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Security Breach

Friends -- the following post will explain my blogging hiatus, and the email you are about to receive in your inbox. 

During our weekend in Thailand, I had a chance to meet some of Kyle's colleagues.  As we waited on the patio of the Hard Rock Hotel for our Elephant tour to depart, I was introduced to a Lieutenant Belt Buckle.  Upon meeting her and shaking her hand, she took one look at me and said, "Oh, so you're the one that's been leaking information to terrorists."  I had NO idea what she was talking about.  A look of confusion washed over my face.  And then, Lieutenant BB realized she had just blindsided me.  She then looked at Kyle and said, "Oh, Mattox, you didn't tell her?!?"  Kyle grabbed my hand and told me, "Oh, it's nothing baby.  It's just that the Intel and Comm guys discovered your blog.  I guess they were doing a keyword search and they found the blog." 

I couldn't even believe it.  I was mortified.  I felt horrible.  I would never, ever type, post or say something that might put Kyle or any other service member in danger.  I thought I had been so careful with what I typed on the blog.  I thought I had followed all of the rules of operational security.  I asked Kyle what I should do . . . should we take the blog down?  Should I stop blogging? 

How will our family and friends stay in touch with our life in the Far East if I can't blog?  He told me, "Jen, calm down.  It wasn't officially a security breach.  Just almost. . ."

Given that our blog was "almost a security breach," I am taking new measures to protect our information. 

I have created a blog on blogspot.  You will be required to "log in" to read our blog.  Please watch your email inbox for information about becoming a viewer of our new blog. 

I hope you'll continue to read!  Kyle and I are really having the adventure of a lifetime over here in the Far East.  We are both so thankful for the opportunities and experiences we've had over the past 15 months. 

Please email me at JenLFarrell@hotmail.com if you would like access to the new blog at http://kylejenrexandhari.blogspot.com.

Ruby

Thailand is known for the many gems produced throughout the country. I think sapphires (blue, green, yellow, and pink) are very popular, in addition to rubies and other gems. My mom purchased a blue sapphire for me when visited Thailand, so I wasn’t really in the market for more Thai gems. But, one of our tours took us to the largest ISO Certified gem factory in the world. Did I mention Kyle booked all of our trips? I was unimpressed by the gem factory in Pattaya. Sure, I tried on some beautiful pieces of jewelry, but I wasn’t interested in dropping a chunk of change on a gem. Well, our last tour, on Sunday, was shopping in Bangkok. Of course the tour took us to the gem factory in Bangkok. The gem factory in Bangkok, we were told, caters to the international crowd. We would see pieces that were more “modern” and “fashionable.” The jewelry store is huge. But, I limit my browsing immediately, by telling the saleswoman that I only wear white gold, no yellow gold. She shows us a few rings, I try a few on. It was fun. But, again, I’m not planning to drop a chunk of change on a ring. We’ve had an amazing vacation – a beautiful resort, daily Thai massages, bottles of wine and champagne – memories to last a lifetime.

 

But, then I saw her. Ruby. Very modern. 18K white gold band.  Emerald cut ruby. Very cool diamond bling embellishing. Of course, I loved the ring. Kyle loved the ring. The salesperson loved the ring. But, I’d already had an amazing vacation. I didn’t need to spend a 20-something-thousand Thai Baht on a piece of jewelry. Kyle didn’t need to either. We had already spoiled ourselves with a wonderful vacation. So, I quickly gave Kyle the code word and we abandoned the saleswoman. 

 

We went straight to the bar, where they offer complimentary drinks. They might as well say, “Thank you for browsing in our gem showroom. Now, have a drink and a make a decision that you wouldn’t have made without that shot of Thai whisky.” Duh!

 

Kyle and I are enjoying a sip of Singha, a Thai beer, when he starts convincing me to get the ring. He says, “just hear me out.” Okay. I’ll be quiet and let the wonderful man speak. Kyle grabs my hand and tells me, “Jen, I think we should get the ring. It’s beautiful, but not too fancy. You can wear it every day and every time you look at it, you’ll remember this vacation. You’ll look at the ruby stone and think of the sunsets we watched. You’ll remember the beautiful resort. You’ll relive our elephant ride through the Thai countryside.” Wow. Great sales job. But, I was still resisting. No, no. I don’t need it. We’ve already spent enough money. And then . . . I remember my spring birthday. At which point, I drained the last of my Singha, looked at Kyle and said “Okay, but ONLY if it’s an early birthday present.”           


