Movie in the Park

By: Kevin

Last night we attended a ‘Movie in the Park’ event, sponsored by a local hospital and hosted by San Diego county parks. The setup consisted of a large inflatable screen, projector, and sound system to ensure everyone could hear the movie. The blower to keep the screen inflated, the projector, and the sound system were all run via a 3,000 watt Yamaha generator….the big brother to the generators we have as part of our RV setup. These generators run quiet enough not to disturb the movie sound. In reality it is quite a simple setup, but it was pretty neat to experience. The kids got to play on the park playground for a while as the sun set. Then we planted ourselves in our lawn chairs and the kids on a large towel on the grass in front of us. We brought along some gummy snacks and multiple bags of pre-popped microwave popcorn to enjoy during the movie. It was a little cool down by the reservoir, and we were all glad we brought along hoodies. Miss Kicky Feet, who is now 2 years old, was asleep by halfway through the movie, but that was not a surprise to us. Around 2130 (9:30pm) the movie concluded and we made our way to the van for the trip back home. All in all, it was an enjoyable night out for all.

I almost forgot, the movie of the night was “Back to the Future”, which was originally released in 1985. It was entertaining to see the “technology” circa 1985 in the movie. I am curious to see the rest of the series and see what they predicted 2015 to look like.

Hiking in Southern California

By: Kevin

IMG_6516There are plenty of options around southern California for those who enjoy hiking! The mountains to the east of San Diego offer some wonderful views of the countryside. The urban interfaces also allow some interesting hikes along the edges of civilization while still being in nature. We have taken a number of hikes and treks since arriving in San Diego back in March. Some have been simple 1-2 mile hikes all the way up to a hike through the mountains that was pushing 12 miles and was threatening darkness by the time we made it back to our starting point. We have all upgraded our hiking boots since arriving in California to meet the challenges of some trails, and to help guard against being struck by snakes should we stumble across them during our hikes.

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There are also a few “truck trails” through the mountains along the Mexico border which offer great scenic views and a decent challenge to the Border Patrol enforcement efforts. While exploring one of these truck trails we even received text messages saying “Welcome to Mexico!” when our cell phones connected to the closest cell tower, which was on the Mexico side of the border. You can see from this map just how close we were to the border. Lucky for us, our blonde-haired blue-eyed kids would not likely be mistaken for illegal border crossers.IMG_6522

Last night we met up with other families at Cowles Mountain for a Full Moon Family Fun Hike organized by MWR, the Navy Morale Welfare and Recreation office. We started at 6:45pm and finished around 8:45pm. This gave us plenty of light for the ascent to the top of Cowles Mountain, then we watched the sunset and moon rise from the summit while drinking water and a having a quick snack. We made our way back down the mountain trail via moonlight and the occasional flashlight beam for harder to walk areas of the trail. The only injury we incurred was a scraped knee and finger when Heather took a spill after her boot laces hooked each other and didn’t allow her foot to move forward any more, effectively hobbling her. The view of the moon and the city lights below were beautiful and oddly peaceful, even while surrounded by over a hundred other night hikers.

SeaWorld San Diego

By: Kevin

IMG_6743One major attraction around the San Diego area is SeaWorld. Now, SeaWorld has been the subject of some negative press over the years because they “extort wild animals for profit” and other similar arguments. However, living on the coast, it has become evident that this is not entirely the case. SeaWorld has a huge division of their operations that is devoted to helping wild animals and performing animal rescues and rehab, mainly not for profit. Their trucks can be spotted on the beaches when a random whale or sea turtle washes up too far to get back in the water by itself. These animals are either helped back to the ocean, or transferred to SeaWorld for medical treatment, rehab, and if at all possible, release back to the wild.

Beach rescues aside, thanks to the generosity of SeaWorld all active duty military and their families can come to SeaWorld once a year for free. We took advantage of this program and spent a full day wandering their park along Mission Bay. We got to pet Stingrays, see penguins up close, and even ride a roller-coaster which Pie requested more than once. We attended the Sea Lion show and avoided getting splashed at the Killer whale show. To make the day even better, Heather’s mom was in town for the week, so the kids got to spend time with Grandma too. The kids enjoyed the large play zone complete with hanging nets and obstacles. Last, but not least, what is a day at SeaWorld with Grandma without visiting the gift shop before leaving the park.

