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Lea once said to our adult children, “We are going to simplify, simplify, simplify!” We led very busy adult lives. She had been vice president of a national mortgage company, and supervised a large staff. I had operated a number of businesses over the years, sometimes two at a time. We had been homeowners for several decades, accumulating all the “stuff” that goes with it, served our communities through service in organizations such as Lions International, and operated a Victorian-era bed and breakfast. And, we had no idea how prophetic her words would become.

           Former Asher Walton House B&B

Asher G. Walton built our twelve room home as a private residence circa 1868. Possessing many examples of fine European craftsmanship, the hardwoods used throughout the home, and the Bavarian marble fireplaces added warmth and charm to the breakfast, parlor and drawing rooms. Victorian baths featured claw foot tubs. We loved the house, and the business, but took a break to vacation with friends in Prospect Harbor, Maine in 2005.

While returning home from that vacation, a thousand miles away on the East coast, Lea was struck down with necrotizing pancreatitis and spent six months in Hartford Hospital. Three of those months she was in a drug induced coma, and on a ventilator to keep her breathing. She had 32 debriding surgeries to remove dying tissue from her various organs, while her body was being filled with intravenous fluids to weaken the acids that were attacking her body. When she was brought out of the coma she had a hip-to-hip ventral hernia that could not be closed up, was atrophied due to loss of muscle mass, and had to learn to walk again through intensive physical therapy.

Practicing using stepsFriends and family stepped in back home to move much of our household goods into storage so the B&B could be sold to help cover our expenses. Her Mustang convertible was sold, my life’s savings were depleted, and her group life insurance exceeded her lifetime limit and would cover no more expenses. We had to fly home on a commercial airline with her still draining pancreatic fluids through her abdomen, and too weak to take more than a few steps at a time.

Family and friends arranged housing for us in an assisted living facility in a town near our former B&B, the town where our household goods were stored. After a few weeks of recovery, my brother and sister-in-law purchased a home they could rent to us on very liberal terms. I worked part time delivering career consulting via webinars for Lee Hecht Harrison, while Lea’s long term disability income started, as she had reached retirement during her hospital stay.  We gave our family truckloads of furnishings from the B&B that had been stored, and had a couple of garage sales to clear out even more.

Recipes for morecooking.netAbout a year later, we moved into a three bedroom single-story home with a modest lawn. Lea had recovered enough that she tried a little flower pot gardening on the rear deck, and we got to do some babysitting with our infant grandson, which really helped her regain a lot of her mental acuity as her motherly instincts kicked in. During 2008, we decided that a good mental exercise for her would be to publish our recipes as a Christmas gift for our families. She had dozens of recipes that we had used over the years. and still others were developed while we had the B&B.

We started cooking, double-checking accuracy of the recipes, and photographing the results. At first she needed quite a bit of help remembering procedures and processes, but eventually, the Lord strengthened her and opened a door for us to cook for fellowship dinners for 50 or more attending bible study and/or choir practice on Wednesday nights. The church had a nice, though modest, commercial kitchen adjacent to the fellowship hall, designed so that we could prepare and then serve meals through a large pass-through window.

http://morecooking.net

We had already published our recipes at http://morecooking. net for that Christmas in 2008, and now we had the opportunity to scale them up for 50 and 100 portions for large groups and publish those at http://cooking4groups.wordpress.com.  But, b the fall months of 2015 she began to have severe pain in her lower back/hip area, and we had to discontinue cooking for the church. In March of the following year she had a hip replaced, and during physical therapy for that, she began having severe pain in her lower back that made her uncomfortable while simply riding in the car.

Downsizing 2016Meanwhile, the house we were renting had been sold, and the closing/move-in date was approaching. We had decided that we were going to have to move into an apartment which would require less labor, and had arranged to have an estate sale the month before the new owner’s move-in date. The week before the estate sale was scheduled to be held, the auctioneer notified us that he was going to have to cancel, leaving us with very few options with the amount of time we had left!  Discussing our options, we found that less stressful was to donate almost all of our household goods to our church family. We held an open house for them, and let them carry away everything that we hadn’t tagged for use in the apartment or to be stored.

Lea’s pain continued to increase, and she gave up driving. Eventually, she couldn’t even ride in the car without suffering. She had to hold herself steady by grasping tightly onto the handgrip above her seat. Just going to the doctor wore her out, and all unnecessary road trips were from then on avoided. During an exam for her annual physical, the doctor determined that her gall bladder was causing a lot of the pain in the general area of the hip that had been replaced, and sent her to a specialist to see about having it removed.

