Dinosaur Search-O-Rama 2015

UPDATE: Congratulations to Michael Tischer and Staff Sgt. Alyson Gaines for correctly naming the 10 Dinosaurs in our contest!

SABERS!!! Seek… Attack… MEOW!!!

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

Well… it’s not exactly the 52nd Fighter Wing’s motto. But how cool would it be if we WERE the Sabertooth Tiger Nation?  (In fact, there IS a tiger in our base’s history– the 53rd Fighter Squadron, which flew the F-15Cs and was inactivated in 1999.)

We already know YOU know everything about Saber Nation history (Thanks, Google!) But what if we did a contest on something almost as cool as Spangdahlem? In fact, this subject is so cool… that an Ice Age was the only thing that could stop them. (Or a meteor. Or Darwinism. Or Jeff Goldblum and Chris Pratt in a couple of movies. Take your pick.)

Of course, we’re talkin’ about— DINOSAURS!

And what cooler way to make this post than with a Dinosaur Search? But not just a normal search… this is the SPANGDAHLEM BLOG SEARCH-O-RAMA!!!

Your mission: name these 10 Dinosaurs as they are labeled at Dinosaurier Park Teufelsschlucht. The 52nd FW Community Relations office sponsored a tour there July 5 for Explore the Eifel. You can see all the photos from that tour here.

Your prize: A 52nd FW coin AND all exclusive braggin’ rights that come with it.

To win, you’ve got to be the FIRST one to email 52fw.panews@us.af.mil with the 10 correct names. Until then, happy huntin’!

1.) “If you actually saw me from this perspective, you’d be dead. But now, I’m pleased to smile for you as the first dinosaur in this contest!”

Answer: Velociraptor

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

2.) “When people first see me, there’s often a case of mistaken identity with a certain OTHER type of dinosaur. Thank goodness for this little horn on my head to settle that!”

Answer: Ceratosaurus

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

3.) “Oh, hello. I’m ______________. You might remember me from such timeless classics as “The Land Before Time LXVII: Insert Title Here” and that one episode of “The Flintstones” I was in.”   

Answer: Triceratops

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

4.) “I’m named after the continent… or I should say the continent is named after ME.”

Answer: Europasaurus

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

5.) “Although I’m small in size and fairly easy prey for many predators, my name has a lot of syllables and remains hard to pronounce long after my extinction. Revenge is sweet.”

Answer: Archaeopteryx

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

6.) “It turns out I have a lot of names. But when I hear one of those names, I can easily turn to them. That’s the nice thing about having a neck like this.” 

Answer: Apatosaurus

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

7.) “The writer of this blog only put me in because I’m his favorite dinosaur. I guess it IS who you know.”

Answer: Dimetrodon

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

8.) “I don’t like photos of me when I’m eating…”

Answer: Liopleurodon or Mosasaurus

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

9.) “Hey… you can’t have a dinosaur contest without The KING!!!”

Answer: Tyrannosaurus Rex

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

10.) “BONUS— I’m not a lizard…. but you can’t win this contest without me!”

Answer: Gastornis or Phorusrhacos

DinoPark and Castle Vianden Tour - 5 July 2015

Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Dinosaur Search-O-Rama 2015

Been There, Done That …. My trip to Castle Baldenau

Hey Faithful Blog Readers– we’re pleased to kick off an EXCITING new phase in our endeavor in social media: reader submissions on travel! We received this wonderful blurb from Nicole Flohr about her recent trip (back in time) to a castle ruins not too far from Saber Nation! Check it out below, and if you want to submit YOUR stories, send them to 52fw.panews@us.af.mil. We look forward to reading about where YOU will go next!

Here’s something you may not know about me: I happen to own a costume that makes me look like a maiden from the Middle Ages. I enjoy every chance I get to air it out, but those opportunities are few and far between. Perhaps some of you can identify with me when I say wearing an outfit like this to a gas station or bank shouldn’t be that big of a deal. And if I happen to receive puzzled looks from passersby, that is society’s problem and not mine!


You can imagine my excitement to wear my gown again when I checked out Castle Baldenau May 9. I not only felt more comfortable around other dressed-up people, I also enjoyed archery, historical re-enactments, food tasting, vendors, bird of prey aerial displays and even a wedding!

The first part of my journey started while trying to find the place. It’s a challenge to get to this castle, because it didn’t come with an address. Even after extended internet research, all I could come up with was a village called Hundheim, which is supposed to be only one kilometer away from the castle. So I started from there, and fortunately the organizers put signs up pointing my way to the castle.

Now, “castle” might not be the best word for the ruins I encountered; in fact, that’s probably why it has no address! With the exception of this fest in May, there is little to no activity at the castle during the rest of the year.


