30 December 2007

Top o'da morn'n to ya

It's New Year's Eve day and I'm typing from the airport in Shannon Ireland. First time I've been here, and there's not much to see except darkness and closed duty free shops.

It's been a long frew days of travel, but the end is near. I should be back in Texas for a little R&R within the next 12 hours baring any major delays at the airports back home.

I'm anxious and I'm tired all at the same time. I want to be home and I hope that the next leg of my trip will allow me to get some sleep. We'll see.

No alcohol for us until we hit US soil, but to everyone out there, raise a glass for me and have a very Happy New Year.

24 December 2007

Christmas Eve 2007

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the FOB
Not a creature was stirring, cuz they were still doing their job
Of making presentations and creating large briefs
To be given to the boss, the CG and chief.

The stockings were hung on the file cabinets with twine
While the new guys were sulking and staring to whine
About lack of free time, TV and the cold,
We told them “Quit whining and do what you’re told!”

“We’ve been here for 8 months and have 4 more to go.
Your puny 6 month tour will get you no show
Of sympathy or tears,” we say with a glare
And look for some common sense (which is blatantly not there).

Christmas Eve in Baghdad, well, it isn’t much fun,
For there will be no enjoyment until the work is all done.
The slide shows keep growing and briefing’s a pain,
For the light in the tunnel, I suspect is a train.

But we do the best we can as we build all the tomes
While friends and family send us reminders of home
Like real Christmas trees sent from a snowy state
How it passed customs is what we debate.

And trees that are fake get their own type of bling
By creative soldiers and cans of Silly String
Instead of detecting booby traps or finding trip wires.
Safety note: Be sure not to get it too close to fire.

Knick knacks from home decorate the shelves
With army men, Snoopy, snowmen and elves.
While penguins and polar bears sing Christmas stories
The IRR Christmas pumpkin shines in all of its glory.

Boxes of treats pile up on the tables
As we stuff ourselves with cookies our belts are not able
To hold back the onslaught of goodies and food
All sent from home to get us in the Christmas mood.

Will Santa come to Iraq? Well, we surely don't know
If he'll brave the danger (and the complete lack of snow).
His sleigh better have countermeasures and pass all the tests
And Rudolph and Santa better have bullet proof vests!

Christmas away, well, it just plain stinks
There’s no family to laugh with, no eggnog to drink
And no sneaking kisses from the person you love
While standing beneath mistletoe hung from above.

But despite all the sniveling, we are all above ground
And have use of our body parts (no reason to frown)
We don’t like what we’re doing and the time is not fun
But we’ll keep doing what is asked of us until we are told we are done.

We might not make much progress or win the war today
But we’ll keep on trying so that our children can play
In a world without fear of speaking their mind or worshiping their God
Or terrorist threats and roadside bombs.

So on this Christmas Eve while you sit with the fam
Singing carols and dining on turkey or ham
Remember the soldiers, the airmen, marines,
The sailors and heros that you’ve never seen.

For they don’t need more hand sanitizer or boxes of wipes
Or expensive tins of cookies filled with holiday hype.
While these things they are all useful and give us a smile
They will soon run out after a while.

Instead send some love, a letter and some time
And give them something that doesn’t cost a dime
They just need your support for they know you are there
Where they want to be
Just send them a prayer.

Support those who fight so you don’t have to stress
About ever losing the freedoms that you possess.
They sacrifice so much for all the right reasons
Which is, after all, the spirit of the Christmas season.

Maybe one day we’ll have peace, but until then,
We are blessed to have soldiers to protect us again and again.
I've got a few days go before I see my family and friends
And I will miss spending this Christmas with all of them.

That's okay, because I will see them all in a few days,
While I try to make up for the time that I've been away.
And as go back to my trailer with dreams of a Christmas white,
I wish a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Merry Christmas everyone.

12 December 2007

Christmas Pumpkin

It’s Christmas time and you know what that means? It’s time to decorate the Christmas Pumpkin! Yippee! I remember when I was just knee high to a grasshopper anxiously waiting for the month of December so I could break out the knives and scoops and decorate my festive pumpkin. It was always a great tradition and I honored it this year by carving the IRR patch in it. I know I’m not home for Christmas, but having my holiday pumpkin makes me feel like the Christmas Spirit has found me in Iraq.