Danielle, Lea and Chris outside Hartford Hospital, November 14, 2005

The surgeon determined that she could not have abdominal surgery, and that her gall bladder could not be removed, because of the surgeries and subsequent healing that resulted from the necrotizing pancreatitis. He felt that potential peritonitis leading to sepsis and septic shock was just too great. Two additional surgeons we consulted agreed.  So, she was prescribed a gall bladder medication that is rarely used today because of the simplicity of removing the gall bladder endoscopically.  She was told that she would just have to tolerate the pain.

As the medication started to take effect, she noticed that her left hip was hurting in much the same way the right hip had before it was replaced, so we went back to consult with that surgeon. He discovered, through an xray, that it was not her hip that was hurting her, but her lower spine. An subsequent exam revealed that the discs in her back were, in some cases, only 20% of their original thickness, compressing the nerves. She was in constant, debilitating, pain. After a few diagnostic visits to a spine specialist, she was given an ablation treatment to temporarily kill the nerves between some of the lower vertebrae. The treatment reduced her pain by about 70%, and was the greatest relief she had experienced in the past three years.

We are told that the treatment works for up to a year for some patients, but, for others, the nerves grow back more quickly.  We hope for the former, but realize that it is all part of God’s plans, and that he is using us for His purposes. We probably won’t know what those are until we arrive in heaven and have that “ah hah!” moment when it all becomes clear. Meanwhile, we give thanks to God for his provision and guidance, and submit ourselves to be used according to His will.

When we allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten our hearts to know the hope to which He has called us, we become better equipped to encourage our loved ones faith and spiritual growth. The apostle Paul, who, while a prisoner, said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4 NIV). We submit ourselves to the Lord’s sovereign plan and tender mercies, trusting Him to be faithful. After all, He did it for us: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.”

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     So I figured after a 4 week hiatus I should probably get off my rear and get back to writing on occasion.  In all actuality we have been pretty busy the past month which for me at least made the last half of June and the first half of this month pass by fairly quickly.  In addition to flying the OIC duties have been keeping me busy with evaluations and recommendation for awards and such. 

     We swapped out two flyers at the beginning of the month and they were replaced by two new flyers from the AE squadron here in Ramstein.  After a month of fairly easy sailing I finally have a problem child who to be blunt is a huge pain in my ass.  I wouldn’t mind so much but he is a Captain as well and after the Chief Nurse refused to reassign him due to him leaving in two weeks we had a “little” closed door discussion. So far so good but time will tell.

     Our flight schedule has been quite hectic which also helped pass the time. In the last month and half we have flown 13 missions which is just over two missions a week.  It may not sound too bad however when you consider those are two 24 hours days per week and then you add in the time that we spend in “stand-by” alert, the time starts to add up. 

     We were blessed with a 3 day break this past weekend in Jackson Mississippi.  For once I was actually glad Amanda and Cam didn’t attempt to make the trip down to D.C. as we were only there for 3 hours and then flew onto San Antonio and then to Jackson.  We had the opportunity with fly with a film crew from CNN and I was interviewed by Barbra Starr, the Pentagon Correspondent.  The crew was documenting the increased number of casualties coming out of the Afghanistan Theater of Operations after the recent troop surge. They actually got a good taste of what we do on a daily basis. 

     Barbara and the camera crew flew from Ramstein to Bagram on Thursday afternoon, returned to Ramstein Friday morning and then jumped on our mission Friday afternoon back to the States.  We had a fairly large patient load leaving Germany and she was very impressed by how busy we were during the 9 hour flight.  Unfortunately I was the Medical Crew Director on the flight and even though I thought I had escaped the inevitable interview with about an hour left in our mission and Boston out the right side window I was asked to say a few words. 

     I was surprised by how laid back she was and the 5 minutes seemed to pass very quickly.  Hopefully this won’t be a repeat of the “courage under fire” crap that idiot from Fox 61 pulled when he flew with us a few years ago.  Regardless the interview should be a 3 part documentary and should start airing the last week of July or the first week of August. 

     The World Cup also provided numerous opportunities to pass some of the time.  For all but one of the Germany matches we met our friend Axel in the small town of Bissersshiem and watch the game with the local volunteer fire department.  With plenty of beer on tap, a fire truck and Jaggermeister (which is awful by the way) there was always a good time to had by all.  It was disappointing when the German national team lost in the semi-finals as I think it would have been pretty cool to be present in a country that won a World Cup. 

     During the 3rd place match we were all given polo shirts from the fire department as a token of friendship and we passed along some of our unit patches which they promptly put on display in the “social” area of the department (aka bar).  Kevin was graciously given a signed fire helmet from the department that they asked be placed in the firehouse he works at and I was given a signed, Germany World Cup Burger King crown to add to my in-flight kit.  I am sure anyone who has ever flown with me can’t wait to see the new addition. 

