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A long time gone

You’ve read enough bad news this week


Good morning. Full disclosure: The majority of today’s content will be that of the navel-gazing variety. Why? Well, mostly because I don’t care to write about how Renard Bell’s injury makes me sad, or how the Nick Rolovich story pisses me off. Instead, I’ll write about my life in 2021. If you don’t care to read it, and prefer to skip straight to the links, I don’t blame you one bit! Matter of fact, if you do want to read further, I figure it’s mostly because either you don’t have anything else going on today, or you’re killing a few minutes until Olympic dressage comes back on. Either way, there are football links down the page it you want to avoid this all and scroll on down.

Some of you are aware that I currently live in Germany. The family likes it here enough that I requested a one-year extension to my tour last summer. Typical overseas tours last three years, and my boss (and his boss) both supported my request to stay until 2022. Then, as per usual, Air Force Personnel Command was like, “nah.” At the same time, though, I was near the top of the list to deploy. So when my boss told the folks at AFPC that I couldn’t deploy if they didn’t grant the extension, AFPC begrudgingly accepted the terms of the deal.

Just like that, we scored an extra 11 months in Europe. And just like that, yours truly was staring down deployment number sixteen, in the form of 6+ months in the Middle East - Saudi Arabia to be exact - beginning in January. This all went down in July 2020, so for the next five months we got to think about the countdown to when I’d hit the road until the next July. The best analogy I can think of is when you’re driving across the plains, and you can see a storm in the distance. You know that the only way to your destination is through that storm, only you won’t hit it for a long time, and then you’ll be in the middle of it for half-a-year.

This made the holidays kind of weird. They weren’t bad, but between the impending deployment and the fact that we couldn’t be with family, it cast somewhat of a pall over Christmas and such. By the time we celebrated the new year, I was a mere three days from hitting the road. Despite the fact that we’ve repeated this exercise multiple times, saying “goodbye” does not get easier. It’s one thing to leave for 60-90 days, but 180+ is a whole other animal. So when the family dropped me at the airport and we said our “goodbyes”, I stood there for an extra few minutes so I could watch them drive past one more time.

There’s always a point early on when the reality of the situation sets in. For me, it was when I landed in Riyadh and found myself among the traditionally-dressed locals. It had nothing to do with the people, and everything to do with the fact that I had grown quite weary of seeing this part of the world over and over for most of my career. I remember thinking “God dammit. Here we go again.”

With that, Mrs. Kendall (this family’s hero) assumed the role of mom, dad and everything else. Her stress was compounded by the fact that the boys were both home for the first several weeks of the second semester due to Germany’s inability to contain the pandemic. So now she was mom, dad, and teacher. There was also no sports, no Scouts, miserable weather, and no ability to travel due to lockdown restrictions. I’d have lost my mind, but she soldiered on with nary a complaint. Sources indicate that wine may have played a part as well.

As for me, the deployment conditions were quite agreeable. I won’t get into specifics, but for one of the few times, I wasn’t confined to a tent or wooden hut. Quite the opposite. The most difficult (or entertaining, depending on how you look at it) parts of my day were braving the streets of Riyadh. When one leaves the structure of German driving and is dropped into something resembling Mad Max: Fury Road, the change can be somewhat jarring. There really aren’t words that can do it justice, and it quickly became apparent that my greatest accomplishment would be surviving six months without sustaining damage to the company car. Achievement: Unlocked! We also had to dodge Houthi-launched ballistic missiles a couple times, but that’s always part of the deal in that region.

Aside from keeping up with family goings-on, driving the streets of Riyadh and interacting with different members of the Saudi military - most of whom were good dudes and a few of whom I wanted to choke out on occasion - things like writing for CougCenter, watching the Bundesliga / Euro 2021 (it’s not an exaggeration to say that I’ve watched more soccer over the last six months than in my entire life, by a lot), and knocking out a couple more master’s classes helped chip away at the time until I came home.