We did add a certain military feel to the day by opting not to indulge in the amusement park-priced food while in the park, but opted instead to bring….M.R.E.s with us for lunch. For those of you not familiar with M.R.E.s or ‘Meals Ready to Eat’, these are prepackaged meals that are designed for the military while on deployment or other field exercises. They are completely self-contained and can be consumed with zero prep other than a little water to activate the heating element if you prefer your entree heated. Heather’s mom wasn’t too sure of this idea and reserved the right to purchase food at the park if her chosen M.R.E. was not to her liking, but she was pleasantly surprised with her meal. This of course, was a single elective meal in comparison to eating EVERY meal via M.R.E.s over the course of a multi-week exercise that some military units must consume M.R.E.s, which may alter one’s view of MREs and their appeal.

This was not the first time we have been to SeaWorld. During my time as a travel nurse I was contracted to work in Florida, and we visited SeaWorld Orlando while we were in the area. The two parks are very similar, but each has their own unique attributes.IMG_6721

A night at the Ballpark

By: Kevin

On May 30th we had the privilege of attending the San Diego Padres baseball game for free courtesy of the Padres and VetTix, a benefit they extend to active duty and military veterans. It is really nice to be in a city that truly supports the efforts of the military.

The game got off to a slow start with a few innings of strike-outs, but then the momentum got going for both teams and the battle was on. The game ended with a Tampa error that allowed the Padres to advance the game-winning runner across home plate. The game finished with cheers and fireworks over the stadium.

The cuisine at the stadium was a bit unexpected though. Sure they had the normal nachos and hot dogs, but they also had brisket sandwiches, ice cream, loaded nachos, pizza, and many other more ‘upscale’ dishes from which to choose. Heather and I split the brisket sandwich and loaded nachos, which both got two thumbs up from us.

It was a fun night for all, and the kids enjoyed learning about how the game is played. We have watched a few games on TV and attended a Minor League game back in Springfield, MO, but the kids were more interested in watching the mascots and other activity around the park than actually paying attention to the game.

USS Midway

By: Kevin

One of the most highly ranked attractions around San Diego, the USS Midway, also known as CVN-41, is one of the first slant-deck aircraft carriers in the US Navy. Since its decommissioning in 1992 it has been moored in the San Diego Bay. The ship offers daily tours to the public which are sure to give the visitor a glimpse into the life aboard an aircraft carrier. This floating city was home to around 4,500 personnel while underway. While we were not rushing through it, it still took us around 3.5 hours to complete the majority of the tour. We opted not to stand in line for the superstructure tour because Miss Kicky Feet is not tall enough to attend that portion of the tour, and there was a line waiting to get in that portion of the ship. The tour led us through the hanger deck, flight deck, mess deck, berthing spaces, engineering, laundry, portions of Officer Country, and the brig just to name a few. There were mannequins positioned around some of the spaces acting as crew members, and one moving & talking mannequin who explained part of the Midway story. The tour is self-paced and self-guided, however there is a free audio tour that is initiated in the different areas of the ship by tapping the loaned audio device on pads located around the ship. This method allows the visitor to visit compartments of the ship in any order they wish without disrupting the audio tour play list.

How much soup does it take to feed a floating city? These kettles may give you some idea of the scale on which food was prepared aboard the carrier.

This is part of Officer Country, specifically the berthing spaces for officers. Had this been an enlisted berthing compartment there would have been 3-4 racks in the same space as these two. While there are certain luxuries that are extended to officers, it doesn’t mean that the officers don’t take part in their fair share of work.

The senior officers’ mess or dining room. While enlisted typically ate off metal trays and drank from plastic or metal cups, officers had the luxury of real china plates and true glassware for their meals.

Sick Bay onboard. Comparing this with what I saw onboard an active vessel I recently toured, there are some things that really have not changed much since WW2. The stokes basket in the center of the picture could very easily be taken down and used today without anyone even questioning it, as ones like that are still in service today.

Miss Kicky Feet enjoyed playing with the “spinner” on the front of the bombs located under the wing of an aircraft on the flight deck. The “spinner” is actually part of the arming device on that type of bomb.

This is Bug in the TCC (I believe it stood for Tactical Combat Center) sitting in front of one of the radar stations. When underway this space would be secured by a Marine guard to ensure only authorized personnel were allowed access due to the sensitive information within. Notice the overhead lighting is shaded blue instead of white.

This is just one view of the massive panel of radios aboard the ship. While as a tech nerd I was in my element, there were a LOT of knobs and buttons, and keeping them all running properly would have been a daunting task.

This is topside on the flight deck. One can see a few of the planes on display on the far end of the ship, and the city skyline behind them. The day we visited it was sunny and warm, which is pretty typical for San Diego, but made the day all the more enjoyable. We sat and listened to a lecture by a volunteer which detailed the challenges of landing on a carrier at sea, including the unique challenges of landing at night.