Tony the Monkey


On Saturday we went on a trekking adventure which included an ox cart ride, a rafting trip, and an elephant ride. Kyle was really excited to ride elephants in Thailand. I was not that impressed by the prospect of riding elephants, as I rode an elephant at the Des Moines Zoo when I was about 5 years old. However, I guess the chance to ride an elephant through the jungle in Thailand is probably more interesting. When we finished the elephant ride Kyle told me he would cross that one off his bucket list. I guess “ride an elephant in Thailand” was on his bucket list. 

 

Anyway, the trekking adventure was really fun. The ox cart ride took us through desolate landscape. We saw small Thai homes made out of tin shacks. Once the ox cart ride was over, we all boarded a large raft to cross over a human-made lagoon. As we were approaching the raft, a monkey flew out of no where and jumped on one of the tour participants. The monkey was a gibbon. He was, of course, a trained monkey, but still a lot of fun to watch and play with. Once the rafting trip was complete we hiked through the jungle for a few minutes. As we were walking I was watching Tony and trying to coax him to walk with me. Before I knew it, Tony was swinging from one tree to the next, and I had nearly face-planted in a big, muddy, puddle. Yep, I rolled my ankle during our jungle hike. Of course, my pride hurt worse than my ankle. And, I was muddy. And this mud was GROSS. A few minutes later we really got to the elephant herd. I fed our elephant a large bunch of bananas and then Kyle and I climbed the platform in preparation to board our elephant. We were off, on an hour long elephant ride. It was really hot and humid, so I used a shade umbrella most of the time. Our elephant seemed to be a little stubborn. The elephant ride concluded with the elephants walking in to a river and cooling off. It was interesting to ride on the back of an elephant while he walked through the river. For some reason, the elephant put his trunk in the water, so every time he needed to take a breath, he had to bring his trunk out of the water and exhale the dirty, gross water and elephant snot before he could take in a breath of fresh air. Ugh! 

 

The Birds and Bees Resort


The view from our balcony

This resort is officially the most beautiful hotel or resort I have ever stayed at. Kyle concurs. And, he lived in Hawaii for three years. He still says this is the most beautiful resort he’s ever stayed at. 

http://www.cabbagesandcondoms.co.th/Resort/Resort.asp

 

You might find the name kind of funny. Well, you’ll find the name of the hotel restaurant even more humorous. The restaurant is called Cabbages and Condoms. The resort is called the Birds and Bees. Do you see a trend? 

 

As you check in to the resort, you see a large wooden sign that reads “We Are A Business for Social Progress.” The profits from this resort support developing villages in Thailand. They provide sex education to the rural areas of Thailand. The coins we tossed in to the wishing well will help fund a school in a nearby province. The resort is run by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) and received the Gates Award for Global Health in 2007. 

Population and Community Development Association
Both the Restaurant and Resort were created to provide financial support for the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) , Thailand's foremost non-governmental charitable organization. Money spent at our resort contributes to Thailand's rural development, education and scholarships, HIV/AIDS education and environmental protection. Our Resort is an environmentally conscious establishment and our endeavors ensure protection of the environment, by recycling wastewater for its gardens and trees. 

 

Now, back to the beauty of the resort. It was amazing. I really felt like I was in the jungle, as we walked from the front lobby to our Cliffside Suite. We were in Suite 812, which was on the very end of the property. The birds were making jungle noises. The humidity and mist combined to create a sense of cool, wet air. I heard the waves crashing along the shore, as we climbed the steps to our suite. As the bellman opened the door, I was enchanted by another wonderful smell. The hardwood floors made the entire suite smell fresh and natural. I couldn’t have been happier with the splurge. 

 
http://www.cabbagesandcondoms.co.th/GuestRooms/CliffBeach/CliffBeach.asp


Damn the Man


My apologies for not blogging about our Thailand excursion prior to leaving. You see, I couldn’t. 

 

In order to prepare for this trip, I was required to prepare an Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Plan. My position as a Federal Department of Defense employee, as well as my status as military spouse, under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) dictates these sort of travel preparations. I’m not much for paperwork. Especially when it is required by the military and my husband has already deployed. Some military employees treat spouses like second-class citizens. I was hoping I could just fly under the radar, travel on my civilian passport, and enjoy my weekend in Thailand. My trip to Thailand was approved by Kyle’s chain of command. They knew I would be meeting him in Bangkok and then spending the weekend in Pattaya. They welcomed me to attend the “Officers Call” (a party) at the Blue Lagoon Bar in Pattaya. But, even though I’m not one for paperwork, I’m also a rule-follower. The last thing I want to do is get Kyle in trouble for something I did. 