     Next Thursday night the fire department wants to celebrate Kevin and I going home so they invited us to what they call an after-work party.  Only in Germany would they celebrate getting out of work by throwing a party, and on a Thursday night even.  Anything for a gathering I guess but if it is fun perhaps I will bring the tradition back to the States.  I do think Kevin is in for a big surprise however.  During a previous visit he half-heartedly invited the guys the firehouse over to visit Boston whenever they wanted.  According to Axel that will be early next spring and 6 of them are already making plans and may have already reserved the time off.  I may have to take a road trip to Boston just to watch this event.

     Well that is all for this next to last installment.  Today after we get back to Ramstein I hope to go to the travel office and reserve my ticket home.  Looks like August 6th will be the big day.  My replacement gets in on July 31st however we have a scheduled mission right around that time and there is a very good chance I will have to fly even though he is present. 

     Replacement, now that sure is a great word.  Let’s say it again, replacement :-).  As normal, pray for world peace, the safety of our troops

Hard to believe we are already down to a little over 5 weeks.  I am sure Amanda wouldn’t agree but for me the time has gone by fairly quickly. 

I took charge of the crew two weeks ago after Dave left.  With two LT’s and two Staff Sergeants and below we are by far are the most junior crew here at Ramstein.  Two of our crewmembers deployed across the runway from the Ramstein AE squadron and are here for only a month.  Nice for them however unfortunately for us it means another change out here in a couple of weeks. All in all they are good flyers, eager to learn and the experience will come with time. 

Our first mission was a nightmarish 28 hour day with a plane loaded almost to the maximum capability.  On the trip down to Bagram we were loaded with Cargo and had another 4 crews returning with us.  Normally we try to sleep on the way down however with very limited room it was difficult to say the least and with so many people on board it was anything but quiet. 

Once we arrived in Bagram we were notified our load would have 24 litter patients and 24 ambulatory.  Unloading the cargo took over an hour and setting up took just as long.  Loading all of those patients went as smooth as it could.  We usually have large loads like this when we fly back to the States but I haven’t seen anything like this since Iraq was in full speed. 

Unfortunately for us after we were loaded and closed up one of the engines wouldn’t start.  I felt my heart sink.  Just as we were considering off-loading all of the patients and finding a place to sleep due to our crew duty day the plane was fixed and we took off.  The 7 hour trip back to Germany was uneventful however I was more than ready for a quick shower and a nap by the time I got back to my room.

The 3 weeks prior that had been busy for our crew so it was a nice surprise to have two days off in a row.  Well of course something always happens so it was nice to have one day off after everything was sorted out. 

Axel, one of our friends for the past many years who works at one of the vineyards that we frequent invited us to join him for the Germany World Cup opener.  He lives in GroBkarlbach which is about 40 minutes east of Ramstein.  It is small village of about 500 people and I was amazed that the house he lives in was built in 1580.  While obviously it has been renovated and modernized I was awed in how good of condition it has remained in over the past 430 years. 

After meeting his girlfriend and visiting for a few hours we walked 2 Km to the nearby village of Bissersheim where the village volunteer fire department was having a fund raiser Barbeque complete with a beer tent.  This village as well only has 500 residents so I was surprised when there were at least 200 people in the town square for the match which was being broadcast on a large screen T.V.  Germany won the match 4-0 much to the liking of the locals. 

We decided to grab one more beverage for the walk back and that is where things took a turn for the worse.  It was then when the firefighters running the beer tent found out that Kevin is a firefighter from Boston.  After a few t-shirts were swapped and much more beer was served we finally left some 4 hours after the end of the match.  Have to love firefighters. 

Unfortunately we flew during the next game since the vineyard Axel works at, Weingut Knipser was hosting a private party to which we were invited.  Maybe it is a good thing we flew.  The fire department did enjoy it so much that they did ask Axel if we could come back tomorrow night for the game.  Only in the name international diplomacy we will attend.  I wouldn’t want to ruin any American-Germany relations.
 
Well that is it for now.  We are on the front end of a Balad mission and I hope to send this off in the morning.  Happy 4th Anniversary to my wonderful wife.  Staying home with an almost 2 year old, a German Sheppard and moving into a new home, she is the true hero.  Talk to you all soon.  Chris.

For being deployed this past week has been a good one.  We were scheduled to fly on Memorial Day however that mission was scrapped after we were alerted and unfortunately were released too late to do anything that day.  In its place we flew a mission down to Bagram on Wednesday. 

Upon our arrival we were greeted by the majority of our Westover contingent including much to our surprise some of the day shift.  We had a longer than normal ground time and they were gracious enough to take us to the nearby chow hall.  I am amazed how much things have changed since 2004 when I was stationed there. 

On our way to chow hall we walked by our old C-Hut where Paul and I lived for a long 5 month deployment at that time.  The paint on the wood has long since faded and the plywood building is really starting to show its age.   I still don’t miss it.  No surprise the chow hall in a deployed warzone is better than the one in Ramstein and after a very good but quick meal with friends we loaded up the plane and headed back to Germany.