The staff and volunteers aboard the ship are comprised in part by veterans who served aboard the Midway or other comparable vessels/aircraft. This added an extra element of expertise to their talks and explanations of how things worked aboard the ship.

If you are in the San Diego area, I would recommend making a visit to the USS Midway, and if you have active duty ID, your ticket is free.

Life in a Military Hospital

By: Kevin

medical-caduceus

After working in civilian hospitals for the past 5 years, I thought it would be interesting to note the differences as I start working in a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). There are many similarities between civilian hospitals and MTFs, like the fact that MTFs are accredited by The Joint Commission and other civilian accreditation organizations. They are, after all, a hospital at the core. That said, there are many differences between civilian hospitals and MTFs. This starts with the very fact that in addition to being a hospital, they are a military command. This means that there is a very specific and traceable chain of command at any level. You can very easily determine who you report to and who reports to you. There are also specific jobs assigned to people in key positions. That means if someone is responsible for a task, such as the unit schedule, the other department leadership will defer to that person instead of “making this change for them” and “letting them know”. This actually does help communication because there is one specific person for certain tasks and things don’t get lost in the shuffle between multiple managers.

One obvious aspect of a military command is the defined hierarchy and rank structure. I am currently an Ensign in the Navy, so I am a junior officer. That affords me certain rights as well as responsibilities as an Naval officer. One of these is the time-honored tradition of saluting. All enlisted members of the military salute officers of any rank. As an officer, I outrank around 90% of the Navy, even though I have not even completed my orientation yet. That also means the Command Master Chief, a seasoned veteran with around 20 years in the military, many more ribbons on his or her uniform, the senior enlisted person at the command, and his picture posted on the wall in various places around the MTF salutes me…a junior officer that has been in the military for a few weeks. This is the way the military operates, but makes me take a moment of pause, as in any other setting, (while I may not be saluting) I would be the one giving respect to the more experienced person. It reminds me what responsibility I have to live up to the respect my position as an officer holds within the military and society in general.

Another aspect of a military hospital versus civilian is that in the military, (with very few exceptions) no department is ever really “closed”. There is always someone on-call, on recall, or on duty that can be contacted if someone needs assistance from that department. That is a big difference from some civilian facilities that departments simply do not function for any reason between 5pm on Friday and 8am on Monday morning. I have tested this fact, and was pleased by the availability of the on-duty personnel.

 

I am also enjoying working at such a large facility. The MTF is big! Like really big. Here are a few statistics to help quantify how large of a facility at which I work.

STAFFING:

  • More than 250,000 are eligible for care
  • Nearly 100,000 beneficiaries enrolled
  • Staff is comprised of more than 6,500 military, civilian, contractor and volunteer personnel
  • Personnel proudly deploy to support US Military Hospital Kuwait, the I & III Marine Expeditionary Forces, numerous humanitarian missions afloat and ashore and as individual augmentees.
  • Personnel deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Djibouti, and aboard the USNS Mercy
  • The staff has been recognized for excellence by such organizations as the American College of Surgeons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and Athena International.

FACILITIES:

  • A 272-bed multi-specialty hospital and ambulatory complex
  • 1.2 million square feet located on 78.4 acres
  • 2 libraries
  • 18 operating rooms
  • Full Blood Bank collecting 15,000 units per year
  • 11 primary care clinics offering active duty and family care
  • 10 Dental Clinics caring for active duty
  • Helicopter Landing Pad for Medevacs
  • Medical and Surgical Simulation Center
  • Virtual Reality Lab for PTSD treatment
  • Recreational facilities on-site include: 2 gyms, 2 pools, volleyball and basketball courts and softball field

SERVING OUR NATION:

  • 24 Graduate Medical and Dental Programs, of which 97 percent of graduates become board certificated
  • Affiliated with 19 civilian nursing schools, training more than 400 students per year in their clinical rotations
  • Only DoD site for Prosthetic student training

AVERAGE DAY:

  • 6,500 prescriptions filled
  • 4,000 outpatient Medical/Dental visits
  • 1,000 immunizations distributed
  • 170 Emergency Department Visits
  • 150 pairs of glasses made
  • 50 Operating Room cases
  • 45 new patients admitted
  • 10 babies delivered

 

Note: All of the statistics and specific numbers were obtained from the hospital’s public website.

From sea to shining sea

By Heather

We have been doing a lot of driving lately. From Florida to Ohio to Rhode Island, back to Florida and now to California. I feel like I need a three week nap after all of this! But alas, the reality is that these kiddos are growing fast and they might be grown and gone if I napped for three weeks!

