Saturday, December 29, 2007

Family and Friends Update

Dear Family & Friends,

This has been a relatively quiet week here (cannot say the same for Pakistan) -- no visits from any world leaders this week, but just a very nice Christmas day.

There was no work scheduled for our guys, so everyone got to sleep as late as they wanted. The headquarters group had a Christmas party in the late morning, and then everyone had a terrific lunch at the chow hall. In the afternoon, some of the guys got together for a football game and then we had a big dinner again (prime rib, fried turkey, steamship round, shrimp cocktail, ...).

Most of our guys broke down into two groups throughout the day: one group played a computer game that was networked across three Bhuts and the other engaged in a marathon session of watching the one season of the series "24." Strangely enough, both of these activities involve a lot of hollering either at the characters on the TV or the game monitor, so you know that our guys had a lot of fun.

I am also happy to report that our replacements arrived in country (edit). The 92-man group is at the NATO Camp Warehouse for some in-country training and will move over here to start the transition with us (edit).

There are no special plans for New Years, and we will be treating it pretty much as another work day. We do, however, want to wish you all a very happy holiday, and know that we are just a few short weeks away from returning now.

Happy New Year,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My Gift

My sleeeeeepppy girl
My goooofy girl....
My happy girl.... (and my wonderful father)

Monday, December 24, 2007

All I Want for Christmas

Dear Santa,

Like 160000 other US families all I want for Christmas is my soldier. He has proudly made an untold number of sacrifices throughout his many years of service to build the expertise necessary to do his part to make our world a safer place.

Over the last year, the most profound of our lives, we have only spend 15 days with our hero. He sends us love and tells us stories of his days over email and during the few phone calls. Like so many other experiences, I just can't accurately describe the depths of my pride or love for him.

I am a wildly independent spirit. After completing college I "married" my career and resigned myself to living the life of a single (*single as in: unmarried) woman. I worked ridiculously long hours and gladly volunteered to take the holiday overtime pay for co-workers with family obligations. Travel was never something I had to actually plan for, I just packed and was on the road. Decisions were not something to be shared or negotiated, they were to be calculated and made on my own.

My how plans change.

Thanks to the encouragement of my sister and the assistance of technology, fate put me in contact with the most amazing partner. He was, from the beginning, more that I could have ever dreamed of. He was willing to entertain strange questions (on topics ranging from politics to toothpaste squeezing techniques) as we were getting to know each other. It was clear from the very first conversations that we connected on a level deeper than the average pair. I woke especially early so that I could return from the gym with enough time to talk to Geo before work. There were many days when I entertained the idea of calling in sick just so I didn't have to leave the computer.

It was clear that we were going to meet when he returned to the States. Our first date started at a Burger King parking lot and included the film Osama and a delicious Indian meal (where he ordered for me). I was hooked.

We married last year, shortly after hearing of his upcoming deployment. The day was one of the happiest of my life. It was easy to vow to walk through the remainder of my life with him. George is truly my soul mate. We share similar values, passions and comfortable silence.

We have shared losses and disappointments on several levels together. We've changed jobs and even career paths. We've made decisions and then changed them. We've relocated and decided to expand. Each of these things has helped to build the unshakable, unbreakable bond between us.

And just when I thought that it couldn't be possible to love and admire him more I saw they way that he connected with our daughter...
There is a very special bond that they share. It was instant and beautiful and it made my heart expand even more. So, Santa, the only thing that I want for the holidays is for my wonderful, amazing, loyal, dedicated husband to feel our love for him and to be safe.

Babe, When you finally get a chance to read this, know that we love you with all of our hearts and souls. We think of you every minute of the day and pray for your safe return. Home just isn't the same without our stinky ol' tanker. Happy Holidays.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Family and Friends Update

Dear Family & Friends,

This was rather a quiet week...except for today.