 

Kyle was required to create his own Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection Plan in order to meet me in Bangkok. In one email, exactly one week before I was scheduled to arrive in Thailand, he casually mentioned this paperwork. He had filed all of the appropriate forms with his folks. So, in an attempt to be proactive I called the security office and spoke a civilian employee (former military) who administers this paperwork here on the island. That is where things went downhill, very quickly. This person was a very Mean Man. In order to keep my identity anonymous (and hopefully avoid opening the said can of worms) I posed the phone call as though I was calling on behalf of one of my client’s. My boss encouraged this plan. Actually, it was her idea. I guess she’s a bit rebellious herself. So, I called Mean Man and I asked if a spouse traveling to Thailand had to complete the Force Protection requirements. (****The base travel agent told me spouses WERE NOT required to do any force protection planning.) He told me yes, all spouses under the SOFA needed to complete the paperwork and then warned me, “this stuff doesn’t get done over night.” Then, Mean Man asked if the spouse was a DoD employee.  I said, “yes, she works for MCCS.” At which point Mean Man told me, “Well, she better do the paperwork, otherwise she could be fired from her DoD job.” Great. Now I am really worried about following the rules. Mean Man ends the conversation by saying, “What kind of a woman is this spouse? If she can’t even get basic paperwork in order, I don’t think we want her traveling to Thailand anyway.” Damn. That hurt. I am literally sick to my stomach at the end of our phone conversation. What a jerk. 

 

Remember, my husband is already deployed. He’s on a ship. I cannot pick up the phone and call the ship. Instead, I send an email that says “please call me tonight regarding the AT/FP Plan.” And, I cross my fingers that the ship’s email and phone systems are up and running. 

 

I head home and take the dogs for a nice long walk, where I get a chance to think through possible solutions:

1. Find a Marine in uniform to accompany to visit this Mean Man. Maybe if I have a uniformed service member with me the Mean Man won’t insult me. So, I need to borrow a husband or beg one of my active duty friends to help me. 

2. Call the Commanding Officer’s wife and explain the situation and ask how she might help. She traveled to Hong Kong to meet up with her husband a few months earlier, so she might be in the know. Plus, her husband has a bird on his collar, so maybe Mean Man will be a little bit more cordial to her.

3. Route all of the paperwork through Kyle and his chain of command (in the event said Internet is working and paperwork can be filed electronically).

4. Travel on my civilian passport and cross my fingers that the “Man” won’t catch up with me. 

5. Put on my rhino-skin and go meet with the Mean Man in order to get the paperwork done.

 

Well, luckily the ship’s email system was working. And, Kyle called me just a few minutes later. I had just walked in the door and I was a bit upset. But, Kyle was on the other end of the phone and assured me it would all work out. He, of course, wanted Mean Man’s real name, so he could call Mean Man and put him in his place. I told Kyle that wouldn’t help the situation. I am proud to say I didn’t overreact. But, I reacted. I told Kyle, “I can’t believe the Man can tell me if I can or can’t travel somewhere! This is ridiculous. This is NOT what I signed up for!” At this point I am crying and sniffling and Kyle is trying to comfort me through the delayed telephone connection. 

 

Well, the next morning Kyle routed our paperwork through the chain of command. I completed an online Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection training module. I learned how to be “safe” when I traveled abroad with my service member husband. I learned to keep a low profile, keep the details of our travel plans quiet, and try not to identify our affiliation with the military. 

 

Now, let me make something very clear. The examples in the training module were about a couple traveling through GERMANY. Not the Philippines or Djibouti or NORTH KOREA! This training was not required just because we were traveling to Thailand and Thailand had a recent “challenge” with the airports closing due to protestors. It’s technically training required for all military families stationed overseas.       

 

His unit’s AT/FP Officer signed it. All was approved.

 

Kyle saved the day, once again! 

Life on Ship


Kyle is really enjoying his new assignment with the MEU, but it is certainly keeping him on his toes.  He's charge of about eight Marines and he oversees multiple sections.  As you know, he's trained as a Finance Officer, but he is also serving as the Administrative Officer for the unit.  Life on ship is very different than other Marine Corps deployments or assignments Kyle has experienced. 