In all honesty thought the trip to California was not as bad or tiresome as I had dreaded. Our goal was to drive approximately 500 miles a day. We arrived in Daytona Beach early early early on a Sunday morning, around 2am but then we lost an hour to the time change that same night. After a few hours of sleep we were up and moving. There was so much to do! I had to completely unload the van (to get our deck box in) and put everything away from our three week stay with relatives. Everything had to be put where it would not move or slide, tied down, or boxed up. Nothing could be left out. We rearranged, rearranged again, and finally had everything sorted out where it should go. I even got all of the Lego bins to fit into our half loft! Neighbors needed to be hugged and hugged again. Tires and lugnuts were checked. Hoses and cables were stowed. We finally rolled out of the campground at 1:30pm but were not really on our way yet. It took us an hour and a half to get the vehicles and trailers weighed while trying to navigate around a large amount of bike week traffic and congestion at the local truck stop. When moving for military one must weigh their possessions before and after the move to prove one actually did move that weight of possessions. This is because the military pays travel expenses based on weight.

The first part of our trip was mostly uneventful. We encountered some heavy rain while still near the east coast. Visibility was heavily compromised. Thankfully the rain only lasted a short time.

I quickly realized that my van was going to be the limiting factor on how frequently we needed to stop. She usually has a range of more than 400 miles with a full tank of fuel but that was cut to less than 200 with the weight and resistance of the loaded box trailer behind her. Still, we made better time than expected and arrived in Texas to visit friends almost a full day before expected. We were able to spend all day Tuesday resting and visiting and enjoying good company!

Wednesday we took a small detour to visit Waco, Texas. We don’t watch a lot of TV, but Fixer Upper is one of our favorites when we do. Unintended, we arrived in Waco the day before Magnolia Market’s big Spring at the Silos event. We were quite worried that we would not be able to find any place to park at all since the place appeared packed, and we had both the RV and box trailer in tow. Thankfully some friendly police officers directed us to a parking area that was mostly an empty field and was only about 4 blocks away, which we were more than happy to walk. We were even able to park in the shade!

After waiting in line to get in we were able to peruse Magnolia Market. The kids were so excited, jumping and pointing, “Mom that’s just like what we saw on TV!” They really wanted to go into the cupcake shop but we were just not willing to wait in the line that stretched down the entire block. Instead we grabbed some lunch at a couple of food trucks on property and enjoyed eating in Magnolia’s green space. On the way back to the RV we stopped into a pie shop and had some pie for π day. Yum!

After Waco we had a long long drive on smaller highways through low hills of west Texas. As it got on toward evening the landscape was changing to be more desert-like with small scraggly bushes and prickly pear cacti. It brought back fond memories of our two assignments in San Angelo but it wasn’t long before I was reminded that nearly half (or more!) of the vehicles in San Angelo had cattleguards installed, and the reason why. As dusk faded to darkness and we trucked on across the state with blackness all around except for our headlights and the numerous stars, we had to have passed more than 100 dear watchfully munching on vegetation at the edge of the highway in small groups. This part of the drive was quite nerve wracking for me as I tried to see and anticipate which deer might throw itself into my path while I traveled past at 65mph. Only a couple of them jumped toward the road before deciding against it and turning back and I think only two actually did jump out in front of us. One was a narrow miss for Kevin. Finally done running this gauntlet, we found an empty picnic area in which to spend the night.

Thursday was spent finishing out Texas and going through New Mexico and part of Arizona. The van’s transmission was not especially happy with the long up-hills and the beating sun. Visibility was not great either with a large dust storm in New Mexico. The van was quite a bit happier when I started buying higher grade fuel. We stopped this night to squeeze into a packed Arizona picnic area and woke the next morning to an almost empty picnic area surrounded by beautiful scenery, saguaro cacti, and a wonderful sunrise.

Friday was our last day on the road. We were all sore and tired of being in our seats by now. Bug, had he not been restrained by his seatbelt, would have been bouncing off of the walls and ceiling. Little Miss Kicky Feet was getting a diaper rash from having a dirty diaper almost every time we stopped on this last day and the rest of us were just ready to be done. This day was spent driving up and down mountains topping out at around 4,000 feet. The van did well at keeping up with the truck though she did develop a crack in her windshield that grew almost a foot throughout the day. I was surprised it hadn’t happened much sooner with the number of rocks that had been thrown from semi tires and made a direct hit on the windshield. Not to mention the falling ice that was melting off of trees in Rhode Island as we drove under them! Finally though, we made it into San Diego, spent some time getting weighed again and were finally able to go find a campground. We were too tired to really enjoy much that night. At 8pm we felt like it should have been 11 and were sound asleep. Even now 2 weeks later we are still having dinner around 5pm (8pm on the east coast) It is a nice change for us to not be eating dinner after dark!