Okay, so this is merely the product of my ignorance and laziness; ignorance because when my work sent me this foam pumpkin in my Halloween box I didn’t know you could carve and laziness because even after I had the knowledge that you could cut into it, I didn’t do anything with it until this last week (6 weeks after Halloween). I can’t take too much credit for the design as Tom actually had the idea of putting the IRR patch on it and he made the template and Stacey provided the flickering LED lamp that sits inside of it. I simply put pen knife to foam and put the Santa hat on it. It sits next to my fiber optic Christmas tree on my desk along with a myriad of cards and knick-knacks to help me get into the spirit of the holidays. Part of me just wants to forget that it is Christmas and just skip this year because I’m not home. But that part conflicts with the part of me that enjoys Christmas. So, since I can’t string lights up around my house and trim the tree in the window, I will clutter my desk with paper snowmen and bendable Santas and try to forget that I’m deployed.

11 December 2007

Plans and B2

My job was not the only one to change back in October. Both Brendan and Kevin were “reorganized” into what we will call the planning section. How ironic that the unit operated for the better part of 7 months with no such segment, which begs the question, what was our plan for all this time? They are now responsible for developing the strategy that will win the war, or at least the war for our section. It sounds like a tough job with grueling hours of writing operations orders and attending marathon long meetings, but they seem happy with this new situation. This new found cheer could be a result of the new leadership they are under or because they now have a mission to focus on instead of playing firemen and putting out the multiple helmet blazes (most of which were created by their old supervisor) that plagued their daily lives. Most likely the lion's share of their happiness is derived from their new living conditions in which they have moved into a palatial room complete with internet and cable TV. I could be envious or jealous, but if anybody deserved a better room, it was them.

I think I’ve written before about change and how different folks deal with it here. In Brendan and Kevin’s case, their change was for the better as they have lived in the equivalent of a lawnmower shed for the better part of 7 months. And to think we were all jealous that they had a “wet trailer”, or trailer with a shower and toilet, before any of us did. For the most part I look favorably on change, but in some cases, it’s nice to have something familiar or something/someone you can count on. A few months back, it was nice to get a break from the regular shelling we received (i.e. change was good), but now that the shelling has reduced, the norm are days without the once familiar booms of the bad guys and we now dislike even more the infrequent occasions that we have to scurry into a bunker (i.e. change is bad). The Captain Mafia use to eat together all the time, but our jobs, leave, sleep and other factors have kept us from overtaking a table or two in the chow hall and sharing a meal (and gossip). So, while I do enjoy change, I’ve come to learn that there are times when it’s nice to have familiarity you can count on to get through the day.

I don’t have much to report for things I’ve experienced or have done lately, so instead I’ll post some pictures for Brendan’s family as he never updates his blog.

Brendan complains that I only get pictures of him at his desk, so this was one on the bus.

Brendan likes to do crossword puzzles...

...mortar attacks do not stop his desire to do crosswords...

...and, he hates work.

07 December 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Things are looking a lot more festive around here as people decorate their areas with little reminders of the holiday season. There are groves of tinsel clad mini Christmas trees throughout the building and stockings are hung at every empty vertical surface. There is one general officer in our building who has a full on holiday display in his office complete with twinkling lights, cardboard fireplace and stuffed dog sleeping at the hearth. The only thing it is missing are mechanical elves and a lighted lawn reindeer. It’s a mixed bag when it comes to describing how these decorations make everyone feel. Some folks really get into the spirit and break out the fake snow and Santa hats while others just shy away from any sort of reminder that they are in a war zone for Christmas instead of being back home with their families. As in typical military fashion, we keep an eye on each other to make sure we all get through the month with our sanity intact.

As for me, I just got a big box of Christmas supplies from my job (my civilian one) and they jammed it full of cool decorations. I got a fiber optic Christmas tree (a long story behind that one), some decorations, and some toys to put under the tree. Plus, they filled the box with magazines, books, and enough food to feed my entire team. The amount of food we get here can be a little crazy at times. Some of us believe that the insurgency have infiltrated the homes of our grandmothers and friends back home and are secretly sending us cookies and treats to fatten us up, thus making us easier targets.

My employer has been very supportive during this deployment and so have the folks I work with. It makes me look forward to going back in a 142 days to a job where the typical office hazard does not require me to wear body armor as part of me PPE.