Here are a few excerpts from an emails he sent me the other day:

"We were allowed to go run on the flight deck for half an hour this morning, but they have already put a stop to that again. Apparently we are not conserving enough water. So, we still have not been allowed to wash laundry since we have been on ship. All of my showers have been the type where you turn the water on to get wet, turn it off and get all soapy, then turn it on again to rinse. Only one shower I’ve had since being on ship was hot. And now the Captain of the ship is lecturing us over the intercom for not conserving enough water."

"I wanted to tell you that we will be in a general quarters this morning from 0830 – 1300 your time. We are going to be locked down in our rooms while the Navy runs drills. So I wont be able to email with you until your afternoon."

I thought you might appreciate some perspective about the life on ship and what Kyle is experiencing.  He bought a laptop computer before he left, and I bought an external hard drive for him.  A friend of mine loaded 416 movies on the external hard drive, so he should have plently of media to entertain him.  He also took the book Marley and Me with him on ship. 

One of the advantages to this deployment, is the opportunity for Kyle to have liberty (vacation/leave/free time) in various ports throughout the world.  We are hoping I'll be able to meet up with him in Thailand in a few weeks during the first of his port calls.  I'm also trying to plan a trip to Australia, which will coincide with his port call there. 


Kyle often describes the "hangar bay" of the ship, where the units will gather for formations (the bottom area that looks like a garage).  Last night he told me he wished Hari was on ship with him, because "Hari would be a big hit with all of the Marines."  He said, "I'd take him down to the hangar bay and throw the ball for him."  Hum . . . I don't think crazy dogs are allowed on ship!  This picture also shows the different aircraft that are on the ship.


This gives a good perspective of the flight deck where Kyle mentioned going running. 

These ships look pretty amazing, even surreal, up close.  I was able to visit Kyle at the Naval Base  right before they shipped out.  As I drove to the pier I was almost taken aback by the size and stature of the ships.  There were three ships in port and Marines and Sailors were loading all three ships.  I watched the loading process for a few minutes while I waited for Kyle.  Once he was finished with his job and all of his cash was deposited safely, he was able to join me for dinner.  We had a picnic by candlelight on the beach.  We listened to the waves, gazed at the moon, and reveled in the enormity of these ships. 

Unexploded Ordinance

When I was in Iowa, I promised my friend Amanda I would start blogging more frequently.  Obviously I have not lived up to that promise.  However, when the following message came across my work email, I just knew it was deserving of a blog post. 


One unexploded bomb (205Kg, 80cm in diameter) which was found in the water
off Toguchi beach (located south of Torii Station) in Yomitan Village will
be detonated in the water between 09:00 and 11:30 on Thursday, Feb 5.

The detonation point is 26 degrees 21'6" N and 127 degrees 44' 0" E.

The detonation time is scheduled at 10:30.

During the time of the disposal operation, the water area within a radius of
3,000 meters (as indicated in the red circle in the map
attached) from the detonation point will be cordon off for safety reasons.

Any water-related activities will be prohibited within a radius of 3,000
meters from the detonation point between 09:00 and 11:30.

Unexploded ordinance, left over from WWII is discovered all of the time.  They usally call in the EOD Techs to safely detonate the ordinance and then transport the ordinance to a disposal location.  This time, the bomb is below the water.  I'm just glad I wasn't the scuba diver who discovered the bomb! 

I'll post more frequently, I promise!

White (sand) Christmas

Kyle and I have been enjoying all of the Christmas preparations.  This year we were able to decorate our Christmas Tree together, which was very nice.  We are so excited to be spending this holiday together, with Kyle safe and sound at home.  We know so many servicemembers who will not be with family for the holidays, so we are very grateful we will spend this holiday with each other and my family.  My parents and sister will arrive in Okinawa on the 26th of December, and we have a full slate of activities planned. 

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but I suggested we open our home to the young Marines in Kyle's office, who might otherwise be "stuck" in the Barracks on Christmas Day.  So, we are spending this final weekend before Christmas finalizing the menu, making the shopping list, and buying groceries for a house full of Marines. 

It is still about 75 degrees and sunny, so it doesn't quite "feel" like Christmas too me.  Although, I'm glad to have missed the most recent winter storm that is crippling the Midwest.  We heard from friends in 29 Palms that the high desert got 3 inches of snow.  So, for this year, we'll enjoy our White (sand) Christmas. 

I have posted some pictures of our recent holiday activities. 


