Friday, July 17, 2009

Family Guy Fun...

Lots of things have changed since we've started getting ready for this deployment back in October 2008. Met lots of new people, switched from putting magazines together in InDesign to a newspaper, and gotten used to 110+ degree heat...just to name a few.

When I met SGT Soles, I figured he was a quiet kind of guy who kept to himself. Back in Bryan, when we were training for this deployment, I had a room by myself at our lovely EZ Travel Inn and, since he showed up late, he roomed with me. Pretty soon we started watching The Family Guy. I never really paid attention to that show. All I remembered about it was the fact that it came on TV and then was taken off due to some of its content.

Well, apparently it has a huge following because the more I watched it with him, the funnier it became. I mean some of the stuff you see happening is so crude and funny but it relates to life sometimes and the intro to the cartoon says it all.

I can say that I'm hooked now. The Family Guy comes on every day here in the evenings. Thanks SGT Soles, you bloody fool!! That's Stewie. He's a great character. I recently printed out many of the characters and SGT Soles and I 'assigned' them to members of our unit here after evaluating their characteristics.

For example, I'm Stewie. Everyone knows how I blow up at stuff now and again. SSG Burrell is Quagmire...without a doubt. Giggity. SGT Logue would be Meg. SGT Fardette could be Chris. Hmmmm...I'm not sure if SGT Soles and I assigned Bryan to someone. He could be SGT Risner...quite possibly. Giggity-goo. SGT Risner maintains his cool in just about any situation. 1SG Martinez or 1LT Sarratt could be Peter....but, credit to them, they don't screw up a lot like Peter does.

Anyways, as you can see, Soldiers have to find ways have fun in the office. A deployment would be extremely long and boring if we didn't. As it goes, all my blogs can't be serious or just my stories that I've written here. So, if you haven't seen The Family Guy, check it out. Don't be duckin' me, man!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe Works Magic in Baghdad

Did that title catch your attention?? "...let me tell you how healthily, how calmly I can tell you this story..."

Since I've started to take over the English portion of the GT Improvement class, I noticed that students have to read passages and then answer questions about main idea, author's point of view, or what a word means in a sentence. They also have the word knowledge portion where they get a word in a sentence and have to pick out the one-word definition from the four answer choices below.

One of the small passages on their last homework assignments was the first two paragraphs of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart. Now, if you ever talk to one of my former students, you'd know that I love teaching Poe. I time it to where I can teach all the Poe stuff (Tell-Tale Heart, The Raven, and The Masque of the Red Death) during Halloween. I decorate my room and everything. The kids love it and I'm pretty sure a lot of them remember it well.

Anyways, we went over the passage and the questions. I told the Soldiers that I have the complete story and if they wanted the whole thing. They all said yes so I went to work. The next day of English I came in and handed it out. We then read it out loud and I was amused at the faces that some of them were making as we were reading. They obviously haven't read that story before or haven't seen it in a long time. A lot of them liked it though...and of course, I went nuts with how and why the narrator did this and that.

I then used that piece to review main idea, vocabulary via context clues (Poe's vocabulary is extensive), and sequence of events....all needed for the AFCT (Armed Forces Classification Test) that they'll take this weekend to try to increase their GT score.

I talked to several of the Soldiers last night, asking them why they're taking the class. A couple just wanted to increase their score, a couple told me that their platoon sergeant made them take it, and there are several who are putting in a packet to become a warrant officer or will go OCS (Officer Candidate School).

For those who don't know, your GT score determines what type of job you can perform in the military. If you have a high GT score, there are more jobs that you can pick from when you sit down with a recruiter.

Next month, I'll be the primary English instructor for the class. It gives me something to do at night and keeps me fresh with my teaching stuff that I miss. I think that I'll end each class set (there are 6 classes a week for 3 weeks) with Poe.

So now I must go, "hark, it is the beating of his hideous heart!"

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Educational Opportunities Abound for Deployed 1st Cavalry Soldiers

By Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke

BAGHDAD – One word sums up what a post-secondary education creates for someone: Opportunity. A person with a college degree, on average, can earn twice as much, or more, in their lifetime compared to someone who only has a high school diploma.

A degree from an accredited college or university can be a key that opens the door to a promising future. A deployed Soldier, however, cannot always attend the college of their choice and must work around their busy schedule to earn a degree online.

An increasing number of Soldiers are doing just that with the help of the Staff Sgt. Russell J. Verdugo Education Center here on Camp Victory. Between 700 to 1,000 service members a week pass through the doors for counseling and assistance in their quest for higher education.

“They [service members] can come in for any type of educational assistance and Soldiers can process and use their tuition assistance within 24 hours,” said Paul Karczewski, of Washington, D.C., and one of the three counselors who work at the education center. “We don’t process National Guard or Reserve tuition assistance here, but all active duty Soldiers can use Title 10 money for college,” he added.

The education center works closely with Central Texas College which is based in Killeen, Texas. It has a lab with computers for student use and proctors are available for examinations. The counselors and Soldiers use GoArmyEd, an online portal established in 2006, which allows students to research colleges and universities, register for classes, and request course materials and books. The portal services more than 140 accredited colleges and universities.