     After a short 24 hours on the ground at Ramstein we were back in the air, this time to Andrews down in D.C.  Prior to taking off I was surprised to come across an old Hartford Hospital acquaintance.  As one of the patient buses pulled up to the tail of the aircraft Col Robert Gross, one of our previous Trauma Surgeons who has since moved on to Bay State walked out.  I have seen him on a few occasions when we drop patients off at Bay State and I knew he was in the military however you never expect to cross paths.  After a brief catching up we loaded up the plane and were back in the air once again.  

 The Ramstein to Andrews run has been one of my personal favorites.  Even though one of the longest flights sometimes exceeding 10 hours it is a big step home for the patients that we transport.  All are being moved on to care that they need and you can see the relief of most once we are back on good old U.S. soil.  After flying 22 of the previous 48 hours I was relieved myself. 

     Unfortunately with Amanda closing on our new house next week it was a little too close for her to load up Cam and come down for another visit which provided me with an opportunity to catch up with our Westover contingent deployed to Andrews.  Much to our surprise one our crews deployed to Travis AFB in CA was prepositioned for a mission the following day. 

It amazes me in two days I can see almost every deployed 439th AES person even though geographically separated by over 10,000 miles.  D.C. was a very hot and humid 90+ degrees when we landed.  A far cry from the low 70’s I have become accustomed to in Ramstein with barely any humidity.  After a very well needed shower a few of us went out for a quick dinner and I think I remember my head hitting the pillow but that very well may have been a dream.  After a day of lounging around, our recuperated crew boarded my favorite plane in the whole world, my beloved KC-135 for an 8 hour voyage back to Germany. 

     Our return to Germany was bitter sweet to say the least.  Through rotation and attrition I have become the new OIC of our crew.  In a career field with such a high number of Majors and LTC’s I never expected to assume that role but truly appreciate the trust and confidence of our leadership. 

With the current transition we lost 2 very good flyers and a bunch of experience.  Both flyers are from Pope (Active Duty) and much to my surprise were very down to earth, exceptional flyers and over the past two months have become good friends.  Dave will soon leave for Pope for a position at AMC Stan Eval and Joe will continue to search for an assignment closer to his Son who lives in Portsmouth NH.  I wish them both the best of luck. 

We met the new replacements on Monday morning during lunch.  They are both stationed here at Ramstein and are on a 30 day loan you could say.  We have another 1LT and TSgt.  The LT is new and has never flown down range and the TSgt hasn’t been downrange in some time. 

     As if I didn’t already miss home enough on Friday Amanda sold our house and closed on our dream home on the north side of town.  Just a little over a mile from where I grew up it will be a nice change and even though it is a little more out in the woods than most of the town it will be worth. 

Thanks to everyone who took the time to help Amanda and Cam on the big move.  I truly appreciate it.  The most enjoyable part is that the house is only 4 years old and that means no projects, well at least for a while.  I am sure I will come up with something as time goes on and I get board. 

That is it for this session.  I hope all is well as usual and will talk to you soon.  Chris.

Well we are finally approaching the half way point of this deployment. It is hard to believe I left Bradley 8 weeks ago today and I truly hope the 2nd half goes as quickly as the 1st half passed. 

We have a very busy week ahead of us with 3 missions scheduled totaling almost 46 hours of flight time alone.  By the 60 day mark we will have already accumulated over 140 flight hours and 12 missions.  Not bad considering that Operation Ash Tray I and II kept us grounded for almost two weeks combined and cost us at least 5 flights. 

Last week we a flew a mission to Kuwait, Balad and then back to Ramstein.  We were told we would be picking up a VIP in Balad and they weren’t joking.  Upon our arrival in Balad we picked up the Air Force Surgeon General, LTG Green.  A very nice individual and probably one of the most personable General Officers I have ever met.  He took time to talk to all of the patients on board and then took time to visit with every member of the crew one by one. 

I wish he had told me at the beginning  that he participated on the workgroup that decided to utilize the KC-135 (Refueler) for Air Evac mission before he asked me what I thought of the airframe.  I provided  my insights from my numerous operational missions and then he pulled the rug out from underneath me. 

Much to my surprise he appreciated the candid feedback and we continued to talk for another 15 minutes or so on the topic.  I was a little disappointed we didn’t get any coins however his Executive Officer took a picture with everyone but we are still waiting for them to be emailed. 

We are slated for another Andrews mission next weekend and it will be nice to get back to the States even if just for a day.   Unfortunately it comes a week before Amanda closes on the new house and it would be much too chaotic for her to try and pack Cam up again for another visit down to DC. 