This past week the Afghans were celebrating the start of the Haj followed by the holidays of Eid Ul Adha. We did not know which day it woud start exactly because the scholars have to analyze the moon to get the day exacly. We found out on Monday that it was going to start on Tuesday, so our ANA comrades were off Tuesday through Friday allowing many of us to take it easy too.

Today, however, the President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy visited us for about 45 minutes; we found out yesterday that he was coming. He arrived just after lunch with a huge entourage, direct from a lunch with President Karzai. He reviewed an ANA formation and then inspected the French equipment. Some of the guys on our team had the chance to shake his hand and then some of us had our pictures taken with him too.

Everyone was excited by the visit and I have heard folks looking at each others picture until the late hours of the night. It went well and our French friends were very happy, and the ANA were extremely proud to host the world leader.

We finalizing plans for our Christmas. I have arranged it with the ANA that it will be another day off for us, and the general consensus seems to be that most people want to sleep as late as they want and then gorge themselves once they get up. Our KBR service pesonnel are ready to oblige and our Christmas dinner menu is supposed to include ham, turkey, steamship round and shrimp cocktail.

Although the Pennsylvanians will be able to celebrate the holiday in the relative safety of Camp Dubs, some of our comrades from the 1st Brigade Team here -- US and French -- will be out on missions over the holiday. We also think about the thousands of other Americans who will still be on tough duty in those outposts in the Eastern Zone that we left just last month. Please keep in your prayers those American and allied service members on duty this Christmas.

On behalf of "Team America,"
Have a Merry Christmas!
We'll be seeing you soon...

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Schwartz Family Holiday Extravaganza

This post is a bit late but the wintery weather has made me want to hibernate. I'm a slacker...I know.

OOOhhhh!!! Melissa & Doug train set!
Sophia is especially fond of the Dino puppet. He's just a bit shorter than she is and she enjoys giving him slobbery kisses.
Dadder picked out a great set of wooden beads for hours of stringing (and gnawing) fun.
Mommy Hugs book. Books are The (nerdy)Schwartz family staple gift and we have already started a great library for Sophia.
.....and......Our family photo...

Friday, November 30, 2007

Short and Sweet

Just wanted to share a few pictures from this past week.
We have had so much fun.

Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Today is THE DAY!

Phone rings.
Mother wipes sleep from her weary eyes.
Alarm reads 8:40 am (uh...yeah..we were still sleeping).
N: Hello?
G: Hi! I'm in Atlanta.
M: NO SHIT!?! Really? For real?
G: Yeah. I'm on flight...
N: Really? Wow. You're in the States?
G: Uh..yeah..I got on an earlier flight. It's flight Delta...
N: Great!
G: Delta 9...
N: Wow!
G: Delta 94...
N: Could you repeat that?
G: DELTA 940

I checked the flight schedule. That gave me around 45 minutes to get up, get ready, dress the Peaster, eat, feed, clean the bathroom toilet, grocery shop, remove donation items from the entryway to the house, finish decorating for the holidays....did I mention grocery shop?

I expected that he'd be landing sometime in the afternoon if I was lucky...but most likely in the evening. So I thought I'd have time to do a few chorelike items. HA! So, I skipped the shower and just brushed my teeth, took care of the Squirt and we were out the door to PICK UP THE DADDER!

I was so excited I could hardly bare it. Seemed like quite a bit of emotion was stored up just waiting for R&R to pour out. I feel so blessed to be picking him up, to be spending the holidays with him. Word could never do justice.....But this picture explains it all:

He's amazing. He's a clown and we've both fallen in love with him (alllll over again!).

Geo and I came home to Old Mother Hubbar's house. Thankfully he wasn't really hungry for lunch and the lovely neighbors invited us for dinner. We enjoyed a delicious Thanksgiving feast (which included Geo's first Lager in 10 months!). The food was great but the company was even better. This family has been so generous to us since we've moved into the neighborhood. They are what neighbors should be and we'll forever be in their debt.