“The education center has helped me a lot with proctoring my exams and adding classes,” said Pfc. Randi Boardman, Joint Visitors Bureau administrator for the 1st Cavalry Division. “GoArmyEd is so easy too. I got my schedule and registration done and my materials and books were mailed to me with no problem.”

Boardman, who is from Chana, Ill., is attending Central Texas College online and plans to study architecture at Arizona State University. “I like the lecture setting, but sitting down and forcing yourself to actually read the textbook and learn the material is harder,” she said. “Luckily, I get a lot of spaces in between work so I pull out a book and work on coursework.”

The online community is just as diverse, maybe even more so, than a college lecture hall. Just down the road from division headquarters, Sgt. 1st Class Julia Palma, the Budget Manager for the 1st Cav. Div., is working to earn her Masters in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix online. “It fills the time when you’re separated from your family,” said Palma, who is from Lafayette, La.

Being deployed has not stopped the 19-year veteran from working to earn her master’s degree. “You have to be disciplined to complete online coursework,” she said. “You work it into your schedule and stay up late to complete the work.”

Discipline and dedication is what drives Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, the executive administrative noncommissioned officer for Brig. Gen. Frederick Rudesheim, deputy commanding general for support of the 1st Cav. Div. Sweesy is working 8-week semesters which will earn her double the college credit that a traditional semester offers.

“This is hard; I’m very busy and work after hours to complete all my class work and research,” said Sweesy, who hails from Honolulu. She is attending Barton County Community College online and aspires to major in criminology at Kansas State University in 2010. “GoArmyEd is very helpful here because of the time difference,” she said. “I don’t have to wait for someone to be in the office for registration. My career counselor is always online via email.”

Whether single or married, working in an office or not, Soldiers have increasingly jumped into the virtual world to begin their college coursework. The Army’s tuition assistance program makes it easy.

Sgt. Ryan Sweesy, one of the personal security officers for Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy of the 1st Cav. Div., and husband to Sgt. Magdalena Sweesy, has started his first semester of classes. “I’ve started class work here because there are fewer distractions,” he said. “I either have a mission going out or a paper due.” Sweesy, who is from Cleveland, is attending Central Texas College online and plans to major in astronomy.

The opportunities for Soldiers who have the desire and dedication to earn a degree online outnumber the hurdles they may encounter. Time management is essential for deployed Soldiers who are working online to attain a degree.

“Make sure you’re really ready to do this because it’s so easy to say you’ll do the assignment tomorrow and put it off because you don’t have to physically go to class,” said Magdalena Sweesy. “It’s all on your initiative.”

A deployment can be an excellent opportunity for Soldiers to begin or continue their post secondary education. Determination, creativity, time management and the help of the education center here and GoArmyEd, can make that opportunity become the key that will open to many doors to a better future.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

FDA: Unregulated Supplements Pose Health Risk to Unaware Consumers

by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – Rows of colorfully designed jars and plastic tubs scream “Shock your muscles” and promise “Get ultra-ripped fast” or “Gain 12 pounds in 2 weeks!” At the end of the aisle, slick magazines line the shelves showcasing the newest methods to gain mass or how to push 20 percent more weight instantly when you use their new technique.

What many don’t know about these weight training products that bring in a large amount in sales in the post exchange and online is that many of them are not regulated or tested by the Food and Drug Administration. Manufacturers of dietary supplements are themselves responsible for ensuring and documenting the safety claims of their products.

“The supplements you see on the shelves or online aren’t regulated by the FDA and contain proprietary blends and ingredients that aren’t tested for safety,” said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Callin, the division surgeon for the 1st Cavalry Division at Camp Liberty, Iraq. “Just because they’re on the shelf doesn’t mean they’re safe.”

Recently, the FDA placed a mandatory recall on all Hydroxycut products by Iovate Health Sciences, Inc. Hydroxycut products are dietary supplements that were marketed for weight-loss, to spur water loss, and as an energy enhancer. The FDA received reports of serious health problems indicating potential liver damage, serious enough that one death due to liver failure has been reported.

The FDA has also received 23 reports of serious health problems in people who have used Hydroxycut, ranging from jaundice (the yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes) to elevated liver enzymes. The symptoms of liver injury include jaundice, nausea, vomiting, excessive fatigue, stomach or abdominal pain, brown urine and loss of appetite. Other health problems reported include seizures, cardio-vascular disorders, and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to other serious health problems such as kidney failure.

The FDA has urged consumers to stop using Hydroxycut products in order to avoid any undue risk. The FDA has not determined which ingredients, dosages, or other health-related factors may be associated with risks related to Hydroxycut products.
Callin went on to explain that the claims that these supplements boldly make are not justified and come from lab studies where they take the results out of context. “The lab results, which are statistical numbers, don’t translate into physical change in a person’s body,” he said.

Creatine, (creatine monohydrate) a popular supplement that promises mass gains and large pumps during workouts is another thing that Soldiers need to stay away from in this environment.