It’s hard to comprehend that this castle (or at least the remains of it) have been standing since 1315! Archbishop Balduin von Trier built it to defend his territory back then. After several damages during the Thirty Years War, the castle was restored in 1649. Unfortunately, those improvements last just four decades when French troops destroyed the castle under Ludwig XIV in 1689.

But the remains are in good shape, and I’m always in awe with ruins. I start to think of the old times and try to imagine how life might have been back then: what tragedies might have taken place there and what happy times these stones might have witnessed.

After a look around through the remains of the castle, my attention soon turned admiring history to snacking on delicious food. I always try to get a pick of everything at the food booths, and it was hard to make a decision since everything looked mouthwateringly good! They offered a wide range of bread baked right before you and meat in rolls.

And, of course, they served mead—that’s a honeyed wine for those unfortunate readers who didn’t have the chance to try some yet! (I also bet you don’t have a costume either!) It’s my favorite drink at events such as this, and with a cup in my hand, I (responsibly) continued my journey back through time.


After the lunch break, I continued on to the fields, passing a couple of tents where people had camped out old-style or sold clothes and other things connected to the era. At the far end of the field, they held an archery competition. The archers also welcomed visitors to have a try at the sport. Of course, I tried it myself and was even able to hit the target once.


After all that exercise, I went to a falconer who was situated next to the castle wall and the moat. He had a small flight show (kind of like a flyover for you Air Force readers) with his buzzard. After that, he allowed visitors to hold either the buzzard or an eagle on their hands for a small amount of money. Of course, I went for the eagle (another thing you American readers may appreciate too!)


I then walked around the ruins and came across a short play where actors held court over a broom maker and a tinker who had been accused of stealing chickens from neighbors and poaching. Watching the guards lead the broom maker away in shackles made me laugh.

Sabers explore the Eifel

At the end, I walked inside the ruins and witnessed a medieval marriage, which I soon realized was a real ceremony involving an already-married couple renewing their wedding vows. It was very touching.


Finally, I have to say that this trip was totally worth it, and I highly recommend going there for the next event they offer. Compared to other castles I’ve been to so far, this was low-price, had a great location (not too far from Spangdahlem) and complete with a nice agenda. You can take a journey back through time and return home with a deeper appreciation for all the benefits of modern technology (and mead!)


It’s a fun place to go if you want exquisite food, fun archery, close encounters with wild animals, a shopping spree for medieval items and good times with friends. (Or if you happen to have a costume you’re itching to put on again like I did!)

Any way you choose, you’ll have a great time! 

For more pictures from this trip, visit the following Flickr photo set.

Posted in Been There 2015, Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Been There, Done That …. My trip to Castle Baldenau

Oh, Oh, Oh, it’s Magic

When I was young, I always looked forward to watching a magic show. I constantly wondered at how the magician would do these tricks, and it always left me amazed.

Now that I’m older and understand most of the tricks are sleight of hand, I am not amazed as much as intrigued at how they pull off these acts. Sure, there are tricks that still amaze me, and on Monday night I was blown away by Rob Lake.

Rob Lake entertains Saber Nation

Armed Forces Entertainment brought the magician to Saber Nation to perform in front of more than 400 children, service members and spouses.

A line gathered around the building before the doors opened. (Not by themselves, mind you. People opened those doors, as the magic would begin later.) Once open, people filled the room’s 400 seats, leaving others to stand.

Anticipation built and finally it was time for Lake to entertain.

Rob Lake entertains Saber Nation

His performance had the audience guessing what would happen next and even left some speechless. Lake at one point made the joke, “It’s like you have seen this before.” After the audience didn’t make any noise after an act.

He kept the show both light and interactive.

Airmen and children helped during the act, leaving most wondering how they executed the tricks.

Rob Lake entertains Saber Nation

Those answers we may never know, but for the children in attendance, their faces said it all. They knew how cool Lake’s tricks were.

After all, it’s magic … never believe it’s not so.

(Note: I took a super-secret oath on a stack of magic books not to reveal any of the illusions for the show. If you want to find out, check out Lake’s next appearance (or disappearance) at an event near you.)

Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Oh, Oh, Oh, it’s Magic

Been There, Done That … Shooting Kino

When I first walked into the outdoor recreation office to scope out the upcoming events, I had no idea what Shooting Kino was. The notion of a quick trip at the end of the work day sounded fun to blow off some steam. It only got better when I found out it was an arcade game with live ammo. I boarded the bus prepared for a BB gun, but I was totally off target.

