Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Day in the Life of the Mayor

My days are frequently busy, and something unexpected almost always comes up.  But the other day was one of the biggest adventures I’ve had since I’ve been in Afghanistan when it should have been relatively straightforward.  All I needed to do was meet a truck that was bringing some gym equipment.  I should have remembered that nothing is easy in Afghanistan.  Nothing.


A couple of months ago, I won a bid for some excess gym equipment from a base that was shutting down.  The plan was simple:  The equipment gets shipped down to us in a shipping container loaded on a truck, we unload it, sign for it, done deal.  Well, okay, I knew it would be a little more involved with that because I would need a crane to offload the container.  Since we don’t have a crane on base, I’d have to rent one.  That wouldn’t be that big of a deal because I already needed a crane to move some other stuff around, like a few T-walls, a mobile armory, and the coffee shop (yes, the coffee shop.  But that’s another story…).  I would just rent it for the day and get all my requirements knocked out at once.  My to-do list would look pretty awesome with all those things checked off!


I had it all set up.  My facilities contractor was bringing the crane in that morning and would start taking care of my other moves while I was picking up the container truck.  Both trucks had to go through the scanners at NKAIA (the main base) to make sure they were “clean”.  My Captain and I left early enough to stop and get coffee before we had to meet the truck at 0900.  That was fun, sitting outside, practicing for retirement for a few minutes before we had to do real work!


We left in time to get over to the gate.  Since we had never picked up a truck going through the scanner before, we weren’t sure how the process worked.  We asked a few questions of the Jordanian guards.  They could see on the camera that our truck wasn’t there yet, but they pointed us down a path leading to another guard shack.  From there we could see the scanner, so we could just wait.  We waited a long time.  I called the trucking company several times, and they kept claiming the truck was at the gate.  We didn’t see it, so we kept trekking back to the original gate shack to look at the camera.  No dice.  Meanwhile, the Jordanian guards were very friendly.  They offered us Cokes and cigarettes, and they tried to help us, but they didn’t speak very good English.  We kept calling the company.  The story changed that the truck was right outside the gate but the ANP (Afghan National Police) wouldn’t let them come on base, and we needed to walk out there and talk to the ANP before they would let them come on.  That seemed odd since there were no ANP right outside the gate, and we certainly weren’t going to walk off base!  We asked them if they were sure the truck was at the right gate, and they assured us they were.  Then the story changed that they were a kilometer away at an ANP checkpoint and were having trouble getting through traffic.  They also threw in that I was supposed to pick up two trucks.  I assured them that, no, I was only meeting one truck.  Finally, we stumbled into an interpreter who offered to help because we were pretty sure something was getting lost in the translation.  Magically, the truck finally appeared; we could see him on the camera.  Finally!  We’d get this thing over with, and I could get on with my day!


The Jordanian guards sent us from the gate shack we had been waiting at, past the scanner, and down to the next gate shack – the initial entry point to the base, the first line of defense.  They told us that the truck didn’t have a license plate and so they couldn’t positively identify that it was our truck, and asked if we were sure it was our truck.  We were pretty sure since the interpreter had just been talking to the driver, but we couldn’t say with 100% certainty.  The guard asked us if we wanted to go out there to check with the driver.  My conscience, Capt Phillips, my head force protection guy, said “I’m not going out there.”  I was stuck.  I was pretty sure that was my truck, but I couldn’t verify it – and I had the crane waiting on me that day.  It’s not like I could reschedule. 


NOTE:  At this point, my mother should stop reading and skip down to the next NOTE in bold face!  Do NOT keep reading!


Finally, Capt Phillips said he would go get his armor on and go out there.  I said that I would go with him.  So we traipsed all the way back to our vehicle (probably a quarter-mile away), got our body armor and helmet and came back.  The Jordanian guard told us that the sniper in the tower would have us covered if anything happened.  As we started walking out there, Capt Phillips said, “You see where those Hesco barriers end and that the truck is past it?  That means there’s nothing between us and Afghanistan.”  Then the Jordanian guard told us to rack a round in the chamber of our M4.  In that instant, all of the training from Air Advisor came rushing back.  We agreed that Capt Phillips would ask the driver for documentation, and I would provide cover.  I watched the driver.  I looked for people hanging around outside the gate that didn’t look to be well employed.  I looked for drivers wanting to take a target of opportunity.  Fortunately, all was well.  The driver just had his license plate covered, and his identification matched what we had been given, so we escorted him up to the designated location so the guards could examine them as well.