Hope you and your family have a wonderfully warm holiday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

...But We're Toooo Excited to Sweeep!!!!!......

One would think that after managing 11 months without seeing The Dadder that another 24 hours would be a breeze.

Yeah, freakin' right!

I feel like this kid:

I guess George is sort of like Disneyland :)

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm So Excited and I Just Can't Hide It

As I type this Geo is preparing to fly out of Afghanistan. He's headed home for some rest and relaxation.

Rest and Relaxation? If that is what you could call meeting your daughter for the first time, catching up on a year's worth of kisses with your wife, gossiping with your family, squeezing in "real" pizza, hot popcorn and sushi and celebrating all of the 2007 holidays in two weeks. Wow. sounds tiring just thinking about it.We've invited our families to our house this weekend for a delicious meal but as of now these are the only guests that we plan to entertain (and the only day we plan to entertain them). My hope is that we spend most of the time locked in the house, rolling around the carpet playing with Sophia and getting to know each other again.

I look forward to the little things:

Tea on the night stand in the morning,
Enjoying the NYTimes together (he always picks out the good articles for me),
Listening to Car Talk,
Bumping bums in the kitchen as we wash the dinner dishes,
George Schwartz Special Breakfast Sandwiches,
Watching him blow raspberries on Sophia's belly,
Our first walk downtown together,
Brushing our teeth together in the evening,
Having a set of warm legs in bed next to me (so I can rub my ice cubes on them!),
Being able to see his eyes when he laughs.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

EDITED: Holiday Wishes to the Injured

For The Record
November 15, 2007

An email circulation the net currently, as well as part of a letter in the Morning Call on Nov. 13th is giving some incorrect information. Walter Reed Army Medical Center no longer is accepting packages, letters and holiday cards addressed to ''any wounded soldier'' or to ''a recovering American soldier.''

This decision was made to ensure the safety of patients and
staff at medical centers throughout the Department of Defense in 2003-2004.


ORIGINAL POST: When you are making out your holiday card list this year, please include a card to the following:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington,D.C. 20307-5001

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Our Cutie

I can't say that I wasn't warned about how fast children grow....but I have to admit that I could have never imagined just how fast!!!
She eats. She sleeps. She laughs (a lot). She sits up. She crawls from room to room. She can find and catch me. Then she eats. She sleeps. She laughs. ... .... ....

And then she laughs some more.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

All Fired Up!

Dear Family & Friends,

For the first time in six months, everyone in the 1st Brigade is back together at Camp Darulaman.

This does not include our team mates, LT Mitchell and MSG Bittenbender, who have been working on the Police Mentoring mission at Camp Faez. It does include -- very happily -- LT Yartz, who returned to the team on Friday. Yartzie has to watch his diet, but looks great. We are all very glad that he is back, and everyone is also looking forward to seeing Mitchy and Bitt over Thanksgiving.

Despite this being the end of the Eastern Zone mission, we have been very busy back at Darulaman. We are guiding the ANA through "recovery" to make sure that weapons, vehicles and other equipment are maintained, soldiers are medically examined, and inventories completed.

We are also starting the process of turning over the brigade adivsory team to our French comrades. Due to this transition, our CPT Junguzza and SSG Kramer are now being reassigned to "Logistics Support Teams" working with French-advised kandaks. They will stay in these roles until our US replacements arrive next month.

Yes, I said that our replacements arrive in December, in about a month and a half. I have been corresponding with the team leader; the team is at one of our "favorite" places -- Fort Riley.

As we get closer, our patience is beginning to wear thin, and today I was about ready to send SPC Maritato home early and I almost succeeded but my lighter was out of fluid! We stopped for fuel at Pol-e Charki today, and near the fuel point there is a collection point for old Soviet vehicles, including these old SCUD launchers.
I hope the week goes by quickly for everyone, bringing us that much closer to coming home!