It will be nice to see and catch up with our Westover folks deployed down there.  I know that I can’t wait to eat real  American food and would do anything to see a real TV commercial.  AFN (Armed Forces Network) is our only T.V. provider and they cannot show commercials and therefore make a very rude attempt to fill the normal commercial times with idiotic safety messages, public announcements and of course short peep talks from various individuals.  I think by this point I would prefer watching and listening to static than the same messages over and over and over again.  

I was notified yesterday that I will become the Officer in Charge of our crew next week after my colleague Dave heads home.  We are getting another Lieutenant for his replacement.  Through simple attrition Kevin is in charge of all of the enlisted and having a qualified leader and experienced flyer will make my job a whole lot easier. 

I was hoping that being a Captain would keep me under the radar but that plan sure didn’t work out all that well and with only a few Majors in-coming for the next rotation I could see the writing on the wall and wasn’t that surprised.  We were recently assigned two newer flyers and our new nurse is coming with limited experience.  Should keep us busy and on our toes.
    

That is all for this letter.  I hope everyone has a great Memorial Day weekend.  Connecticut has had a tough year and perhaps the inscription on the base of the monument located at the American Cemetery in Normandy best sums it up.  “To those we owe the high resolve, that the cause for which they died shall live.”

Chris Watkins

Week 5 started off great.  Immediately after returning from our Andrews mission our Commander pulled us aside and informed us that he was reassigning our OIC to another crew.  It is not that he was a bad leader, he just wasn’t a good one.  Numerous poor decisions and a few other incidents eventually lead to his removal and not one of us was sorry to see him go.  In turn we got back the Captain whom we flew with when we first got here and a newly assigned Lieutenant from Wyoming.  As if we weren’t already feeling lucky enough, two other crewmembers with similar altered team dynamics were scheduled to leave within 24 hours of us returning to Germany.  On a crew that was weighed down with 3 who never seemed to pull their own weight the change was welcome.  If those who left were new flyers I could perhaps understand however these 3 had almost 2500 flying hours combined.  Some things I will never get.
     With the new crew ready we were eager for our first mission which came a few days later.  We call it the Triangle, a stop at Ali Al Salem, Balad AB and then return to Germany.  The previous time we ran the mission was the day that almost lasted 24 hours.  This time we were back in 17 and 2 hours ahead of schedule.  We always knew our previous crew had weak links however we made excuses for them and pulled their weight, we had to.  To compare the two crews is night and day and will make the next 3 months a little easier to say the least. 
     Sunday morning bright and early the phone rang.  “Operation Ash Tray II” was in effect.  Evidently the volcano had sent another ash cloud toward Europe and had Ramstein in its sights.  As you can see by the photos, it was a mad dash to get everyone and all of our equipment out of Ramstein and off to an alternate location.  First we were heading downrange (dessert) which quickly changed to Rota Spain, a Navy base which means it is near water.  I liked that idea.  Unfortunately after we had rushed to get out of Dodge nobody told the ash cloud and it was too late.  We never took off.  After sitting on a C-17 for the better part of 6 hours we unloaded and waited for further instructions.  Those instructions didn’t take long, we were going to bus to a location 5 hours away and meet another C-17 there however before the buses arrived that plan was scrubbed too.  Finally at 10pm, 14 hours after I first left my room, I opened my door, showered and went to bed to try again the following day. 
     Monday morning we all met at 8 am for plan 3 and by 9 am everything was cancelled all together.  The ash cloud was expected to clear within 24 hours and the decision was made to keep us in place.  Once again, nobody informed the ash cloud and it wouldn’t be until Wednesday that a few flights finally took off.  For the second time in 6 short weeks we were grounded and out of play, I wasn’t very happy at the thoughts of sitting around once again but there was little I could do about it. 
     We used some of our downtime to take out our frustration at a local go-kart track 20 minutes from base.  I had never been there before but had heard numerous stories about the place.  It didn’t disappoint.  After being strapped in and fitted for a helmet we hit the track.  These karts go about 45 mph and after 30 minutes of driving my arms were shaking we I climbed out.  After sending Joe, Kevin and a few other into the wall I felt a whole lot better and we were back in the following Friday night. 

That’s it for this installment.  Hope all well and I will talk to you soon.  Chris.

It is hard to believe that we are already ¼ through our deployment.  I took last week’s letter off if you will since there was absolutely nothing to write about during “Operation Ash Tray.”  The decision to keep us on the ground that early morning essentially took us out of play for 8 days so needless to say we were eager to get back in the air. 

You would think with more than 7 years of experience at this I would know that you should always watch what ask for.  We were teed up for a Balad – Ali Al Salem – Ramstein run on a C-17.  Since I would end up with calluses on my fingertips if I thoroughly described all of the events of that mission let’s just say that if there was a theoretical possibility of something going wrong it did. 

What was scheduled to be a 17 hour day took almost 25 and by the time we reached our rooms at 4 pm in the afternoon most of us opted to just stay up.  It was one of the longest and most aggravating days I can remember.

