Why Are We Here?by Tourguide on Thu 26 Aug 2010, 01 PM CEST, Views: 2569
Hallo & Wilkommen from Germany!
So, whether you stumbled past our blog on the web, got harassed via Facebook to come visit, or just happened to be related to Rachel and I and had no choice, thanks for swinging by.
Ron and Rachel’s European Tour is a website dedicated to the exploits and misadventures of my wife, Rachel, and myself. Rachel and I are two Americans now living on a US Army base in Germany. Here you will find journals, photographs and anecdotes relating to traveling in and around Europe, as well as the trials and tribulations of two Americans who have suddenly found themselves living overseas.
And while I do make it a point to not focus on work too much on this blog, it is a worthwhile question to ask what exactly are we doing in Germany, and what’s up with the blog?
To the first point, Rachel and I are not actually in the Army. We are civilians who have taken government jobs to support the Army. Specifically, we are here to train a computer system called AHLTA that helps Army Doc’s track patient care. We have taken jobs working at the US Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) outside of Ramstein, Germany as GS employees, and we expect to be here two years or so.
Outside of serving the some 105,000 US active duty military and dependants in the area, LRMC’s primary mission, in conjunction with Ramstein Air Base, is to process and treat *all* wounded soldiers coming out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Any solider, sailor or airman who gets hurt downrange comes through here. Our goal is to stabilize them to the point that they can survive a flight to either Walter Reed in DC, or Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Often the staff of this facility are the first thing a soldier sees after being rendered unconscious in a warzone. A plane full of wounded soldiers would qualify as a mass casualty event at any other facility, however, it is something the doctors, nurses and medics here in Landstuhl deal with *every* day.
So, while you may think being the “computer guys” is a thankless job, being the computer guys that support the medical software that provides the complete medical background of the incoming wounded can make the difference between life and death. Its one thing when your email goes down. But when your system fails and you don’t know what this soldier’s blood type is, or what meds were pushed to them already, or what their X-Rays reveal …the repercussions can be deadly.
Training AHLTA is a job Rachel and I fell into 4 or 5 years ago. In fact, at that time we weren’t settled in one place training this system like we are here. We were on the road year round, sharing hotel rooms as we hopped from base to base around the world. In fact, that is where the idea for this blog came from. Not only did our friends and family not know how to get a hold of us, they didn’t even know what country we were in half the time.
So, rather than inundating folks with email updates they didn’t want, and becoming a spam machine, Rachel and I set up a blog. A blog or (web-log) would allow them to check in on us when they felt like it. At the time it was Ron and Rachel’s World Tour, versus the European Tour we are on now. I looked online and sorted out that making a blog was actually pretty easy, and I started writing up content and posting it every week. I started it with a simple premise. Each week I created a headlines page featuring a single photo and a 5 sentence or less summary of our happenings. And to it I attached an optional link to a more indepth journal entry for those interested.
And, oddly, as the weeks rolled on, I began to notice the hits on our world tour website began to grow. From a few dozen, to a few hundred and then even a few thousand hits, …every week. Now, Rachel and I know a lot of people, but soon it became clear that there were quite a few people following us along we had never met. The power of the internet, …amazing.
And, I must admit, we had an interesting story to tell. Hotel hopping for over a year continuously. Any day an email could show up that said we needed to be somewhere new in a week. And that location could just have easily been Hawaii, Georgia, South Korea or Japan. As it happened we went to all of those places, and dozens more. And at every location we performed the same task, teaching doctors how to use this medical system. It was life on a treadmill, always changing, but always staying the same.
So how did we end up in Germany?
Well, after our world tour completed in 2006, we had settled back into our regularly scheduled lives in Northern Virginia. We assumed our days as road warriors had passed. Rachel went back to being a school teacher and I continued along the same career path, but in management.
However, in May of 2010 the phone rang, …with a proposal.
Come to Germany, and support the training mission one more time. Though certainly not exotic or difficult, the number of people with experience training this medical software was very finite. And, as mentioned above, the urgency of the medical mission here in Landstuhl was very important. Plus, hey, a chance to live in Europe for a few years.
And, if you want to live overseas, but still want a bit of home around you, working on an OCONUS (overseas) US military base is a great opportunity. There are actually 725 of them outside the US, if you can believe it. You don’t need an overseas Visa, and you still pay American taxes as if you are living in the US. They’ll cover your relocation costs, including shipping a car, pay for your plane tickets, and will even pay for your housing your *entire* stay overseas. Plus they throw in a monthly cost of living bonus to help offset the weakness of the dollar against the local currency. Not a bad deal eh?
Still, while the idea of living overseas sounds very romantic, when it comes down to it, very few people are truly willing to walk away from their life. And here we were going to do it for a second time? It was a tough call.
However, what really sold it was the fact that, while there are hundreds of overseas US bases, they’re all closing at a rapid fire rate. Within just a few years there may be just 2 or 3 US bases left here in Germany. Seriously, WWII was 70 years ago. We’ve probably overstayed our welcome a bit. So time is running out on chances to tour the world on the government dime. Yah, well, I guess Rachel and I are suckers for those “limited time offers.”
So we pulled the trigger, signed the bottom line and off we went. And now here we are again, teaching AHLTA. Kind of like the Godfather. Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in. And now, here *I* am again dusting off my weekly blog. I wonder if this one will take off like the last. 5 years ago I was the only guy in town with a blog. Nowadays, with Facebook and Twitter connecting everyone, this format may already be obsolete. I guess we’ll find out.
So, we’ve started a new blog here with new gee-whiz graphics (who doesn’t love floating beer mugs, eh?) and all the modern blog amenities (Facebook interaction, iPhone support). Is this story as captivating as our World Tour? I’ll let you decide. But I tell ya, there is a world of difference between passing through someplace for a few weeks and trying to start a new life there. Thus far our experience here has been exponentially crazier than when we performed this job living on the road.
And, more importantly, I’ve found that life experiences like this one don’t come along but once, or for us, twice in a lifetime, and I want to capture every moment. Looking back on our favorite World Tour memories is, for us, a great way to grab onto those experiences one more time. Life is frantic, with so much of our time focused on today and tomorrow, its easy to forget about yesterday. This is the stuff I want to hold onto, the details I don’t want to forget.
Do I need a world-wide blog for it? No, of course not. But allowing those we feel closest with to share in these experiences with us makes the miles between seem not so long, and the friends we left behind seem not so far away. And for me, writing is cathartic. There is a lot of angst that come along with setting up life in a country that speaks another language. Blogging is a great outlet for those frustrations. And half the time, Rachel and I are able to laugh looking back on it. OK, maybe a third of the time ;).
So if you wonder what its like starting over a life in a new country, or if you want to experience traveling across Europe, …stick around. There may be things you find here that amuse you, fascinate you, or, more than likely, just make you appreciate the fact that you are safe and sound inside the continental US.
So grab your phrase book, your Passport and welcome along to Ron and Rachel’s European Tour!