For those who don’t know what Shooting Kino is, allow me to explain. When I was told live ammo, they were not talking about air guns, they were talking about real guns. Big guns. And by arcade, they really meant an interactive shooting range. Like the kind a daddy would take his little girls to in order to graduate them from shooting blowguns at vegetable-stealing critters in the backyard to lean, mean, zombie-apocalypse surviving machines.

Photo 1

Having grown up around guns, the surprise was more exciting to me than it may have been for someone expecting a little less bang for their buck. We shot rifles. We shot hand guns. We shot a shotgun that kicked me like I owed it money. At the end, the cherry on top of the whole thing was the chance to shoot a Desert Eagle .50 handgun, the big gun of big guns (as far as handguns are concerned).

Photo 2

I had seen variations of the gun used in movies like “Terminator”, “Doom”, and even “The Boondock Saints”. It also took a starring role in several Youtube videos where people knocked themselves out from the recoil. I’ll admit, it was pretty intimidating and I may have tried to (unsuccessfully) rock-paper-scissors my way out of being the first girl to fire off the monster. Even so, I’m glad that I got the chance. And no, I didn’t knock myself out.

Photo 3

While Shooting Kino may not be for everyone, I had a blast while I was there. If you’ve got some time to spare and an “arcade game with live ammo” seems like your kind of thing, why not give it a shot? Some age restrictions may apply. Call ODR for more information!

Posted in Been There 2015, Been There, Done That!, Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Been There, Done That … Shooting Kino

Marching headfirst into a healthy lifestyle

Normally, March is a month I tend to associate with Spring and other seasonal themes – such as eggs, peeps, bunnies, bees, flowers, sunshine… eggs.

But I now associate March with thawing frost, melting icicles, big puddles and the occasional maelstrom of turbulent hail storms, because of the natural climate in Germany.

What made March so important to me this year, however, was a small gesture that the dorm residents on base received from a group of volunteers.

Three dorms received free fruit, snacks and cooking utensils in a dorm outreach program coordinated by the 52nd Medical Group – with contributions from the base commissary – in the name of raising awareness for Nutrition Awareness Month March 3.

Dorm Outreach

Dorm Outreach

Nutrition Awareness Month?
What’s that?

For those of you unaware of this “nutritious” month, let me tell you a little story.

Several months ago, somewhere on Spangdahlem, an A1C struggled to understand what it meant to be healthy.

This Airman wanted to achieve, not just proper, but his peak physical condition, wellness and health. The only problem was he didn’t know how.

He wasn’t educated in the fine arts of culinary and healthy eating.

He wasn’t well-versed in the mystic sciences of intense exercise and blood-pumping, hair-raising, muscle-bulking work outs.

And most certainly, he knew close to nothing about the adverse effects that smoking had on his health (well, he kind of did, but he didn’t really pay much attention to it until it started to affect his PT.)

What was this poor Airman to do? Was he to crumble into a sad state of shameful lethargy and poor health? Was he to go on living his life as an unhealthy scamp incapable of reaching an optimal run-time? Was he to simply give up on life and smoke his lungs out?


Enter the 52nd Medical Group and their new innovative project for March: Nutrition Awareness Month!

Dorm Outreach

The month raises awareness for all individuals about proper eating, staying physically fit, and the great effects of a proper, nutritious intake.

As someone who strives for peak physical condition, I was interested when I became aware of the events of this month.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Denise Campbell, 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron health promotions dietitian, brought me up to date on some of the healthier alternatives and methods available to Airmen. These would aid them in understanding how to live a healthier lifestyle, not just for the mission, but for themselves.

“We wanted to raise awareness with the dorm residents that there are resources on base to learn more about nutrition and healthy eating, and to provide them with healthy snacks,” Campbell said.

So how does handing out free fruit and tools help out dorm Airmen?

According to Ms. Claudia Fultz, a 52nd MDG credentials manager and one of the volunteers of the outreach event, the main purpose of the event not only offered healthy snacks, but also raised awareness of this month’s focus.

Dorm Outreach

“We really had fun doing the outreach event,” Fultz said. “Most of the Airmen did not know that March is the Nutrition Awareness Month. I think by giving them some fruit and explaining them why, we made them aware about healthier food choices.”

Not just for eating, but for cooking, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Kelly Smith, 52nd Medical Support Squadron pharmacy flight chief.

“It can be easy to forget to eat healthy, so this was a fun way to remind everyone. Plus, many dorm residents cook in their room so it comes in handy to have measuring spoons, spatulas, and strainers to make cooking easier,” Smith said.