Kevin and I were finally moved into the same building area as the rest of our crew.  Since I feel compelled to only say nice things in these letters I am afraid I will have nothing to say about Ramstein Lodging.   That’s kind of humorous; I didn’t have anything to say about them during my last trip here as well. 

The rooms are not much bigger if any however they are much more functional.  Before we were forced to put our food items such as snacks and cereals on our television stand or tucked away in a night stand.  We now have a little cupboard space along with a counter, a full desk and television and microwave that do not look to be from the 1980’s. 

Best of all, we now have our own bathroom!  How I will miss the early morning wake-ups of my neighbor taking a shower.  Of course it is hard is to complain too much when there are a lot of people who have it much worse that I do. 

The highlight of the past week was finally a trip to Andrews and the opportunity to see Amanda and Cam while in D.C.  Of course with my luck it couldn’t go off without a hitch.  We were originally slated for the mission early in the week and Amanda, Cam and Robin, Kevin’s girlfriend made their travel arrangements. 

Late Thursday evening we were notified that the mission had been extended and that we were scheduled to fly onto San Antonio after dropping our patients off in Andrews.  Once again, hours before leaving I had to make the dreaded phone call to Amanda to tell her that we would not be coming once again.  Like a true champion, she took the news well and went along with her day at work.

Friday morning we were alerted for the mission on time, did our normal pre-mission routine and ended up at the Detachment 15 minutes early.  Three of took the time to take our personal luggage out and an undisclosed amount of German beverages out to the plane. 

As the loading of the above mentioned items was occurring I mentioned that I planned on escorting the medical equipment back from San Antonio as the remainder of crew would normally fly back to Germany on a commercial carrier.  One of the individuals on the plane informed us that SA leg had been dropped and we were only flying to Andrews.  It was a mad dash back to the Detachment.  This time as the phone rang at 4 am back in the States with the good news.

After an hour and a half delay that seemed like forever we were finally on our way and shortly before 8 pm EST we made it to the hotel.  Amanda had found a small flag for Cameron to carry and he was easy to make as we drove across the parking lot. 

Kevin was first out of the truck and immediately caught Cameron’s attention.  The look on his face was that of utter disappointment, I know you have the same green suit but you are not who I thought you were.  Then after a few seconds he looked around Kevin, said “Da-Da” and ran over.  After demanding “Up” and a quick kiss it was on to assaulting the Velcro patches as he always does.  It was truly awesome to see him and Amanda.

The downside of the trip was that we only had 24 hours off before we had to fly back to Germany.  After a mid-morning breakfast it was off to Arlington.  I can’t count the number of times I have been there but there is always something special about taking someone there for the first time.  Perhaps it is the sheer magnitude of the size, the precisely laid out grave markers or the peaceful quiet. 

We made it just in time for a changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown.  Amanda had never seen it before so as Cam got a little restless he and I went for a short walk.  From there we made our way Section 60.  Called by many the “Saddest acre in America,” it is the final resting place for many of those killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Walking there with Amanda and Cam I realized that you can never rationalize with an almost two year old why his Dad has to leave, but you are reminded why do it.

 We enjoyed the remainder of our time that afternoon and evening however despite all of the prayers of the aircraft breaking or the mission being cancelled, we made our way back to Germany.  We have a few flights this week that will keep us busy and before too long we will be talking about the ½ mark.

 That is it for this letter.  I hope you are all well and Happy Mother’s Day if happens to apply.  Talk to you soon.  Chris.

Week 2,

     Well “Operation Ash Tray” has brought everything here to a screeching halt.  In my 7 years of flying AE I have never seen anything like this.  We were the alert crew Thursday night when the phone rang around 10pm, first we were going to a base in the desert, next we were going to Andrews, then back to the desert and finally told to just pack tan and green flight suits.  It was rather comical looking back on it.  At the time however, with all of 25 minutes to get packed, repack, repack again and then be ready to be picked up I didn’t find it was all that humorous at the time.  Finally a few hours later we were mere minutes away from flying to Andrews Friday morning and even got as far a closing up the ramp on the C-17 before the mission was scrubbed.  No comment. 

For Kevin and me it was a huge disappointment since Amanda and his girlfriend Robin had already made plans to drive down to D.C. later that morning to stay with us for the anticipated 4 to 6 days we would be there.  I know it has only been two weeks but I will take any opportunity I can to see Amanda and Cam that I can get and I returned to my room 12 hours after I originally left with no flight hours logged and a heavy heart.  Mission first I always say and when you compare with some of those I have the privilege to help on their journey home my temporary disappointment is trivial when you see what they are going through. 