Best Regards,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We Flew the Coop

The two Schwartz chicks flew the coop tonight. We packed our organic (additive, trans fat and hydrogenated oil free) snacks, apples and super cool glow bracelets to our lovely neighbor's house. If I were being 100% honest I would mentioned that I was just too lazy to clean and the idea of visiting was much more appealing... In any event, we had a fun filled evening.

I wasn't going to subject Sophia to the trauma of having photos taken of her as a child in some ridiculous Halloween costume that her goofball mother purchased to make the rest of the world I stuffed her into this chicken costume. (No danger to permanent damage, right??)

After one run in with a group of hooligans that refused to obey the "Lights on=Welcoming Trick-or-Treaters" law we packed up our goodies and headed out. We planned on a peaceful evening. I would sit on the floor sipping some sort of cider concoction, our Sophia Chicken would flap her wings and wobble around on her new found crawling legs, and we'd offer our slightly healthy Halloween snacks to creatively dressed children.....

Man were we wrong...

There was a terrible accident on the block! While hiking up the street to the neighbor's we were passed by speeding emergency vehicles (VERY unsafe, considering the narrow road!!). We hurried to see the tragedy causing this "Gaper Delay" on Leonards Lane only to find .....
Onlookers were horrified...

We are still a little shaken up. Who would have even imagined using the ol' Cubby as a weapon?!? It's hard to shake the terrible images from our heads as there are still straw all over the yard.

Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeeeeeeennn!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

9 Months Down!!

Dear Family & Friends,

Time is marching rapidly on. We officially hit our nine-month mark in country today and have started the last 90 days of our deployment. It was also a year ago tomorrow that we departed for Fort Riley. While we were often frustrated during our time there, I don't think that we will mind being there so much when we go back there in January: our stay will only be for five days and we will be quickly coming home!

With Halloween now just a few days away, it is not surprising that we all received gift boxes from "Mama Tato" filled with holiday goodies. Thanks to the Maritato family! I also received a hamper full of school supplies and other goodies from Tess Mitchell's church that I intent to deliver to "our" orphanage school (see below) within the next week or so.

We continue supporting the ANA brigade's transition out of the eastern zone. More and more of the team are now back here in Darulaman, and the rest will be returning soon. Our unit's rotation puts us in one of the hottest parts of the country (Jalalabad area) over the summer, and then back in the mountains (above 6,000 ft) over the winter.

We are still cycling people through leave. Our Robert Gerrity just got back from leave where he was promoted to Sergeant (E5) in a ceremony at the armory in Scranton that was attended by his parents. Congratulations, buck sergeant! I will be the last person from our team going on leave, hopefully arriving home on Thanksgiving Day.

While we continue to wrap things up in the east, we are helping a new French team of advisers prepare to take over another one of the kandaks from one of our USMC teams. This team is also from their Mountain Infantry Brigade, but this one is largely made up of soldiers from the French Foreign Legion battalion in the brigade. Because we have to provide the French team with a small US liaison team, over the next month some of our guys now working in the 5th Kandak will be moving into new roles to create the liaison teams.

Attached is a newsletter published by our higher headquarters, the 201st Corps. There are several articles about our brigade, including the cover story about the newly renovated "orphanage" school, the arrival of the French replacement team for our 1st Kandak, and the work our Marine team is doing in Naray.

Best Regards,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Friday, October 19, 2007

Family and Friends Update

Family & Friends,

Just a quick note this week. Things are moving rapidly around here in the East as we do final preparations for our movement back to Darulaman, and we are working closely with our replacements now. The weather here in the east has been nice, but at Darulaman the days have been in the 70's and the nights cool.

The volatility of this geographic region was clearly evident after the bombings against former Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto last night. Although it was a terrible event, the reaction in Afghanistan so far has been interested, but muted. The Afghans seem to have a love-hate relationship with their neighbor. They are very interested in the upcoming second round of the Peace Jirga that will take place in Pakistan because one of the main anti-coalition leaders will participate.