Personally, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of mischievous pleasure as I watched the confused faces of my fellow dorm mates when they opened their door to be greeted with a basket filled with fruit and cooking utensils. But it brought me greater pleasure to see their faces transform from confusion to gratitude.

Dorm Outreach

This event may have been coordinated as part of Nutrition Awareness Month, but I became curious of the coordinator’s intent and personal objective behind doing this at all.

“This is a program that we have done during March at my last base from 2011-2014,” Campbell said. “We had good reception there from the dorm residents, so we wanted to bring it to Spangdahlem. It’s an opportunity to help dorm residents keep a few healthy snacks in their rooms, and give them some kitchenware/tools to assist with meal preparation in the dorms.”

Fultz said she agreed with Campbell’s idea to encourage healthier eating habits among the dorm residents.

“I think younger Airmen prefer foods that reflect more of a fast-food taste, like hot dogs, pizza and an assortment of fried foods,” Fultz said. “So doing such an event to encourage them to eat healthier seemed like a great idea.”

March could be a month associated with colorful, smelly eggs or thinning ice puddles. But here on Spangdahlem, March is more than just about finding eggs before they rot or munching on sugary marshmallow treats and chocolates. It’s a month where we should be more aware of the food we put into our bodies and how important our health is to us.

Perhaps, today’s the day you finally take that first step in the march to a healthier life.


Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Marching headfirst into a healthy lifestyle

Gettin’ ‘stabbed’ to save lives

As a self-diagnosed needle phobic, the prospect of a not-so-gentle jab seems like something out of a chiller movie.


My heart quickens. My palms sweat. The first poke of a needle, and I’m getting dizzy. So why would someone like me subject myself to a purely voluntary procedure? Donating blood goes beyond a life-or-death situation. One little stick of the needle can save up to three people.


While it can’t be predicted when and where donated blood may be needed, the call for it never diminishes. Donations have a short shelf life, and volunteers must wait at least 120 days from their previous donation date before giving blood again. For me, despite the intimidation of donating, the prospect of helping my wingmen had me attending this time and will see me there again the next time the event takes place.


The process of donation involves a pretty quick prescreening process depending on the number of donors at a given time. Volunteers fill out a questionnaire about their travel and medical history for possible disqualifying factors. After this stage, potential donors go through a health screening to ensure they can safely donate. Elevated or diminished iron levels disqualify potential donors, as do abnormal blood pressure and temperature levels.


Then comes the needle poke. Doctors often recommend that donors eat a hearty meal before giving blood to combat potential side effects like dizziness. While I’ve personally had trouble before with light headedness, I’m often surprised how anti-climactic this process is. I tend to freak myself out much more prior to the procedure than this relatively painless process warrants. The good that donating accomplishes outweighs any apprehension toward a little needle poke.


So the next time the blood drive comes around, why not consider getting “stabbed” to save lives? Similar events take place approximately every two months. You can bet I’ll be there the next time I can donate, probably still whimpering the whole way.

Blog by Senior Airman Sarah Denewellis // Photos by Airman 1st Class Luke Kitterman

Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Gettin’ ‘stabbed’ to save lives

1945-2015: Reflections on the 70th anniversary

Many people may look to this year, 2015, as the year Marty McFly and Doc Brown traveled back(?) to the future in “Back to the Future Part II.” That movie may be enjoyable (although I’m still waiting for hover boards and self-lacing sneakers!) but this year also represents something more (much more) than a date in a 1980’s movie.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, both in Europe May 8 and in Japan in August 9. The very acts made during this summer 70 years ago molded the world we live in today perhaps more significantly than all the previous years of recorded history. Yes, that might sound like hyperbole, or a gross exaggeration, when compared to the invention of the wheel or the printing press, but it doesn’t seem so when you make your way to one of these two American military cemeteries in Belgium and Luxembourg. 

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

The Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial, located in Hombourg, Belgium; and the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg, are both within two hours driving distance from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. They’re well worth the trip, too, and both highlight the sacrifices American service members made during the conflict 70 years ago.

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

Below are pictures from my two recent trips to both cemeteries accompanied by words from U.S. President Harry S. Truman’s May 8, 1945, remarks when he heard about the war’s conclusion in Europe.

“This is a solemn but glorious hour. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations.”

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“The flags of freedom fly all over Europe. For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.”

'The Greatest Victory'

“Our rejoicing is sobered and subdued by a supreme consciousness of the terrible price we have paid to rid the world of Hitler and his evil band.”

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released) 

“Let us not forget, my fellow Americans, the sorrow and the heartache which today abide in the homes of so many of our neighbors–neighbors whose most priceless possession has been rendered as a sacrifice to redeem our liberty.”