     Day two of “Operation Ash Tray” we found ourselves off for the entire day.  The day started with a quick morning swim and then came an urgent mission to assault two vineyards located the Phalz region near the Rhine river.  Our two targets, Dr. Burklen-Wolf and Rudy Ruttger were successfully visited without incident and numerous prisoners were taken into custody.   Anything I can do to maintain international relations.   As for today I did find some humor when last night we were put into crew rest so we could sit in Bravo “Stand-by” today.  Here is my disclaimer.  To avoid any potential “Operational Security” issues I won’t discuss our current situation.  However if you Google “Stars Stripes Ramstein,” Stars and Stripes will and you will find the following article: http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=69398 .  Not much has changed but I am sure once we can start flying again I think it will get pretty busy.  Until then I will enjoy the down knowing there is a price for everything. 

     Down time has continued to be filled with running, swimming and biking.  Running here is fantastic and I try to set 2 days a week.  I am already back up to 12 miles and if I can keep up this pace might even entertain running the entire Hartford Marathon this coming October.  I am still split on what to run for.  Honor Flight is a great charity and the debt we owe WWII Veterans will never be repaid.  However my first flight we flew back some CT Guard members, two of whom were seriously injured.  It would be nice to do something for them as well.  Luckily I have a few more months to make up my mind. 

     In my previous update I totally forgot to mention and thank the support staff from our home unit in Westover.  Our full-time staff, recently thinned by staff reductions did a superb job in getting Kevin and I out the door.  While it may not have always been pretty we arrived to our deployed location with all equipment (maybe a little more than we needed), our paperwork was in line and we were ready to go.  It speaks volumes that 36 hours after our arrival we were mission ready and flying our first mission down-range the other night we were prepared to redeploy anywhere in the World.   Thanks to Lt Cols Z & D, Wayne, Rich and Vikki for all of their help.

That is it for this installment.  Hopefully this quagmire ends soon and we can resume our mission.  Talk to you soon, Chris.

Chris, the flight nurse that we came to appreciate so much while Lea was hospitalized in Hartford, is currently deployed to Germany, where his team is making flights into Afganistan and Iraq to treat and transport injured military personnel. Below is the first note from this deployment.

     Well I guess you can say here we go again, beginning my final tour, 120 days at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.   Kevin (from my Westover unit) and I were placed on the same crew which we appreciated.  It is hard to believe we are already through Day 7; time at least for me is flying.  Our first week was fairly hectic.  We flew from Dulles in Washington D.C. to Frankfurt on United.  I would like to personally thank that wonderful airline for charging me $250 in excessive baggage fees.  They somehow thought I could pack 4 months of supplies, 8 uniforms with boots and some other military gear in 3 bags.  I had to laugh at first since I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.  While I will be reimbursed when I file my first travel voucher, it is the point of it all.  Didn’t the government bailout United not too terribly long ago?

     Our schedule is much different than it was two years ago.  We are in Bravo (Stand-by) for 24 hours, off for a day and then assigned a mission after 12 hours of pre-departure crew rest.  Our first two missions have both been to Afghanistan.  If everything goes to plan it makes for a 22 hour day, if something goes wrong it only gets longer.  So far, so good and I would like to keep it that way.   One of our missions had a few fellow Nutmegers aboard which made for a very sad beginning of this deployment.  Ironic that I traveled ½ way around the world and was blessed with the opportunity help some of my neighbor’s home on their long journeys.  So far in the first week we have racked up over 27 flight hours.  If you add in our trip from the States last Friday we have been in the air over 35 hours this past week.  I can’t wait to cash in my frequent flyer miles on this one. 

     Tomorrow is our first true down day since we got here and in true German fashion I feel obligated to uphold international relations and visit some of the local retailers especially those specializing in wine production.  While I have two vineyards I really like and have visited for years some of those on our crew suggested another vineyard that overlooks the Rhine river.  The owner is American and loves service members so it should be interesting.  Any request?  Kevin and I hope visit Rudy Ruttgar and my personal favorite MD, Dr. Burklen-wolf in the next few weeks. 

     My quarters are much like they were two years ago, just a little nicer (no mold and carpet).  The room is humble, has a fridge and microwave and while be it painfully slow, we finally have internet in our rooms. Welcome 2010 AF lodging! All in all I can’t complain too much, it could always be worse.   As for the food here…um….uh… No comment.  A salad alone the other day cost me $2.75 and that was with a discount from the lunch lady.  We are currently working on our Per Diem issue. 

     With our time in between missions Kevin and I have been keeping busy running (not Kevin), biking and swimming.  I found a very nice 6 mile long running path not too far from my room.  Some of the Westover folks deployed to Andrews were nice enough to take my bike with them and placed it on a mission over here to Germany.  They were also nice enough to decorate it with a bright pink Easter basket, tassels, a horn and completed it off with a personalized California license plate with my name on it and playing cards in front and rear spokes.  At least they were nice enough to fill the Easter basket with Girl Scout cookies to help with the humility.  Kevin purchased a bike later that same day and we have pretty much rode everywhere since.  It is nice to not have to rely on a vehicle shared by 7 people if you want to go somewhere and with hundreds of kilometers of trails around the base we will put them to good use. 