Our next group of French advisors is arriving and we will be busy for the next month getting them integrated.

The 24th marks our one year anniversary on active duty. You may recall that we mustered at Scranton and had some briefings. Although there are moments when time seems to crawl along, in some ways now, it has seemed to fly by.

Best Regards,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

THIS is Why We Have No Clothes in the Closets

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Birthing a Birth Fund

I've been on a mission lately. Another mom that used Rising Moon Midwifery and I have been named Co-Directors of the Birth Fund.

After having Sophia and experiencing the beauty that is an all natural birth in the comfort and peace of our own home I set out on a mission to spread the word. First I started a training program to become a doula (professional labor assistant) and a natural childbirth educator. I figured that one way to educate is to...well, educate. The second endevour was a suggestion to one of the midwives that we start a Birth Fund to assist families that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford to have a homebirth. (*Note* Insurance doesn't cover homebirths in PA...despite it only costing a portion of what a hospital birth costs...and almost nothing compared to what a c-section costs.)

So, my co-director, Amy, and I planned out fundraising ideas for the next year. The first was a consignment sale. The picture of her husband, Ed, was taken while we spent the week pricing and organizing donations. I would label the sale a success. As a matter of fact, it was so successful that Amy has decided that we should have another one this weekend at her house in Kennett Square where she lives. (If you drive down there look for all the wet signs plastered to the rained...).

Next up on the calender is a screening of The Business of Being Born. We're hosting a screening in Philadelphia on 10 November. (Get your tickets one the Birth Fund website). I had a chance to see it in New Jersey at a conference and I am really excited to be able to offer it to a wider audience in Philadelphia.

So, that's what's going on in my world. Soph is growing like a weed and I'm studying, planning, organizing, and delegating (sure, delegating...). Here is a video about BOLD another event that we're doing next year. It is 10 minutes in lenght...and well worth every minute.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Family and Friends Update_Oct 5

Dear Family & Friends,

Tonight I am up at Camp Faez with the guys from the 5th Kandak team. Everyone seems to be doing well, and we enjoyed a delicious "Jung-oulash" stew together under the patio.

The start of our redeployment from the Eastern Zone back to Darulaman is only weeks away. Preparations continue daily and our relief -- ANA and ETT -- are wrapping up a reconnaissance in our area right now.

There is some bad news about one of our friends and comrades, 1LT Victor Yartz. He has been evacuated to Landstuhl Army Hospital in Germany due to a non-combat related medical issue which will probably not allow him to complete his tour with the team. "Yartzie" (yes, I think everyone on the team has a nickname) is our S6 -- Communications Officer -- which is very specialized and simply invaluable for what we do. More importantly, he has been a valued member of the team due to his hard work, great attitude and sharp wit -- some of the more memorable funny lines from this mission can be attributed to Yartzie.

When we found out that he was being evacuated a couple days ago, many of the guys sent him notes wishing him well, and he has been getting back with us throughout the day today. He sounds well and the prognosis is good because his condition was discovered soon enough. We wish Yartzie and Valerie the best on the road to a speedy recovery!

This coming week we will continue to prepare for the hand-over and start planning for the "recovery" period that comes after the return of the units to Darulaman. Ramadan ends this coming weekend, and Friday through Sunday are the Eid holidays -- the post-fasting period celebration. This Tuesday is also the "Night of Power" when Muslims look to the night sky to gain strength for the coming year's struggles.

Best Regards,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Family and Friends Update_30 Sept

Dear Family & Friends,

The season is definitely changing. Back in Darulaman, the nights get cool -- into the upper 40'sF -- and in the east, the mountain peaks received a dusting of snow one night this week.