“Creatine can cause kidney damage,” said Callin. “It sucks the water from your bloodstream and transports it between your tissues (called edema), making you swell.” If that water isn’t put back in, it could lead to serious heat injuries.
“The last thing we need is to have Soldiers taking supplements that take themselves out of the fight because of extreme heat and dehydration in tough combat conditions,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Rory Malloy, division command sergeant major for the 1st Cavalry Division.

Malloy, who is from Campbellsburg, Ind., stressed eating right, exercising regularly, and watching your calorie intake if you’re overweight and want to slim down. “If you want to gain mass,” added Malloy, “Focus on better physical training, a good nutritional plan, and be committed and realistic because there’s no quick fix.”

So what’s a Soldier to do when he or she wants to supplement their workout? “Everything you need is available in the dining facility for free,” said Callin. “Many of those supplements will simply produce very expensive urine.”

Camp Liberty Clinic Keeps Servicemembers Smiling

by Sgt. 1st Class Ron Burke, MND-B PAO

BAGHDAD – The tools and weapons Soldiers use to accomplish their missions are well-known. A rifle, bayonet, body armor, helmet, uniform and boots make up the basic issue. While on their mission, Soldiers may forget about another set of weapons that are essential during a deployment: a toothbrush and dental floss. Oral hygiene sometimes falls under the ‘not too important’ category for Soldiers who are on a forward operating base.

The Camp Liberty Dental Clinic on Victory Base Complex, staffed by Soldiers from the 464th Medical Company (DS), is fully capable of handling just about any dental issue that may arise. The 464th is attached to the 421st Multifunctional Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Command of Landstuhl, Germany, and the clinic here supports the Soldiers of Multi-National Division-Baghdad and surrounding FOBs.

“Our mission is to perform dentistry services in theater to all servicemembers and Department of Defense civilians,” said Sgt. 1st Class Ralph Hewgley, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the clinic, who is from San Antonio. “From fillings and cleanings, to oral surgery, we have a seven chair office, digital X-ray capability, and a fully operational lab that can handle just about any Class I or Class II situation and we also do crowns which is Class III dental work ,” he said.

“Every year, you have to have a dental exam or you’ll be dropped to a Category IV,” said Lt. Col. Jeffery Callin, the division surgeon for the 1st Cavalry Division. Callin explained that a Category IV rating requires extensive dental procedures but it also means that you haven’t had a dental exam that year.
“Every brigade support battalion has Level II capability and Soldiers can go there for a Category IV exam and it doesn’t take long,” added Callin who is from Belton, Texas.

In the operating area of the clinic, the proof was in the smile as Spc. Christopher White of Company A, 628th Area Support Battalion , 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, slowly stretched his mouth into a small smile to get a feel for his new teeth. White, who is from State College, Pa., was medically evacuated from the dental facility in Talil, Iraq, after it was determined that the clinic there could not help him.

“This clinic has been a big help since Maj. Beilhardt referred me here for treatment,” the National Guardsman said as the high-pitched sounds of dental drills and suction tubes filled the office. “I didn’t want to miss work so I didn’t go to the dentist when I needed to and now I’m here,” he continued. White had surgery to replace his front teeth with an upper denture.

Maj. Ralph Beilhardt, who is from Jonesboro, Ark., and officer in charge of the clinic has worked in dentistry since 1997. “Talil didn’t have the materials and lab to handle Spc. White’s situation, so I referred him here,” he said.

The Camp Liberty dental clinic is one of five here in Iraq, all staffed with Soldiers from the 464th Med. Co. (DS). Soldiers who come to the clinic are not only able to benefit from dental services and cleanings, but they can also have mouth guards and partial or full dental inserts created within a very short time thanks to the two-person dental laboratory.

Here, the lab supports all the dental clinics in Iraq. “This lab is non-stop,” said Spc. Bruce Williams, a dental lab technician from Chicago, as he mixed a gooey substance that will end up as a mold for a mouth guard. “We can make partials and bridges that are sent via Federal Express to Fort Gordon, Ga., and Germany that get back to the Soldiers very quickly,” he added.

“Having the clinic here is a huge asset and helps keep Soldiers ready to fight,” said Callin. “Look at it like a preventative maintenance checks and service (PMCS). You have to PMCS your vehicles and you should to do the same with your body.”
The clinic is open Monday through Saturday and the sick call hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. each day. Appointments are booked for the afternoons. Since January 2009, the dental clinic here has seen more than 31,000 patients and the work the Soldiers of the 464th has performed has saved their patients more than $13 million worth of dental services.

“If you take good care of your teeth by brushing and flossing, it cuts down on plaque buildup which lets you preserve what you have longer and your yearly cleanings won’t be traumatic,” said Callin.

It’s recommended that Soldiers take the time to exercise good dental hygiene while deployed and make sure they get a dental exam while in theater. It keeps records current and prevents complications later when Soldiers redeploy.

That toothbrush and dental floss may seem like cheap plastic but they can save you what can amount to thousands of dollars in dental care if used every day.