My growing colleciton of knick-knacks

For those of you checking, there are only 17 more days to shop until Christmas morning. I’m not too worried about buying gifts this year as I hear there is a surplus of lead base painted toys at the local bazaar. What a bargain!

30 November 2007


What you are looking at is probably one of my biggest accomplishments here in Baghdad. It is a project I did a few weeks back that was completed on time, required only a little bit of coalition aid, was not rejected by the Iraqis and did not cost the US government a butt-load of money. It’s a paper shredder. It was broken due to some missing screws that got sucked into the bin. I had put a work order in to try and get it fixed but it was taking forever to get anyone to address it. With a little help from Tom, we disassembled it, cleaned, it, and with the assistance of some yellow duct tape, we made it work. After spending most of my days behind a computer or talking on a phone, it was good to use my hands and my engineering brain to fix something that was kaput (Stacey calls me the “Swiss Army Asian” because I like to fix stuff). I was surprised by the sense of accomplishment I received from this little 15 minute task, but it was enough to get me through the rest of the crazy work day. I just wish that I could get that same sense of achievement from helping the Iraqis here. Sure, most of the missions we have to get the Iraqis on their feet are a little more complicated than cleaning out a jammed feeder on a shredder and repositioning the control panel circuit card, but finding that good feeling of seeing the fruits of your labor in regards to helping the Iraqi government taking control of their country is not easy.

There are nuggets of accomplishment here and there that you try to hold onto in order to justify your existence as a deployed soldier. Getting a maintenance contract for a piece of Iraqi equipment that they are just going to break again and again might seem like an act in futility, but for the time that it is working, it could help them secure their borders or prevent bad stuff from getting to a place where it shouldn’t. For the most part our mission is a team effort and the little things, although they might not seem like much, contribute to the bigger mission. It’s just hard to see it that way when your nose is buried in your minute task. I try to remind myself that we are moving forward, albeit at the pace of snail with a ten pound shell.

Air Force

The Air Force has landed.

We just received a large batch of new Air Force personnel into our organization. The sad thing is that these individuals were not suppose to come here because the mission they were originally slated to fill was cancelled. The only problem is nobody told the Air Force about this new change. So, 40 individuals, with no jobs, are now being integrated into slots in our existing organization instead of just being left to go about their normal lives back in the states. It’s a shame we don’t manage our people better.

They roam around in packs gawking at the maps on the walls and staring at all of us regulars hunkered down behind our computers at our dime-store desks. The “veterans” can’t help but look at them with a mixture of contempt and apathy because most of the newbies have a 6 month rotation while the rest of us are only midway through our year long tour. I can imagine that it’s the same look given to new prisoners, although we did spare them the flaming toilet paper and lewd comments about shower activities.

It was a much different scene 215 days ago when our crew arrived. The natives were happy...no, they were ecstatic to see us because we were replacing them. This meant that they only needed to show us where the mess hall was, help us set up our email, give us their folders and do a brain dump on us before they packed up their gear for the plane ride home. It was a joyous time, which is a stark contrast to the cold welcome we’ve given this new bunch. We are glad that they are here to help, but since their arrival precludes any of us from leaving this place early, we accept the fact that our sinking ship has adopted more stowaways. I guess a positive way to view this situation is that we now have more folks to help bail.

Speaking of sinking ships, tomorrow is the Army Navy game, and while I would normally not give the game a second thought since the Black Knights haven’t performed very well in the last 11 years, my old boss has a son that is a starting line backer for the Cadets and I think I might watch and see how he does.

Beat Navy!

Go Cowboys!

Wow! I just learned that Dallas beat the Packers! I'm more of a Detroit fan myself, but when you live in the city of Cowboy Football, you can't help but adopt them (even when they battle for last place with the Lions).

So props out to the Big D for having a decent season this year.

29 November 2007


“Work” has kept me out of the writing business lately. It has consumed most of the free time I use to get so there really isn’t much to write about, so I’ll write about work.