     Many people have asked if they can send me a package.  The simple answer is no.  I am blessed with living on one of the largest U.S. bases in Europe.  I have access to a grocery store, a mall, a movie theater, a gym and a pool.  While we pay for these amenities in very long flights down range many people have it much worse than I.  With that said, they would love packages and support from home.  While I am touched by all of the kind thoughts there are many more deserving service members than I.  I will however be more than happy to deliver any packages anyone may want to send and I will ensure they get out to those who need it most.  Coffee, canned fruits, non-perishable sweets and of course baby-wipes are always fan favorites. 

      That is all for this weekly installment.  Please tune in next week for another thrilling episode.  I hope everyone is well and I will talk to you soon.  Chris.

We thank God for answering our prayers for Chris’ safety, and for Amanda’s well being. In this most recent note he shares some touching reflections and a happy surprise. Welcome home, Chris (and crew).

“Hello one last time from the air on our way into Iraq. We are headed to Balad on our final mission before heading home tomorrow. We were hoping that our relief would have been in place to fly however the crew was slightly delayed and couldn’t get spun up in time to fly tonight’s mission. Actually despite the long hours and little sleep I am glad we are flying one last time as a crew. Friday morning we will board a C-17 on our way to Andrews AFB and finish our journey by vehicle on our way back up to New England.

By the time we get to DC we will have flown 175 hours (over one week), travelled over 80,000 miles (3 times around the world) and transported over 350 patients, plus tonight’s load in just 14 missions. Not a bad pace when you consider when I was in Afghanistan for 140 days we flew 8 more missions and we thought that we were busy back then. Efficiency has kicked in and now we are able to do more with fewer flight crews having to be deployed, sounds very reasonable to me.

My thoughts and memories from this deployment will be very different from my previous deployments however they will be cherished just the same. On one of our previous flights back to Andrews AFB we had the chance to meet two Medal of Honor recipients, thePresident/CEO of the USO and John Ratzenberger from Cheers and Gary Sinise known to most as LT Dan. It was nice of them to take time from their busy schedules to come overseas and visit with the troops. Unfortunately we were trying to take off on time so there wasn’t an opportunity to take a picture or to get any autographs.

While over here in Germany I was fortunate in being able to maximize our limited down time with some very memorable trips to Normandy, Bastogne and Remagen. Perhaps the most moving of all and forever unforgettable were the American Cemeteries at St Avold, Luxembourg and Normandy. With meticulous precision and detail if the perfect lines in which the crosses sit were not enough to move you the sheer magnitude of the number will leave anyone in awe, they truly were the Greatest Generation. Much as before I still hope at the end of this life that in the deepest recesses of my mind that my final thoughts will be those of my family and the life experiences that this job has shared with me.

From being on the ground during the first elections in Afghanistan history back in 2004, to seeing the drastic reduction in casualties
over the past 3 years it is comforting to know that the personal sacrifices made by all of those who serve this great country have not been in vein. In the past 3 years since I have last deployed I have seen flights with anywhere from 10-15 battle casualties andsometimes even more reduced to a handful, 3 maybe 4 on an average flight. Unless something changes before we land tonight we have no scheduled combat related injuries and that is simply amazing to me, this is Iraq after all.

Of course all of the improvements made through the years will never get passed along to those back home. For some reason the media feels compelled to sensationalize all of the bad news while very rarely reporting on the good stories. While a change in our current policy may seem to be a great vote getter for some, I fear what the eventual consequences will cost. It is my true hope thatsacrifices made today will make the world safer for our children and can only pray that the battles that we have waged over past 5 years will mean that they will never have to.

In closing a special thank you must go out to our friends and neighbors back home. All of the help they have given Amanda with dump runs, snow blowing the driveway and bringing in wood can never be measured. It made this separation just a little easier knowing that while she was pregnant (surprise) and home alone that she was still being taken care of which in turn enabled me to take care of my mission over here. All too often I think we neglect the commitment and dedication that is required to be the spouse of someone who is in the military, especially when that loved one is deployed.

It is easy to think of and thank those who go overseas and serve but they are only half of the equation. This being the first time I have deployed since Amanda and I got married I can say that it takes two to go overseas and the support from friends, family and co-workers will be forever remembered. Thank you to all from the bottom of my heart and I will see everybody soon. Chris”

ABOUT HARTFORD LETTERS

Experience the Miraculous Healing and Recovery of Lea Vaughn, and the incredible spiritual journey of her husband during 180 days in Hartford Hospital. Read his original daily emails in "Hartford Letters" above. ____________________________

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