  Our Christmas Tree



Holiday Baking Day 2008 -- Far East Region


Kim brought the sugar cookies (and butter cream frosting)


The cookie testers approve (my neighbors -- Amy, Christian, Conner, and Caden Dong)


My neighbor Cherice


Kyle and I at my office Christmas party


In front of the beautiful Christmas Tree


The party required semi-formal dress, to which Kyle responded "okay, I'll wear khakis . . ."  He sure cleans up nice in this tailor made Bahraini suit  . . .

Hong Kong

Hi Everybody,
It's Kyle writing this time. I'm finishing up my time in Hong Kong and will be heading back to Okinawa starting tomorrow. I have had a great time in Hong Kong with the huge exception of not having Jen here with me. HK is very pretty and VERY busy city. There are tons of sky scrapers that fill the skyline on all sides of the harbor. You can tell there is a lot of money in this city because of all the large banks, the designer stores everywhere, and all of the exotic cars that people were driving. Hong Kong was ruled by the British for many years so there is a very noticeable British influence here and all of the merchants speak English, which makes it very easy to get around town and buy things.

We got in to Hong Kong and off the ship by the evening of the first day. Everyone got checked into their hotels and then went out on the town to enjoy the pubs and clubs. A big group of us found a place that was offering an alcohol buffet. It cost something like $50.00 and was all you can drink for several hours. Luckily I got there late with only an hour remaining so I paid for my drinks as I went. I say that was lucky because the rest of these guys looked and felt like they had been run through a wood chipper the next morning. There were Marines up on stage singing with the band and dancing and having a great time... and that was just the first bar we went to that night. In fact, the buffet ended at around 8 pm, and then we went out to an area that I can't come close to spelling right, but it was several streets of nothing but pubs and bars. I managed to keep myself under control, but I have a few friends who didn't get out of bed the whole next day.

The next day me and three other guys made it out of the hotel at about noon and caught a tram ride to the top of Victoria Peek, which is the highest peek in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is very mountainous, even though it is a harbor. From this peek we could see the entire city and harbor below us. The view was partly spoiled by the hazy smog, but was otherwise beautiful. We walked some trails and did some shopping up there, and then ate at a nice restaurant with a great view. I ate a jelly fish. I had to try it. The taste wasn't bad but the texture was hard to get used to. I don't think I'll ever order another one.

That night we went to the Hard Rock Cafe and had a couple drinks. It wasn't really doing it for us so we moved to this Australian pub called Ned Kelly's Last Stand. If you don't know who Ned Kelly is, you should look him up. He's a legend in Australia, like a cross between Robin Hood and Wyatt Earp. The pub had a live jazz band that was playing some good songs. We closed the place down with a group of Spanish and German shoe designers that were sitting at a table near us. They spoke almost no English and we spoke almost no Spanish or German, but we hit it off right away and took turns buying each other beers. Who would have thought a group of Americans, Spaniards and Germans could have such a great time at an Australian pub in China.

The next day we went to a place called Stanly Market. It was a little outside the city in an area that reminded me a lot of the French or Italian Riviera. Beautiful sandy beaches pushed up against a mountainous back drop covered with many exotic trees and expensive houses. The market itself was open air and was a maze of shops that were selling clothes, souvenirs, trinkets, and lots of other things. It was about 80 degrees out with a perfect breeze and sunny. We shopped a little, had a few beers, shopped some more, couple more beers, and made a day of it. Great time.

That night it was back to the pubs. Three of our officers had recently been promoted so they rented the top floor of a pub called The Whiskey Priest to do the traditional promotion celebration Marines call a wet down. Traditionally when a Marine gets promoted, he takes the difference between his old pay check and his new pay check and puts that down as a bar tab for all his buddies. When several Marines do their wet down together, it turns into a great big party. I had a blast, but I took it easy and didn't drink much. I left at 10 pm and caught a ferry ride back to the ship because I had to stand duty the next day.

So that's how I spent my final day in Hong Kong. I stood duty, keeping track of Marines as they signed in and out going off ship to hit the town or returning. I'm glad my duty day was on the very last day and not in the middle.

All and all I had a lot of fun in Hong Kong. I missed Jen the whole time and kept wishing she was there to dance with me and to see the sites with me, but I'm sure we will return to Hong Kong together. Hopefully the U.S. dollar is doing better by then, because right now it's very expensive to be in Hong Kong. When I get back to Okinawa I'll try to put some photos up that I took on the trip. I hope to see you all again very soon.

Kyle

US based cell phone

I have purchased a pre-paid cell phone for my time in the States.

Please call me at 310 658 4816 if you are interested in catching up. 

Jen
 

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