Our brigade's counter-insurgency operations continue even as we begin the preparations to move the unit back to Darulaman starting in mid-October after the end of Ramadan. Once back, the brigade will go into a "recovery" period that will include leave for the ANA soldiers. We will also be finishing up our own leaves at the end of November because leave is not permitted during the last 60 days in country. Back in the state currently are LTC Whitney, SSG Kramer and SPC "Tato."

As you know, we passed our eighth month milestone this past week. Although we have not corresponded with them yet, we have already been notified about our replacememts, who recently arrived at Fort Riley for training. We expect them to arrive shortly before Christmas and to be operational in mid-January.

We will be leaving a much different brigade than the one we took over. Most of the brigade will be mentored by French advisors by that time, and our replacements will be augmenting them. The next group of French arrive at the end of October, and we are preparing for their arrival now.

As you no doubt saw on the news, there was a terrible suicide bombing in Kabul yesterday that killed around 30, mostly ANA. Fortunately, no one from our unit was involved in the blast, but our counterparts are obviously saddened by the number of casualties, and many of the officers knew people who were on the bus.

I am very happy to announce that donations totalling $1,533.33 to The Jakub Argonish Trust and $3,066.66 to The Ball Children Trust were made this past week. These are the combided totals of donations collected from service members here who worked with MSG Ball and SGT Argonish, as well as an additional $1,000 collected by the FRG.

This coming week, the main event for me will be rooting on the fighting Phils to get into the playoffs instead of the Mets!

Best Regards,

Team Leader/Senior Mentor
1st Brigade, 201st Corps (ANA ETT)

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Curb Alert

Today was our "Tagging Party" for next week's consignment sale. This translates into Amy and I sitting in my dining room amongst 1,000 lbs of other people's clothes.

Sorting. Folding. Pricing. Pinning. Sorting.

Her husband drove up for dinner (and to be disappointed that his team sucked ass tonight). When he arrived:

E: You're never going to believe what I picked up on my way here!!!
A: What?
E: I was driving on 322 and saw a huge pile of stuff on the side of the road. When I got closer I saw a big FREE sign on the stuff.
A: Well what is it?
E: Lemme go get it. It is in the car.

(Guess what was along side the road?......)

(Come on! Guess!!).....

We laughed for nearly 30 minutes.
There is never a dull moment with these two....

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Outdoor Wire

Geo is in an article published in The Outdoor Wire.

Follow the link to find Waldo....and then drop him an email to boost his ego :)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fungus Among us...or Shitake Happened

I am (way) late in posting information on our fungus fun at the 22nd Annual Mushroom Festival. Better late than never though. Sophia and I were offered prime parking (read: FREE) on Saturday just two blocks from the festivities. The Borrelli posse were our tour guides and we live it up!

Ed was so excited by the possibility of being featured as the Mushroom Man on this blog that he nearly wet himself at the entrance to the Mushroom Exhibit!

Way to go, Mushroom Man!

And this is what the exhibit had in store:
Beds of smooshed poop with mushroom growing stuff on it...
And of course...mushrooms.
Keith, aka. Lil' Mush, enjoys a piece of fungus straight off the ....uh....bed of mushroom growing stuff. He LOVES it as his mother is gagging behind the camera.

There were also plenty of mushroom crafts to go around. These are mushroom shaped concrete that have been decorated by local artists. They were being auctioned off to raise money for...more mushrooms?
I wanted to bid on one of them. Though having a huge, psychedelic looking mushroom in the front yard would be humorous for George to come home to. Unfortunately the starting bid was $150 and by the time we got there they were well over $300!

Smaller, wooden mushroom crafts.
Even the radio station was there with their own mushroom tent!
And there was a shady mushroom truck down a side ally that was selling all sorts of goodies (of the fungus sort) out of the back on this truck. Seemed a little "Sopranos" to me.

If you have been inspired by the posted fungus and are now jumping out of your shorts to have some mushroom memorabilia you can visit the website and quench your thirst for a while....and we'll see you there next year! (I know where there is some cheap parking!!!)