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)

“We can repay the debt which we owe to our God, to our dead, and to our children, only by work, by ceaseless devotion to the responsibilities which lie ahead of us.”

'The Greatest Victory'

“If I could give you a single watchword for the coming months, that word is work, work, and more work.”

(U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Joe W. McFadden/Released)


Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on 1945-2015: Reflections on the 70th anniversary

A cookie drive to remember

With holidays come festivities, and with festivities come many goodies, decorations, treats and such. The one thing that I – and many others I’m assuming – associate with holidays is the abundance of themed-treats that follow. As a lover of food and other sweet treats, it’s the candies and cookies I look for the instant the holidays start rearing their heads.


December is a month of holidays, and many people celebrate in their own way. For me, the holiday I observe happens to be Christmas.

Christmas was once a time I eagerly waited for a big man donning a red suit to jump down our chimney and discretely leave mysterious packages for me to unravel in the morning with an uncontested zest. That illusion was shattered when I was five years old, when I caught my father snacking on the cookies I left for Saint Nick with a wrapped present in his other hand. I tried hard to believe my dad was on some North Pole Assistance Committee, and that he was merely subbing for Santa because he’d caught a cold or something (you know, the North Pole’s pretty cold,) but reality had already left its mark.

Speaking of cookies, that’s about all I look forward to these days, along with painfully obligatory presents from friends who buy me gift cards because they’re all a little too afraid to admit that my standards are a bit too “fickle.”

Jokes aside, cookies are one of the great ways to celebrate the coming of holidays. They come with deliciously sugary decorations that in some way represent the holiday we’re all eagerly awaiting. Baking Christmas cookies is a tradition many participate in to help bring the holiday spirit to friends and family.

But what about those who don’t have the means to bake or can’t get access to cookies because they just got here to a base overseas away from family, friends and things familiar?

On December 4, 2014, the Officers’ and Civilians’ Spouses Club (OCSC) and Spangdahlem Spouses and Enlisted Members Club (SSEMC) organized a cookie drive, one they called “Spangdahlem Cookie Crunch,” to ensure that Airmen residing in the dorms would have that pleasantry available to them come this holiday.

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

Kim Nudi, the OCSC representative for this event from Fairfax, Virginia, and Katie Merry, the SSEMC representative from Modesto, California, not only gave me a sneak peek into “Santa’s cookie workshop,” but gave me an insight into what’s going on and why they were hosting this charitable community event.

(Merry, left, and Nudi, right, the event coordinators of the cookie drive)

Nudi informed me on what was going on. Here’s what I learned:

The OCSC and SSEMC hosted a cookie drive at the Airman & Family Readiness Center (A&FRC) – which was “kind enough to provide the space”, according to Nudi. They gathered members from both clubs and volunteers from the community to package cookies donated by members of the Spangdahlem community and the local community – to include, but not limited to, spouses, a Girl Scout troop and a philanthropic sorority not from Spangdahlem.


Festive paper bags, decorated by elementary school and kindergarten children from the Spangdahlem and Bitburg Elementary School as well as the Spangdahlem School Age Program (who had a hand in baking a lot of cookies themselves), housed the delicious baked treats.

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

OSCS and SSEMC also went ahead and purchased movie vouchers from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (who, also, donated $2 snack bar coupons) so that Airmen can enjoy treats and a free movie with cheaper concessions.

Completing the process, the cookie bags were placed in bins where the First Sergeants’ Group picked them up and delivered the goods to their troops’ respective dorms.

Enthralled by the delicate procedure, planning and the sweet smell of cookies, I had to answer one question that kept tickling the back of my mind the moment I heard this drive was going on:

Why were they going to such lengths to do this for us? For me?

I had to know.

I sat down with Nudi and Merry and began grilling them about their motives behind this delicious “Cookie Crunch.”

“What we wanted to do this year was have a base-wide cookie drive so that everyone is involved in helping our unaccompanied Airmen feel welcome and feel some holiday cheer at this time when they are away from their families,” Nudi said. “The response has been wonderful because I think people really enjoy doing this. It’s been really wonderful to see all of the communities come together to support our Airmen.”

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

I had to know why Nudi and Merry decided to take charge of this “Cookie Crunch” with nearly 800 dozen cookies baked and donated from members of Spangdahlem. It turned out the reason be more personal than I first thought.

“Personally, I was a single Airmen in the dorms once, myself, so I know exactly how it feels to feel alone when you don’t have your family around or being new to the base and not having friends to spend the holidays with,” Merry said. “When I heard about this drive, I thought it was a great idea and a special reminder to every Airmen that they are not here by themselves and that they are remembered. The holiday times they are not alone, even if they feel like it.”


