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West of the Mississippi

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Hi everyone. I want to introduce myself, my name is Trish Merrick and I work for Jennings & Rall. My work in the new midwest involves going into communities that are restructuring after the destruction and need temporary advocates that can understand what priorities will get the people I'm helping back to normal the fastest. We help with clean-up, infrastructure, we get water systems back up, deliver generators to places too far from central electrical access. This has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I'm grateful my supervisors at J&R have allowed me to diarize my experience here in Nebraska (and beyond), where I have been stationed for a few weeks so far. With IT support back in Cheyenne (hey Bobby!) I can post this blog from a place with limited cell service (it's at 30%) and zero internet capability, all due to the luxury of satellite uplink.

First things

The first things I notice when I get to a town, is the dirt. Everything is dirty, the kids, the roads, the floors and carpets of what were once gloriously clean are now foamy at times with drying mud. People sweep and they use runoff to mop what they can, but we forget how dusty the midwest is, how a light breeze coming off a farm can mean billions of particulate everywhere.

Matt and our Techie Jim Lafford select a site, usually in walking distance to town center, and build our plastic tents where we stay. Inside the main house is a cafeteria and the two shower bays, one for women one for men, segregated by a tarp wall. I immediately pick a hut for my quarters, and since there are about 20 of us, the place looks a little like a sci-fi film. The camp area has a tiny Wi-Fi network that allows us to communicate with Cheyenne. Some of us have daily conference calls with our supervisors, who by now, spend more than half of their day on teleconferences with the dozens of community upgrades underway across the Cheyenne region. I miss Cheyenne, I miss the hot food, the cold beer and the warmth of being in my bed, but this is a patriot's time and there are things to be done here.

What am I allowed to say here? My blog is part of a program, similar to embedding, there were 5 people chosen whose skills in writing were assessed, and I was one of them. The C.E.O. of Jennings&Rall wants there to be a record by example of all of our great work. I think he knows how unusual this opportunity is to listen in on the trials and experiences of a small town rebuilding after devastating losses of infrastructure. Rule: First names only. No pictures, no drawings, nothing visual. No danger. Nothing that might scare anyone can appear in this. I'm not sure what they mean but I think I understand: nothing to scare other people.

Procedure. When we get into a town (and we've been here for four days so far) we immediately begin a checklist of things to do. Since my job is to be the spokesperson, I tend to get the most work done with the checklist since people come to see me first. The first thing I offer them, if they haven't had hot water, is a shower. That usually breaks the ice. The other team members pretend to do their jobs. Matt is land expert, he deals with the farms, storage, animals, and roadway. He does his surveying after all the showers are done and the locals are more accepting. The showers DO work miracles. Matt has an assistant named Peter. Their report is done within a week or two and is sent by satellite by web to the Ravenwood center in Cheyenne, where the report is brokered to Jennings&Rall and Government areas. Jim does his report along with Sara and they drive a small vehicle from house to house, shutting down phones, closing connections to electricity, assessing the pipeline of both data and electricity. Their report takes longer, and follows the same procedure. Uplink for distribution.

After the reports have been made, we usually fly back with a military observer (Lieutenant Powers this time) who usually spends his time driving us around and saying little except things like "this locale is stable" and "that op is cold" and "cant wait to eat some golf balls," into his state of the art cell phone that seems to work everywhere. When he talks into it you usually have no warning so it seems like he's talking to himself. It used to be creepy now we all laugh. I find him up at dawn driving balls at the rising son. When he sees me he says "a hole in one." Maybe I should edit that out.

After our report is done and presented and we get to conference back in Cheyenne for a day, (home sweet home!) we come back and await the first arrivals from Cheyenne. A team of workers arrive based on our reports and they begin a month long process of rebuild and restoration. We hang around a week to make sure we didn't miss anything, then head back home and start all over...

Day 1

Nothing too strange. An unusual amount of children without parents but with the trucker lifestyle upon this place, there is no predicting what would happen this suddenly. Th children seemed resigned to never finding their parents. A lot of resentment. I have taken a liking to three sisters. After a meal I get them talking. Both parents were on the road when the attacks came. The community is overwhelmed and since they were older, gave them a free range to be alone, but the effects (and I'm not talking about radiation) are noticeable, messy, too thin, hair falling out, they're depressed sisters. We've got to cheer them up a little.

Day 3

Surveys going well. Drainage looks as good as it could be, the well water capture is key here and fully functional, they have the water, just no pumping system. A shared meal with two very old ladies north of town.

Day 4

My cellphone received a strange message, an SMS despite the fact that SMS is not really a part of the new cell service we create here, but according to Jim, I might actually be on an existing network that still runs. The three sisters are considering coming with me to the orphanage complex in Cheyenne.

Day 6

My survey is all but done. The real mystery of Nebraska is the text messages I've been getting. Jim tells me these cell phones we have are meant to be 'specialized' they have properties beyond normal cellphones. What exactly he's unsure. He's looking into the text messages and seeing if we can find this person.

Day 7

Flying to Cheyenne. AHHH HOME!! Want to get back and solve the SMS mystery though. Won't tell my supervisor, she would just tell me 'you can't save everyone, Trish.' Or can I? Jim is going to figure out how far away the text messages could be coming from. He thinks these units we have are designed only for a simplified network. I see some army personnel using them as well.

Day 8

Meetings in Cheyenne. Want to get back to our base though. Want to find the person on the other side of my phone. Jim thinks my cellphone is magical. He's such a liar. Perhaps I am just lucky. Against better judgement am bringing cigarettes and chocolate with me. It snowed today in Cheyenne, tonight we will go to the Lodge and get a little wild I hope.

Day 9

I am back on mission and have received a text message from my miracle text sender. It says their sunset was at 8:29 and I know roughly what longitude they're on.

Day 10

I talked to dispatch and requested a helicopter be sent to look for our missing texter. i gave them the longitude. they laughed at me and said they would use the bearing as a long-cut but that it couldn't be a side trip. I pleaded. My days are short here, J&R can request us home as the main convoy has reached us and will soon be setting up camp. In two days I will get the call to head out for my next assignment. I wonder where I'm going next, I wonder where my texter is? I think I know where the texter is. There are a few smoke watch towers in the general vicinity of this area on that longitude. my only hope is to convince my return pilot to bend his flight directions. let's hope i pick the right tower.

Day 12

I have her!! We found her cowering in a firewatch station. She's now back in Cheyenne and she kept whispering "You heard me!" And now she's with the three girls in the Federal Orphanage in Cheyenne. Phew. I gotta hustle to make the next assignment. Wish us luck...





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