NOTE:  Mom, you may continue reading from here.


The truck came through the gate, made it through the scanner okay, and after another very long wait, we were finally on our way to Oqab.  Whew!  When we got to the FOB, I called Jason, my head facilities guy, to find out where the crane was, and he told me there had been a small problem – that the crane wasn’t allowed through the gate because it was too big, so it was just sent away (rather than sent to another gate).  Ugh!  Now what was I supposed to do?  I needed a crane!  Otherwise I couldn’t offload that gym equipment!


Never fear!  Necessity is the mother of invention.  Some of my guys decided that they would use a couple of forklifts working together to offload the container.  Well, we started down that road, but the forks wouldn’t fit exactly into the holes in the container, so we needed four forklifts working together.  It eventually looked like a preview to a YouTube video that started with, “Hey, Bubba, hold my beer and watch this!”  (I bet you saw that coming, didn’t you?) 


In a moment of desperation, I asked my interpreter if it would be possible to borrow the Afghan CE Squadron’s crane, figuring it would be out of fuel as it always is, but it was my lucky day!  In less than a half-hour, we had them over there, preparing to offload that container.  They’re lacking on training, though, so we watched apprehensively as the container moved all over the place while being offloaded.  Getting it back on the truck would certainly be interesting.


We asked the driver for the keys to the locks on the container, and he said he didn’t have them.  That was convenient!  So we got the “master key” and cut the locks off.  We opened it up and found six treadmills and two bikes.  For some reason, I thought there was supposed to be more, but I couldn’t remember, and at this point, I really didn’t care since it had taken so long to get this far.  We got the forklift and a pallet and ferried the equipment over to the gym where it would be stored.  Thanks to my cops for providing some manpower, because that equipment was heavy!


Finally, we got all the equipment moved to the gym and the container put back on the truck (it went considerably well considering the operator’s lack of proficiency), and escorted the crane and container truck off the FOB.  I went back to my office to see what e-mail damage had been done in the seven hours since I started this adventure and immediately saw an e-mail from the trucking company that drew my attention.  I opened it up, and to my horror saw proof that, despite what I had been told all along, indeed I was supposed to meet two trucks.  Awesome.  You just can’t make this stuff up…Guess, I’d get the opportunity to repeat this adventure another day!  Yeehaw!

When I Grow Up, I a Wanna Be a...

(Note: This blog post has now been sitting for a couple of weeks because I was afraid to post it – afraid that it would be viewed as whiny, afraid that no one really wanted to read a blog about my problems figuring out what I wanted to do with my life, afraid of letting people see the real Tim Schwamb.  But…here it is.  Once again, I’m just like Jango Fett:  Just a simple man trying to make his way in the universe.  Maybe you've had similar struggles...)


When I grow up I want to be a…?  That's the question I've been asking myself for a few years, because at some point, it dawned on me that when I take the uniform off, I'm going to have to do something. And while I would like to answer with "full-time traveler" or "professional hiker", my wife would be quick to point out that AF retirement typically does not leave one independently wealthy, and those preferred professions tend to have more out-flow than in-come.


But I've had trouble deciding what it is I do want to do. Should it be an upward mobility position, where I can make money and continue to achieve, or should it be "just a job" with predictable hours and little extra required since I've required so much of my family over the last several years? Ideas have run the entire gamut from landscaper (that requires manual labor, so I'm thinking not!) to national park ranger (since I love history and the outdoors) to writing for a travel book company to working for Disney World to being a bottom-feeder defense contractor. I've also considered going into ministry as a worship leader.


That last option is one I've considered for the last 5 years or so based on my experiences in working with, leading, and in some cases, building foundations for, worship ministry. But it's fraught with peril. Why, you say? What a noble profession! see, I've never had formal vocal training. Everything I've learned, I've learned from being around others. That’s even truer when you talk about leading a praise team. I don't know the first thing about how to teach people to sing the right notes, or to tell it's the alto that's sharp, or the bass that keeps missing that note. Being in that position frankly scares me to death. So I'm not sure a church that's looking for a serious worship leader would even hire me.


Second, and sadly, after watching several minister hirings and firings first-hand and being a part-time worship leader, I've come to realize that our churches have some of the most unloving, hateful people in the world -- or at the very least that they don't think about how their message will be received before speaking. I know for many that will read this blog, that sounds overly harsh, but I am amazed at what some people will say or how they will say it when they feel like they don’t get a vote in leadership decisions, or whether we “allow” clapping in church (yes, that is actually still an issue in some of our churches!), or they don't like the song selections for two weeks in a row. I often wonder how they would feel if someone made similar accusations to them in a similar tone. I also struggle with self-esteem. I absolutely hate to not be liked. I'm not sure I could handle people being critical of me routinely.


