Whoops, I did it again.
I volunteered for yet another overseas deployment with the Air National Guard.
By the time you read this, I should be in Meteti, Panama.
“Wasn’t Iraq enough?” my wife asked.
“This is kind of a break from that,” I said.
She looked puzzled.
“This isn’t a war zone,” I said, uncharacteristically cheerful. “The only bombardment I’ll face there is from the mosquitoes.”
Her puzzled look told me that this explanation still fell short. So, I voiced a more academic explanation.
“I’m going there for three months with more than 250 service members in an annual military exercise called New Horizons. The exercise is designed to strengthen ties with partner nations in Latin America and the Caribbean through combined quality-of-life improvement projects.”
She looked at me as though she knew my reply was scripted by the Air Force Public Affairs Office. Of course, it was. So, I took a more heartfelt tact.
There is more to this exercise than good public relations, I assured her.
“I’ll be the camp pastor for service members who are doing some genuinely good things.”
We’re going to build four schools, two clinics and community centers. In the midst of all the building, we’ll send medical outreach teams of ophthalmologists, surgeons and dentists to provide free health care for the local people.
She seemed to be warming to the idea. Still, she never likes me to have too much fun by myself.
“Are you going to be in one of those beachside tourist hotels?” she asked.
No, Mrs. Chaplain. Unfortunately.Meteti is four hours outside Panama City and is at the end of the Pan American Highway on the edge of the famed Darien National Forest.
As a World Heritage Site, this forested area likely will provide some beautiful sights, but our conditions won’t be touristy.
I’ll be living in a tent, sleeping on a cot and eating one hot meal a day. The other two meals will be the prepackaged military meals called MREs — Meals Ready to Eat, more commonly called Meals Rejected by Extraterrestrials.
I was hoping these austere conditions would draw the sympathy vote, but her smile told me she saw my discomfort as payback for leaving her alone with our teenager this summer.
Finally, I added, “I’ll be there in the middle of the brutal rainy season. And do you want to guess when the little venomous snake babies are born? Yup, in the rain.”
That’s when my sweet wife closed the zipper on my mobility bag and added some excellent advice.
Yeah. I’ll do that.
I decided not to mention the possibility of the Dengue fever, aka break-bone fever. The mosquito-born ailment gets the alias from the bone-breaking headaches.
Maybe I’ll mention it to her in an e-mail. After all, I don’t want her to think I’m having too much fun.