My last team was disbanded a while back and I now fall under a new section. My new larger team deals mainly with logistical issues and, just like my previous job, I haven’t the foggiest as to what I’m doing because I have about just as much experience at being a logistician as I do as a border expert (which is none). No matter though, as I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m just a PowerPoint mercenary for hire. Given enough time I’ll figure it out... or at least I’ll try like hell. One good thing about this new team is that there are more people, so theoretically we should be able to spread the work load out a little bit. I exchanged my three lieutenant colonels and gunnery sergeant for a full bird, three light colonels, a major, and, get this, three captains. THREE! Wow! More people to do the busy work. Unfortunately, the other two captains are on leave now and I find myself as the lone target in the gaze of the field grades.

So, since there is not much to report, I’ll just post some pictures.

A while back I said I was thankful for warm sewage lines from our trailers that keep the cats and dogs warm in the absence of heat. Here is a picture of one of the huggers of the poop pipes.

And for the enjoyment of Thanksgiving, here are the decorations they put in the dining hall to put us in the holiday spirit.

Notice the bunny in the background which is suppose to be an Easter decoration.

22 November 2007

Happy Turkey Day!

Gobble Gobble everyone! Today is Thanksgiving in Iraq. Back home folks are busy...well, busy sleeping right now, but they are dreaming of juicy turkey, pounds of sweet potatoes, gobs of stuffing and plenty-o-pies. Not only is today the big Turkey Day, it also marks the anniversary of when I received my letter to get recalled back into active duty. It's hard to believe that a year ago I was on my way out the door to head to my parent's house for some deep fried turkey and cranberry sauce when I tripped over the FedEx package on my doorstep that contained my orders. I often amuse myself by thinking of possible whimsical scenarios where I would leave the envelope there and some stray dog or big gust of wind would sweep the orders away and I would be none the wiser. Oh well. What's done is done. Complaining about it won't change it, and who complains on Thanksgiving? The airing of grievances is reserved for Festivous!

In honor of the day, I have a list of a whole slew of things I am thankful for. Here are just a few of them:

I'm thankful that I've survived 207 days here without anything more serious than a few blisters and hurt feet. Some folks haven't been as lucky and I can count my blessings accordingly.

I'm thankful that I live in a bigger trailer than Brendan and Kevin. Not that a bigger trailer is better...wait, yes it is.

I'm thankful that my feet do not resemble hamburger any longer (and I've actually started running again).

I'm thankful for Styrofoam because nothing boost morale for Thanksgiving than foam tanks and ships in the mess hall for the Thanksgiving meal.

I'm thankful for the 30 something days I have left before I get to go home for my mid tour R&R

I'm thankful for the countless flying insects that, along with the zapper, provide hours of entertainment.

I'm thankful for the great officers and soldiers that I'm deployed with who have become my brothers and sisters in this ordeal.

I'm thankful for kids who send drawings that say "We love you Captain Glen!" on it.

(insert mortar attack)

I'm thankful that the insurgents are bad shots with their mortars.

I'm thankful my friends and family back home are safe.

And last, but certainly not least, I'm thankful for the family and friends who send me support and prayers that keep me sane and safe. My parents continually send me their love and Alissa keeps my spirits up to make it through another day. Without their love and compassion, I would be a shell of a man.

I did hear something during our morning Thanksgiving services that inspired me to write. The chaplain was saying that today was a day of thanks (obviously) and although we would spend a lot of time today being thankful for the good things (health, family, friends, etc), we should also take time to be thankful for the bad things. Sounds a little backward, but he put it in terms that most soldiers can relate to when he used the analogy of PT and training. Both are not meant to be easy. In fact, a good work out or a field problem will be hard, taxing both your mind and your body. But in doing these hard things you develop the muscles and skills to tackle harder events down the line.

So as I sit here in the throws of homesickness during this family centered holiday, I pause to give thanks for the hard times because they will make the good times that much better when I do get home to see the people I love.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

I'm not the most patient of turkey eaters

Interesting quote of the day:

"Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to be ingrateful, were to make a monster of the multitude: of the which we being members, should bring ourselves to be monstrous members." From Shakespeare - The Tragedy of Coriolanus.

13 November 2007

Warm sewer pipes

It’s November and autumn has arrived, officially. I say that because last night was the first time I actually turned on the heater in my trailer. As I sit in the computer lab with my skull cap on I am reminded how much of a wimp I’ve become to cold weather. I’m sure living in Texas doesn’t help matters much, but when the mercury drops below 50 at night here, I’m one cold Korean.