Third, I feel like I've routinely been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Because that sequence of events is hard to explain and because some of it is better left unsaid, I'll just leave it that I started to wonder if God perhaps wasn't calling me into that role.


Fast-forward to earlier this week. We said goodbye to my boss this week, and I volunteered to do the invocation for the Relinquishment of Command (for my oldest daughter, that means I said the prayer). Afterward, one of the Colonels that went through the Air Advisor Academy with me, Col Fryer, came up to me and said, "Wow! That invocation was really good! You can just tell when that comes naturally to someone, that it's a part of who they are, and clearly it is for you. Have you ever considered doing that for a living?", to which I responded that it was one of the things I've considered doing after I retire. He then told me he thought I'd be really good at it. Just a few minutes later, our Wing Vice Commander came up to me and said almost the exact same thing. It started to make me wonder...


That night, I was eating dinner, and Col Fryer sat down with me. Now let me take a minute as an aside to talk about Col Jim Fryer. I can say without hesitation that there is only one other officer that has had the impact he has had on both my professional AND personal life.  If leadership is the ability to motivate people to get stuff done even when they don’t want to, he models it every day.  As I’ve alluded to before, people don’t really line up to give attaboys to the guy that runs the chow hall and the gym and base security.  In fact, there are a lot of people that know how to do my job better than I do.  Just ask ‘em.  So I take a fair amount of grief from the population at large and a lot of pressure from up above.  Col Fryer is always there, encouraging me, telling me that he notices and appreciates the work I do.  To be fair, I have received positive feedback from several, including my boss and my boss’s boss, from time to time, but…well…there’s no other way to say it other than Col Fryer is an encourager.  Not everyone is.  One day, I was having a really rotten day and was ready to spit nails at the first person that got in front of me.  As I walked through the gym trying not to make eye contact with anyone, Col Fryer saw me from a distance, interrupted his workout, and walked over to intercept me to ask how I was doing.  If ever there was any doubt as to whether I wear my emotions on my sleeves, there’s not anymore.  He could tell from that far away that life was not good.  Being that mad, I was in no mood to talk.  But the simple fact that he went completely out of his way to check on me made a huge impact on me.  Another day, I had had about enough of frivolous taskers and ridiculous demands.  We are in a war zone.  I am not worried about whether there are ruts in the gravel or not.  Fortunately, that day was our weekly dinner with my Air Advisor classmates.  While the group covers just about all ranks, we’ve deemed the time non-attribution, so we can pretty much say anything we want.  That night I let it all out.  Col Fryer then used his sense of humor to get us all laughing at the absurdity of it all.  By the end of the night, we had all laughed as hard as we ever had, and I was healed enough that I could go back to work the next day without killing anyone.


Anyway, back to the story…So Col Fryer sat down to dinner with me that night after the Relinquishment of Command ceremony, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “So tell me more about you becoming a man of the cloth.”  I started by telling him that I had thought about doing a lot of different things after I left the military, including becoming a worship leader, then said, “This is going to be a long story.  You may be getting more than what you bargained for.”  He responded that he didn’t care; he was truly interested. 


After I had finished walking him through all of the reasons I outlined above of why I wasn’t sure I could become a worship leader, he asked, “Can you see yourself doing that?  Is that something you want to do?”  I responded, “It’s probably the career choice I come back to the most.”  He said, “Well, do you think you would enjoy doing it? If you woke up every morning and had to go do that, would you look forward to it?”  I said, “Yes.  I think so.”  Then he simply stated, “Well then maybe you have your answer.”


At that moment, it was as if a great darkness had suddenly become light.  After all these months of wondering, worrying, praying for answers, there was finally clarity, as if I had finally gotten a message directly from God.  Now I still don’t know with a 100% certainty that my future is in ministry, but that one conversation, from someone who cared enough to ask, listen, and offer an opinion lifted the oppressive weight of uncertainty after so many years of not having to think about what I would do after the military and suddenly realizing that the time to make that decision was sneaking up on me.  That conversation gave me the freedom to prepare for and pursue a dream and to realize that the future didn’t have to be so scary, or that I might be forced into something I wouldn’t be happy doing if “professional traveler” or “Chief Ride Tester” at Disney World don't work out.