the accident since I wasn’t working out. I was happy I could resume working out but it has been a process to monitor my actions. I still dealt with back pain every day and I was pretty concerned it might be something I was left with for the rest of my life (not so sound dramatic).

Earlier this year, I spoke to my nurse practioner about how a lot of the things I do to cope with my deployment-related anxiety are helping, but my back pain wasn’t resolving on its own. She recommended a chiropractor to me and I discussed with him my goal of completing this hiking trip with Huts for Vets. I knew it might not be realistic for it to be gone prior to the trip, but I was willing to try chiropractic visits to see if it helped.

I’m at the point now where I only go in once every two weeks. The back pain is no longer throughout my whole back and easily over the last month it has gone down from every other day to every few days. Today’s a bit of an exception since I started carrying boots and a 2.5 lb. weight in my pack to test out carrying some gear. I took some Tylenol earlier today and it brought the pain back down, so I added 9 assisted pull-ups into my “workout routine” across my 15 minute morning and afternoon breaks during my work shift.

Aside from getting my back pain under control for the trip, I also had the necessary task of acquiring hiking gear.

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My new hiking boots were the single most expensive item. I picked up a pair of Oboz waterproof boots for $150 at REI. (NOTE: This post is not sponsored by anyone; I just thought others might inquire so I decided to share some details of what I purchased.) My husband thought with my ankle issues a mid-height shoe would work better and since the packing discusses it being a wet area, we opted to spend more for a waterproof shoe.

Most of my wardrobe is cotton-based fabrics so I picked up some performance fabric shirts on sale from Eddie Bauer and some items from REI. In particular, I love that REI has convertible pants in petite sizes. My main objective with the purchases was to find things good enough for hiking that I could incorporate into my everyday wardrobe as well so they didn’t sit in my closet like unused ball gowns.

I was most set with socks. My husband and I are part of Nocking Point’s Wine Club and thankfully some of the boxes come with great Strideline socks. I had hopes I would still have some Smartwool mid crew hiking socks from my two deployments, but I didn’t. I think I may have given them away to family members that live in Wyoming because those socks really hold up.

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Anyways, aside from my love of the Strideline socks, there are a few other practical things I am bringing with me. I like that these items are a bit better for the environment and should make TSA checks easier at the airport. (I’m all for easier times flying.)

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I’ll get you all updated as we get closer to the trip. My goal is to fit everything between an Osprey hydration pack and a small Osprey carry-on. I will not be bringing along a personal tent as I’m sure at the end of the day my back will feel better if I sleep in a real bed.

If you want to learn more about Huts for Vets, check them out here.

 

 

Boot Camp Letters: October 2003 (From Recruit to Marine)

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This entry is the conclusion of my “Boot Camp” series of entries and I hope you all enjoyed my behind the scenes sentiments.

I am glad I completed this journey as a way to honor my friend Bart after his passing. His mother sent the photo below to me while at recruit training. I know my experience does not make up for losing him, but it is important his dream came full circle. He wanted to go to Iraq, and by serving, I made that dream real.

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Lance Corporal Barton J. Carroll

There’s not much I planned to write today, but I do have some photos to share. We had recruit liberty which lasted, if I’m recalling correctly, four hours. I know I should talk more about other things like the Crucible, but it doesn’t stand out in my mind as much as other things do. After being under the scrutiny of drill instructors constantly, recruit liberty felt awkward, but exciting at the same time. It was a small opportunity to explore the base. I think of things like this experience and the Warriors Breakfast and having makeup classes (yes, we learn how to wear makeup to complement our skin and uniforms!) that are worth discussing more than being frustrated, exhausted, and annoyed during the Crucible.

My apologies the photos are not dated, but I took them with a 35mm camera and never wrote any captions in my scrapbook to better contextualize the experience.

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Our Senior Drill Instructor SSgt Curran
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These women did not have an easy job as drill instructors. Their billet is one of the hardest (and most coveted) assignments in the Marine Corps.
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Tucked in the middle and super serious in this group photo.
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Our Senior and her husband, also a drill instructor
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I’m on the far right and as you can see the footlocker at the end of my bed is not very big. Nearly everything I owned at boot camp fit into the locker.

When we had our weapons, they were slung over the end of our bunk beds with a cable through them and secured by a combination lock. In one of my letters home, I discussed my combination lock being taken away; this event happened because I failed to double check my combination lock was secure. Small mistakes like these are things you pay for and I learned to be better about checking my items.

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4th Battalion, Oscar Company, Platoon 4030 

After recruit training, I went on to Marine Corps Combat Training and later my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Of my fellow recruits, one was also at Camp Blue Diamond with me. I ran into another during my second tour in Iraq at Camp Al Asad. The third worked at the mail room at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

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I was very proud to graduate even if it was as a Marksman (that “pizza box” on my uniform), not a Rifle Expert.

