Friday, April 01, 2005

Self-Inflated Travel

This trip began much the same way my previous deployment did (as recounted in "The 50,000 Foot Nap of Death". After rising early in anticipation of freezing my tail off for several hours on end, my wife and I hurried to prep the kids for another day of school. After dropping them off we stopped for breakfast at a local greasy spoon and then she drove me to the air field. I hate saying goodbye but even more, I hate saying goodbye over time. So I checked in, walked her back to the car, and sent her off with one more kiss.

The first leg of our journey was again on a C-17 which took off right on schedule. As we sat and waited to depart, I glanced around the plane, which is really little more than a flying tube. It was loaded to the gills with all manner of equipment, ranging from large vehicles to small people. A vehicle near me had a warning sticker on it that read, "No Smoking Within 40 Feet From The Vehicle". I couldn't say what was wrong with it but I knew an English major had not composed that sentence. I figured that would not be a good time to take up smoking as I was well within 40 feet from the vehicle.

If you have ever graced the tubular interior of a properly functioning C-17 with your presence, then you would know that the sound is not unlike the sound of an industrial strength shop vac running at full bore inside an echo chamber. So, to ensure that passengers and crew exit the aircraft with the ability to hear a normal human voice, we were issued ear plugs. These are wonderful little devices. They are small bullet-shaped chunks of foam that can be rolled up like a playdough snake and inserted into the ear canal where they expand. This serves two major functions. The first is that they protect the hearing of the wearer by basically forming a sound barrier inside the ear. The second function they serve is to cause such pain that the wearer is forced to make a judgment call as to whether it is worse to loose his hearing altogether or be subjected to a lifetime of aural bruising. I like to think of myself as a practical man, but I'm not sure I did the right thing, judging from the lack of hearing in my left ear and the excruciating pain in my right.

Once at altitude, we were allowed to find a comfortable spot on the floor and try to catch a few hours of sleep. I happened upon a cozy portion of flight deck right next to the non-smoking vehicle and something that looked like a big box on wheels. The first thing I did was to reach for one of the greatest pieces of equipment ever devised...the self-inflating sleeping pad. I think the idea is that this pad, when released from the confines of whatever is containing it, will slowly inflate and offer a comfortable surface upon which to repose. So, I released my self-inflating sleeping pad to do it's magic and after a few moments of sleeping bag preparation and combat boot removal, I curled up on said self-inflating sleeping pad with no small measure of anticipation, only to find that it's self-inflating feature seems to work best when manually-inflated by mouth. Thus, I began to assist the self-inflation process until my cozy little pad resembled a thin, nylon hunk of three quarter inch plywood. Finally, with my manually-inflated-self-inflating pad ready to go, I climbed aboard in search of my friend, Sleep. Sadly, he was nowhere to be found! Besides the sensation of thumb screws jammed in my ears, my sleeping pad did not appear to be doing it's job. In order for the reader to understand why this is so, it is important to know that I weigh approximately 150 pounds when wrapped in a soaking wet yak fleece. Therefore, I have many pointy parts, including my hips and my shoulders (both principle sleeping equipment). Thus, in order for me to experience pressure pointless sleep, that upon which I seek softness must, by definition, be at least 13 inches thick. You, the reader, can approximate my experience by doing the following: First, get a large plastic garbage bag and lay it flat on a concrete surface (this will serve as your manually-inflated-self-inflating sleeping pad on the metal floor of your standard C-17). Next, find two large marbles. Laying on your side (as though feigning sleep) slip one marble under your shoulder and the other under your hip. Isn't that comfy? It doesn't end there.

As I mentioned, I had taken up some prime real estate between the non-smoking vehicle and a large-wheeled box. As I looked at this box I could not figure out what it was for. However, once I snuggled up to it for about 2 seconds, it became very clear that this thing's sole purpose was to smell like diesel fuel. And I must say it did it's job very well. The result was twofold. As the plane continued to climb, I flew even higher, reaching a place of euphoria rarely experienced by mortals. It also produced one of the most intense, brain wrenching headaches I've ever known. Fortunately for all, the smelly box car was not a smoker either as it too was within 40 feet from the other vehicle.

All that said, God bless our medics for providing Ambien(r)!

The final show stopper came as we approached the end of our first leg of travel. As I awoke from my drug induced, gasoline assisted, manually-inflated-self-inflating slumber, my eye happened upon one of my soldiers sleeping soundly in the arms of his teddy bear!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking the time to document your personal view of military operations. As a retired AF MSgt, I appreciate your insights into the real deal. What is really going on in theater, the things that you will never get from newspapers, or even documentaries. As a Christian, I appreciate your willing devotion to making a difference in the lives around you. Folks that are encountering and enduring the environment that is necessary to accomplish the huge goals that makes this world, perhaps "better".
Please know that your blog means something, at least to this "put out to pasture" Air Force NCO, with delusions of being a Systems Analyst in a medical lab in Indiana.

Kimberly said...

Chaplain Lewis,
I'm hoping that you can help me out. I'm a 22 year old female with a bachelor's degree in middle school education. This is my first year as a teacher and I feel God's calling in my life. Furthermore, I feel that I have been called to the Army. I'm trying to get as much information as I possibly can. I am not qualified to be chaplain, so I am looking into becoming a chaplain's assistant. Would you please give me your take on this along with any advice you have for me. Feel free to email me.( I appreciate anything you can tell me.

Laurel Tremaine said...

You just got home! Why are they sending you away again so soon? I thought our troops got at least 6-12 months at home with their families in between deployments. I think military wives and families are our true heroes. All the goodbyes alone would be my undoing. I have referred many people to your journal, among them, military wives. Please keep writing. Thank you, Laurel Tremaine, SF Bay Area, California (

Anonymous said...

When God calls a Minister or Chaplain to do his work, maybe he places the same call on a spouse. It sounds to us as though your wife is one of those. By your writings there's no doubt that the two of you are a team that only with time will understand the full measure of what your ministry has done for the men and women of the armed forces. I pray that my son will eventually be stationed with a Chaplain of your quality. God bless you Sir!

Anonymous said...

When God calls a Minister or Chaplain to do his work, maybe he places the same call on a spouse. It sounds to us as though your wife is one of those. By your writings there's no doubt that the two of you are a team that only with time will understand the full measure of what your ministry has done for the men and women of the armed forces. I pray that my son will eventually be stationed with a Chaplain of your quality. God bless you Sir!

liz said...

Hi! i stumbled onto your blog when i noticed a trackback on my site meter. What a well thought out and written post! your descriptions of your experience on the place was so well written i felt i was there with you and that is the sign of a great writer! i wish i had half your talent! my husband is also on his 2nd deployment. he got back from his first last may and went out again this past january. he'll be home sometime in jan '07. who knows? maybe you'll bump into each other.
take care and keep your head down

liz said...

PIMF! that should say "your expierince on the PLANE not ["place"]
my bad.sry.

Anonymous said...

I first came accross your blog several months back when the tragic MASCAL event happened. I've been checking back occasionally from time to time and wanted again to assure you that I along with many of us back home are praying for you and your fellow soldiers' safe return. My prayers are also with your family.

God's Peace
-Matt, Green Bay, WI

Bob Perrow said...

I miss your postings! Please keep your blog up. I know you have a million other things to do, but I really like reading what's going on over there from a Christian perspective.

May God keep you and all our guys over there. May His will be done.

Bob Perrow

Anonymous said...

Our household in Minnesota has been praying for you. We hope you are doing fine and we look forward to when you are safe to leave another message on your blog. Thank you for your ministry in our world and for sharing the peace of Christ in these times. May God continue to bless you and your family.