“It gives me the opportunity to spend a lot of that energy to help out this community,” Nudi said. “It’s a great way to give back, and I take the opportunity of not working to find ways to give back. It’s our way of saying thank you and showing our appreciation for them.”

If holiday spirit had a smell, it would smell like the cookies Nudi and Merry packed into the bags we received that afternoon.

Families feed family with heart-warmed cookies

Volunteers who associated with neither club even extended their hand to help in this act of generosity.

Melissa Higgins, one of the volunteers not affiliated with either of the clubs, and native of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, gave me her two cents on why she participated.

“We love our Airmen,” Higgins said. “We appreciate all that they do for us, so we’d like to show our appreciation for them.”

It’s just cookies, I hear you think, and everyone gets cookies during the festivities.

This is true, I respond back telepathically – but more importantly, on this blog – they may just be cookies, but it wasn’t just cookies and free movie passes that made it to the dormitory Airmen that afternoon; it was an extension of camaraderie and a token of appreciation from a group of families given to one big family – a big Air Force family.

I’m hoping that as Sabers, both accompanied and unaccompanied, spend the holidays and munch on these delicious cookies, we all stop to think what the holidays truly mean and what they represent.

It’s not about shiny, wrapped packages. It’s not about a plate of warm cookies and a tall glass of milk. It’s not about a big liar dressed in a red suit breaking and entering into people’s homes to steal treats and leave presents. Nor is it about obligatory gifts and awkward moments as you watch the recipient’s smile turn upside down when they realize all you could afford to give them for Christmas was a $10 gift card from a generic retail store.

It’s about making sure people around you – close or through peripheral association – know that, as Airmen serving on the same installation, we’re all one big family, looking out for each other and letting each other know that we are not alone. We are remembered.

Happy holidays, Saber Nation.

Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on A cookie drive to remember

Been There, Done That: Thanksgiving in Marrakech

When I think of my prime vacation destinations, Morocco sure wasn’t one of them. My wife has always wanted to go, though, and a group of our friends joined in on her enthusiasm. She told me one of the main goals of this vacation was shopping, another one of my least favorite things to do.

With much reluctance, I began saving money in our travel account to pay for our plane ride and hotel bill. We started putting money away early this year, so the bill didn’t really affect us.

But now that I’m back, I can say with full confidence that I had a great time. If you want a different experience than one you’d find in the local area, go ahead and start your paperwork to go to Africa.

Plane Ride In
We booked a Ryan Air flight a little later in the day – I think we left around 3 p.m. or so. Normally, I’m on the first flight out of Frankfurt-Hahn, so being able to sleep in and finish packing in the morning was a nice surprise.

This was our first time traveling via airplane with our 7-month-old, so we were a little anxious. I walked into the airport holding a diaper bag, two carry-on luggage bags, a car seat and bulky jackets. But thank goodness the people at the airport were genuinely kind to us and treated us with a little more compassion than usual at the check-in counter and through the security line.


Marrakech Airport

Courtesy Photo

We arrived at the airport in Marrakech a little late and we needed to get a taxi to our all-inclusive hotel, the Riu Tikida Garden. My group had read about taxis directly outside the airport being a little expensive, so we walked a little ways out to get another taxi provider. The cost to the hotel was decent, about $25, but this is where it gets interesting.

There were a total of six people in my group, plus my baby. Consequently, we had to take two taxis. The cab drivers began loading our luggage into the trunks, and our guy grabbed the car seat and started shoving it in the trunk! We stopped him, put the car seat in the back of the cab, but apparently he was in a hurry. He started driving away before we had our seatbelts on or even had my son in the seat.

Simply put, the taxi rides were pretty wild. If you go, be prepared for broken seatbelts and fast-paced driving through crowded city streets. Blind merging, you betcha.

The Souks, or markets
Our first full day in Marrakech was spent meandering through the twisty-turny, winding souks, or markets. We wanted to see what strange or interesting items the old-town had to offer – and we saw more than we expected.

Marrakech Souk

It was a little overwhelming. The souks stretch for miles, with different sections of covered or open-air areas. Spices, lamps, woodwork, art, snake charmers, leather, scarves, trinkets, meats, metals. You name it, we saw it. The shop owners were pretty savvy at getting your attention, too.

“My friend, my friend,” they would say. “Looking is for free. Come, see, buy!”




Haggle, haggle, haggle. It was tiring after a while seeing the same items in 100 different shops. Also, some of the starting prices seemed excessively high, as in $120 for a single Pashmina. Still, it felt dirty lowballing like I did. They’d ask for 300 Dirham (about $33) and I’d counter with 70 Dirham (about $8).