That large smile on my face is less about leaving recruit training but everything to do with being surprised to see my dad. My maternal grandmother and her boyfriend came to my graduation but my dad had let on he was at court during my graduation. Back then, he served as a police officer so the reason sounded pretty valid.

Earning the right to be called Marine is something I’ve never regretted. The events that came later weren’t all great, but becoming a Marine is one of the best life decisions I ever made.

 

Boot Camp Letters Home: September 2003

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A funny thing happened in September 2003. I didn’t have much to say to my family back home. It’s kind of odd but maybe I wrote more letters to friends and extended family? One of the recruiters sent me the above letter, but in my trove of boot camp things, I didn’t have much to say at this point in my training to my immediate family.

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What’s pretty funny is that I basically forgot what I wrote in the first letter and repeated myself in my second square away time. Can you say I was probably pretty sleep deprived?

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And that love affair with sweets…it’s never gone away. I had a caramel pecan cookie and a red velvet cookie today from AJ’s Fine Foods. Yep, I like my sweets.

To give you some background on my letter below, my parents tricked me and told me my father would be unable to attend my boot camp graduation. My mom passed away my last day of sophomore year in high school and Sue is my stepmom. This quite personal letter to her is something I was originally on the fence about sharing, but it an important part of our relationship. I also think because I talk about being emotional the letter is something others should see about recruit training.

It’s a significant difference to go from an academic environment that encourages a lot of individual success to a culture that requires others to work together. The individual differences we bring to the table aren’t all great. We must recognize those selfish attributes we carry and be willing to work towards self improvement. It’s humbling, but we find better opportunities and partnerships when we make those conscious decisions.

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Boot Camp Letters Home: August 2003

My little one is spending her evening with my in-laws so I’m free to write earlier than expected this week. More than normal, I am ready for the weekend. I finished my third course for my Master’s in Public Administration. I enjoy the privilege of higher education, but I miss my free time for personal writing and I’m need more physical fitness preparation for my upcoming Huts for Vets trip.

In my boot camp scrapbook I found a few letters from my recruiter. I think these are worth sharing as well, with some censorship.

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My boot camp letters are a good indicator I was not nearly as dedicated a recruit as I should have been, but no changing that reality now! As a parent now, I think my behavior was much like how a school age child feels at the end of the day. I was not fond of doing yet more training, ever.

It’s funny to see my comments about getting sealants on my teeth. Later after I separated from the Marine Corps, my first civilian dentist was surprised I had them.

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I think, with the exception of my strong running background, I was quite the average recruit. I wasn’t great at a lot of things, and like many, I had to confront a variety of fears during training. Swim week was a challenge. I was terrified to jump off the high dive and I haven’t chosen to jump off a ten foot high tower ever again. (I also was a chicken for the rappel tower later on in boot camp.)

It might sound funny but I remember a lot of every day moments more than specific training requirements. We had a storage closet and as a team were tasked–using our money–with keeping it stocked. We cleaned our floors with liquid laundry detergent. In lieu of using mops we stood on towels, scooting along the squad bay, and scrubbed the floors this way; honestly, I like this method and continue to mop my house this way since it’s easier on my back than using a mop.

At some point, someone can up with the ingenious idea to purchase Ziploc bags and stored their items in multiple bags inside their foot locker. I liked the idea and followed suit but it didn’t seem like much time passed before our drill instructors decided when we had to empty our foot lockers, we had to empty out the bags, too. So much for saving time!

Getting dressed “by the numbers” was annoying and hilarious at the same time. Trust me, it looks rather ridiculous to have sixty odd people struggling to get into their clothes. I had moments of frustration when I was ready before others and moments when I was embarrassed to be among the last to complete the task. More than anything, I felt like quite an idiot at times trying to dress quickly following our drill instructors’ orders, but at the end of the experience, it’s just a small step in our lives. We learned a lot of traditions and developed new skills, we tackled some fears (even if those fears did not not go away), and we improved our physical fitness.

Boot camp was a time away from our normal bad habits. I didn’t have regular access to snack foods and for anyone who smoked before recruit training, there was no smoke breaks. We couldn’t eat any time of day that fancied us; we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our greetings were means to reinforce that we’ve eaten our meals. You don’t say good afternoon until after you’ve had lunch and good evening after eating dinner. This habit is something I stopped doing after boot camp; I just use noon at my delineating measure for starting my “Good afternoon” greeting whether in-person, over the phone, or in my emails. I am less rigid about when I start saying “Good evening” to people. I think I have a tendency to start saying it around 5-6 p.m.

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Maybe it’s not too noteworthy, but I kind of like seeing when postage was a bit cheaper. 

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I have one more Boot Camp Letters entry for you coming up soon and then a separate entry with boot camp photographs. Stay tuned!

~Cheryl

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