(Kristen Forbes is a freelance writer living in Tigard. To view her blog, visit www.krissymick.blogspot.com .)
'I know this sounds strange,' Caleb Sires writes via e-mail, confessing that what he misses most about Oregon is the rain. 'Whenever I'm driving at night and the rain kicks up, I think of all the good times that I had when it was raining . . . A lot of memories pop up.'
Sires, 26, grew up in West Linn and Tualatin, graduating from Tualatin High School in 1999. His family moved to Sherwood when he was 19; they now live in Newberg.
Sires is a third-class petty officer in the United States Navy, currently serving in Iraq. Because he is a corpsman ('the Navy term for a medic'), he serves with a Marine unit.
Sires, who was recently placed on a new training team and anticipates this will change his schedule, says until now, his typical days in Iraq have been fairly quiet.
'I would get up around 10 in the morning, go on a short run, do a small workout and then relax by reading or watching a movie, and finally stand 8 hours of watch from 4 until midnight. After that: read, check my e-mail, go to sleep and do it all again the next day.'
'Since I was in high school,' he says, 'I had always thought of joining the Coast Guard.' Also wanting to go to college and travel the world, he put this idea on hold until he was 22.
'At this time,' he confesses, 'I was on a downward spiral. I was attempting to pay cash for community college, working three minimum-wage jobs that were barely paying my school and living expenses, and I was partying way, way too much.'
Then, a friend introduced him to someone who was in the process of joining the Navy. 'All of my past ideas about being a sailor and doing something for other people resurfaced,' he said.
Learning he could receive assistance with college tuition clinched it for him: 'I started the whole process and in about a month and a half, I went from initially saying, 'Hey, this sounds like a good idea,' to getting on a plane at PDX and flying off to boot camp.'
After training, Sires was deployed to New Orleans during the height of the hurricane relief efforts. He then sailed around the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf and did more training with the Jordanian military, as well as in Djibouti and Kuwait. He's been to France, Italy, Cyprus and Dubai in the Arab Emirates.
Sires counts the humanitarian missions he's been involved with as the most rewarding aspect of serving in the military. Of his post-Hurricane Katrina mission, Sires says, 'At the time, I was working for what is called a battalion aid station. We were not very involved with the hands-on aspect of relief . . . But the couple of times that we went out into the cities to help clean up people's homes and help them begin to get their lives back after a tragedy was so rewarding.'
Sires found his next humanitarian mission, during the Lebanese and Israeli conflict last year, equally gratifying.
'Now, I never set foot on Lebanese soil,' he says. 'However, our ship would pull just off the coast of Beirut and we could see the city and the location of the Israeli bombings the night before. I was on a tactical search and recovery team and sat in the hanger bay of my ship, waiting for an American plane to go down, which luckily never happened.
'But there was one day that these Lebanese and Americans were brought to the medical department of my ship. The kids had been injured and one of them had casts on his arms. And seeing the appreciation from their mother as the medical staff cared for and played with these kids was so heartwarming.'
Although a native Oregonian, Sires is no stranger to travel. When he was 12, he moved with his parents and sister to a small island called Kosrae, in Micronesia. He moved back just in time to attend high school. Four years later, after graduating from Tualatin, he moved to Eliot, Maine for six months. He didn't enjoy New England's harsh winters and soon found himself moving again, this time to do volunteer work in Ecuador.
Throughout it all, no matter where he's been and what he's seen, Sires insists, 'I have never met any people like the ones in Oregon.'
For now, Sires communicates with his family weekly and awaits his next transfer, when he'll go to work at a naval clinic in Bangor, Wash.
And when he finishes his time in the service?
'I just hope to live an active, exciting life when I'm done,' he says.