“My friend, be serious when you haggle,” a shopowner said. “Let us not waste our time, huh?”

“I am serious,” I replied, feeling bad. “This artwork isn’t that important to me, I’ll just find another one somewhere else. Let’s go. No, no, it’s okay. Thank you, thank … will you do 100 Dirham?”

We settled for 150 Dirham. Not bad.

Walking Around Town
After the marketplace, we needed a break from the crowds and noises. Smells, too. We walked along one of the main streets toward the central garden, but we had to cross a few intersections to get there, which proved to be an event in its own right.


There were bikes and mopeds everywhere! The exhaust had that same oily, smoky smell that you’d get from two-cycle engines, like a chainsaw or weedeater. They’d dart in and out of the automobile traffic like professional stuntmen.

We eventually entered the gardens and sat on a stone bench for about a half hour. It was relaxing to finally get off my feet and just take in the green scenery, which was impressive for being located in the middle of the city.



Hotel Bound
At this point, our group was about ready to go back to the hotel, shower and eat some dinner. That reminds me, let’s talk about the resort for a little bit.

Since it was all inclusive, we could eat and drink all we wanted. The breakfast and dinner times had buffet options, and there was a snack-food bar between those meal times. However, I’m not sure about some of the food … it tasted pretty good, but sometimes you’d get duds. Super runny mashed potatoes, the occasional stale bread and repetitive food choices.

Also, if you’re one to enjoy an adult beverage, the serving glasses were pretty small. You could order as many as you’d like, so it didn’t matter too much. I could finish a glass of beer in two gulps.

One Last Trip to the Souks
We had another day to burn, so we returned to the souks. Except this time, my wife wanted to get a henna tattoo. We had read about a certain tea shop that also doubled as a henna parlor, so the search began. Quite honestly, I’m surprised we found it in the maze of stores.

I ordered a spearmint tea and watched an older Moroccan woman “tattoo” my wife’s forearm, all freehand. The design was intricate, and the finished product was exceptional. With proper care, these things can last for a couple of weeks.

Henna Tattoo

The Big Sendoff Huzzah
On our last day, we booked another late flight into Germany. So, that meant we had another full morning to do anything we hadn’t yet accomplished … CAMEL RIDES!


Seriously, we went to the front desk of the resort and asked if they booked camel rides, which they totally did, for 250 Dirham per person (about $28.) The package included a one and a half hour camel ride and a halfway stop for tea.

I had never ridden a camel before, so this will be a memory I’ll keep forever. Especially since they gave us turbans to wear before we saddled up.

Camel Rides!


I was tickled to death.

Anyway, we rode the camels for about an hour, got rained on and then stopped for tea. It was a welcome break – I didn’t realize how much of your lower back you use to stabilize yourself on top of a camel. Whew.

Going Home
We had just enough time once we got back to the hotel to check out and catch a taxi to the airport. I didn’t have time to shower and I had packed really light on clothing… so I may have smelled a little like a camel. Yeah, it wasn’t too offensive to me, just a little musky.

I apologize now to the people I sat next to on the plane. It happens, you know?

Our flight was delayed a bit, and it took longer than expected to get back to Frankfurt-Hahn. It was nearly 1:30 a.m. when I finally rolled into my driveway. I couldn’t wait to put the baby to sleep and catch some shut-eye myself.

When I finally drifted off, I thought of how lucky I am to be stationed in Germany. It really is the gateway to Europe (and Africa), and I’m thankful to have a good group of friends to travel around with. Plus, I’ll be able to tell my son that he spent his first Thanksgiving in Morocco, which is pretty sweet.

Posted in Been There, Done That!, Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Been There, Done That: Thanksgiving in Marrakech

Golden Thanksgiving reinforces silver lining

I normally associate Thanksgiving with the color gold. Why’s that you ask? Well, you’ve got the leaves, which turn a beautiful shade of red and gold. Golden pumpkin pies? And who can possibly forget the iconic golden turkey? Everything about Thanksgiving is gold!

Speaking of gold, Thanksgiving is also known for its rich wealth of joy and fellowship that comes with friends and families we spend together during this holiday of heartwarming happiness.

Two years ago, I spent my holidays with family at a local fried chicken restaurant. With a family combo laid out in front of us, we proceeded to dig in. It wasn’t a luxurious Thanksgiving dinner complete with a roast turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, turkey stuffing, cornbread, biscuits, cranberry sauce, etc. We weren’t seated at a large table with a chandelier, table cloth, impressive silverware and expensive china plates.
Yeah, we didn’t have the monetary wealth to perform a “traditional” American Thanksgiving, and we weren’t sitting next to long lines of kin and blood relatives (although we didn’t need to).