About that trip home. If you want a little look into the nonsense that is Air Force/military bureaucratic buffoonery, here ya go. My orders allowed me to fly to and from my location via commercial air. Given the location and the lack of US infrastructure in the immediate vicinity, it was easily the best option. So when it came time to book a trip home, I called the designated person at headquarters, and told him what I wanted. A week went by. Then 10 days went by. Finally, he called and said that someone else had changed my transportation code, meaning I’d have to drive two hours to the nearest US base, then wait for a plane to fly me to another base in Qatar, then wait there to fly back to my base in Germany.

So instead of one six-hour nonstop flight, some village idiot in the Air Force’s bureaucracy thought a multi-day planes, trains and automobiles routine would be in everyone’s best interest. My pointed response to the messenger was, “Y’all can schedule me whichever way you want, but I’m getting on Lufthansa on 08 July and I’m flying home.” “I can’t advise you do to that, sir” was the reply. I said I understood, and told him again what I would be doing, whether his organization supported it or not. I then sent a message to my boss and stated my intentions.

Note to those of you entering the professional world: Always always always let your boss know what you’re going to do before somebody else does. This will save your ass.

I then called the government travel agency and booked my own ticket via proper channels. In other words, it took me fewer than 10 minutes to accomplish a task that the staff (which theoretically exists to support deployed people like me!) could not complete in two weeks. Ladies and gentlemen, one more round of applause for the red tape-infested U.S. military! While we’re on the topic, that same military actually puts a price on absence from home and family. That price is $8.33 per day, so I’ve got that going for me.

At 0130 on 08 July I boarded a Lufthansa flight, fully anticipating another Houthi missile attack, mechanical problem or airport power outage which would preclude my reunion with the family, but everything went on time. These are the kinds of things you think about when you’ve been gone for half-a-year. There was also a fair amount of friction with the a**clowns who work at the Riyadh airport, but I’ll spare you the 1,000 words on that topic. Finally, about seven hours later, the long march through desert was officially over.

All in all, everything went well during my absence. Germany’s restrictions finally eased, which allowed Mrs. Kendall and the kiddos to get out and about to Spain and Italy. And shockingly few things around the house failed, aside from my car’s battery. As just about any military spouse will attest, things often head south when the service member deploys, usually in the form of a broken down car, failed water heater or some other calamity.

The absence was toughest on the younger kiddo, who had an especially hard time as the deployment progressed into the fifth month. He had never experienced an extended absence like this, and his heart is worn on his sleeve more so than the oldest. I won’t go into any more detail, but he had a hard time until school ended. Luckily spring sports provided an additional distraction.

Once home, the extended time away was even more evident. This came to fruition when I was trying to unpack. As God is my witness, I could not remember which drawers housed shorts and shirts, which were for socks etc. It was weird to try and work my way through that as if this were the first time I’d ever been in my own house. There was even another mammal occupant, as I got to meet Comino the cat for the first time. Cats are something else, man (she is on my lap, clawing my skin off as I write this).

It only took seven days for the kids to quickly tire of my presence, so I put them on a plane to the U.S. to visit the grandparents while Mrs. Kendall and I took off for the Greek island of Santorini. After that, we drove through several countries, visiting a series of Trappist breweries and riding our bikes through the streets of Mechelen, Belgium in order to get a Gouden Carolus water bottle. Trust me when I say I earned that damn thing. I’ll leave you to decide which leg of the trip was Mrs. Kendall’s preference and which was mine. I also stumbled upon some 20-year Pappy Van Winkle in Cologne, Germany, which ended a multi-year quest to try that delicious bourbon.

As for the brewery visits, all I can say is that I won’t be surprised if AmEx and Visa ask me to seek help.

So there you have it. Next stop: Spokane, WA, good ol’ US of A to relieve the grandparents. If you want to share a beer, look me up. God knows I’ve got a lot of it.

Thanks for sparing me through this little piece of vanity. I hope you enjoyed it. Next week we’ll be back to regularly-scheduled content and links, which hopefully contain some better WSU news. Go Cougs.


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