My father, sister and I sat at a slightly damp table that smelled of the bleach that it was wiped-off with not too long ago. We were surrounded by grumbling employees who wanted to go home for the holiday but couldn’t because they needed to be there to ensure their families would have a turkey at the table later that day. Laid out in front of us was a family combo meal consisting of two buckets of fried legs, wings and chicken breasts and a variety of quickly processed mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, potato wedges and baked beans, but there wasn’t a frown on a single one of our faces.


We were thankful we had a place to sit somewhere warm during the cold holidays. We were glad that they had tables at the restaurant so we didn’t have to lug all the food back home. We were glad that we could at least eat something within the same family as the bird known as “turkey”, and we were just glad that we had each other’s company for Thanksgiving.

No turkey? No champagne? No pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce? We didn’t care. We laughed and joked about how much less of a chance we’d get a food coma and how we were glad the ice-cold soda would help wash down the greasiness of the chicken. We joked about how much more money and time people would be spending preparing and shopping for Thanksgiving. It only took 30 minutes to have our dinner prepared for us by those that decided to work during the holiday. We were thankful for them, for the food and for being able to have each other. That day was, without a doubt, a rich memory – a golden memory.

Thanksgiving is a holiday meant to recognize the things we have, hold dear and be thankful for the opportunity to have those things, whatever they may be.

Today, I walked around the commissary and asked a few Airmen and families on base what it was about Thanksgiving that they found thankful.

According to a military spouse:
On this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for family and friends and that they’re all in good health. I’m also thankful for the fact that we’re moving closer to family in Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma in a month.”

A senior airman:
I’m thankful for my family and my career in the U.S. Air Force. I’m thankful that my family has supported me and without them I wouldn’t have all the opportunities I’ve had, and the same goes for the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force has provided opportunities for me to travel, meet new people and do awesome things.”

Another senior airmen:
I’m thankful for my family, especially my older brother, a staff sergeant – he helped me get into the Air Force and shaped me into who I am today.”

A staff sergeant:
I’m thankful for the opportunity to be able to wake up another day. Back two or three months ago, in August, I was involved in a rollover car accident. I was able to unbuckle, open the door and walk away from it. I’m thankful to God for that.”

Another staff sergeant:
I’m thankful for my family. I’m married with a son and a daughter. My daughter just turned three yesterday and my son turns four in eight days. I’m also thankful for their health. My son had health issues a few years ago, and it’s finally clearing up. We’re thankful for that, and I’m thankful that I’m not deployed during the holidays, which always makes things easier. We’re living in a very great country.”

Another staff sergeant:
I’m just thankful that my family and I are all together during the holidays, even though we’re away from family and friends. It’s sometimes difficult, but as a whole family, we’re still here, and I’m not deployed. I’m here, that’s the biggest thing. We have each other.”

Another military spouse:
I am thankful for my family and being in Germany. It is a wonderful, beautiful country and I’m also thankful that my husband can have some of his troops over for Thanksgiving so that I can feed a big family this year.”

As I listened to members of the Spangdahlem community tell me what they were thankful for, I couldn’t help but think of that one Thanksgiving dinner I had two years ago.

People here weren’t telling me that they were thankful for the money they were making or the car that they recently paid off or the diamond necklace their husband bought for them on their anniversary. People were telling me things that resonated with my own heartfelt thoughts – they were thankful for the families they had and how they were able to stay together.

My family’s more than 4,882 miles away this year. This is my first time spending it away from them, but you know what? I’m thankful. I’m thankful that I not only got to join the world’s greatest U.S. Air Force, but that it has given me the opportunity to provide for my family back home.

This year, I thought about how my life would’ve been different had it not been for the U.S. Air Force, and I’m glad to be where I am today. Yeah, it’s hard being away from family, but it’s not like I’m away from them doing something irrelevant. I signed my name on the dotted line to serve and protect my country.

And speaking of serving, I’m thankful to all those out there during this holiday serving in deployed locations around the world, away from their families just to make sure we can safely spend time with ours.

With my time in the U.S. Air Force, I’m just thankful that I now have the means to make sure my family can actually have a traditional turkey dinner for Thanksgiving instead of a fast food meal.

When people hear the word “gold,” they tend to think of riches, wealth and money.

On November 27, 2012, I learned that gold can also describe a moment, a feeling, a memory and a smile. As I celebrate this years’ Thanksgiving in Germany, it’s even more true today.

Have a golden Thanksgiving, Saber Nation.

Posted in Spangdahlem | Comments Off on Golden Thanksgiving reinforces silver lining