How do you know it’s cold in Iraq:

1. You turn off the air conditioner for the first time since you’ve been here
2. The poncho liner on your bed just isn’t cutting it
3. You look ridiculous wearing socks with your flip flops because you didn’t ever think to bring slippers to a war zone
4. Bottled water in the box outside your trailer is just as cold as the bottles in the refrigerator
5. You think of your body armor not only as protection from bullets, but as a jacket
6. The vents in your boots to let out sweat and water now let in the cold
7. You realize that the insulating properties of plywood and tin aren’t so good
8. Hot chocolate replaces orange juice during the breakfast meal
9. Ice cream isn’t as appealing as it use to be
10. The stray cats and dogs hug the sewer lines to stay warm

When my old boss was here, he use to tell me that he looked forward to the heat of summer, which we thought was a result of him being in the sun too long. Later I found out that he wasn’t so weird and that he made that statement because when he got in country in the summer of 2006 it was hotter than hell. As the year went on and the weather got cooler, he knew that it would be time for him to go home again when the sun got high and the sweat started flowing.

The days are still warm but there is something about the wind that isn’t so “hair dryer” like which makes being outside not so miserable. Our blood has thinned a little in the heat and it will take us time to get readjusted. Plus, we have “snivel gear” to keep us toasty when the sun is down which, by the way, most of us thought was a preposterous idea to be lugging thermal underwear, jackets and insulated boots into a place like Iraq. I’m glad I brought it. I’m more of a warm weather guy anyway. I am learning that I am by no means a HOT weather guy, but I prefer the warm climates over the cold ones. I think it runs in my family as my brother hasn’t worn pants since 1992. Do I miss the heat? Not really. Will I complain about the cold? Probably. Am I looking forward to going home when the weather gets hot again? Definitely!

11 November 2007


Back in my normal life, most people know that I was in the military. It could be because I talk about it from time to time or because they notice the military class ring I occasionally wear when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic, but for the most part I think it has to do with my haircut. I keep it pretty short. Folks have tried to convince me to grow it out a little in order to “civilianize” me, but to tell you the truth, I just don’t like it long. I’ve compromised at times to try and let the top grow to appease the people who have to be with me on a day to day basis who don’t want to be seen with a guy in a “high and tight”, but I’m pretty regular at getting it cut every two or three weeks whether it needs it or not. It’s the same haircut I’ve had since I was 16 years old. It has suffered through some brief “modifications” when I went through basic and got a little crazy when I didn’t cut it while hiking on the AT, but for the most part it is the same. People tease me that it’s because I still long to be in the military, as if preserving the hair style would make the transition easier to jump from civilian life back into uniform. Let me state for the record that it doesn’t.

My friends sometimes joke with me by saying “You can take the man out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the man.” It’s a saying that usually follows some good hearted teasing resulting from something very “military-like” I’ve done like saying “Roger” instead of “okay” or when I unconsciously stand at the position of attention for pictures. It bothers me when I do that because I try to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to myself, but part of me can’t just turn off an influential nine years of my life which is slowly turning into ten and a half. In the six years I was out from my first stint, I was slowly starting to get comfortable with being a civilian. I was actually surprised how quickly I re-acclimated to the disciplined environment of the military when I got thrown back in uniform in January. Sure, some things changed (the names of the regulations, some of the force structure, the uniform) but so much of it remained the same. Was it because six years wasn’t enough for me to shake it, or was it because the Army will always be the Army? I suspect a little of both.

I have now served for 301 days in the “New Army” and it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride. I’ve been blessed to again feel the joy of camaraderie that I’ve only been able to find in a military unit. I’ve also dragged myself through the emotional lows that go with doing what feels like a pretty thankless job. There are so many personal reasons for me to want to make a life out of this because it feels good to be part of something bigger than just me. Although it doesn't always feel this way in my current job here in Iraq, it feels like I’m contributing to something worthwhile, and what’s more worthwhile than freedom? Being over here has made me appreciate the military even more than I did and that’s saying a lot from a self proclaimed patriot. I reperesent the fourth generation of military men in my family and while none of them made a lifelong career out of the service, they contributed to the same cause regardless of how many years they wore the uniform. There are times when I wonder if this is what I was suppose to do with my life, especially after such a long investment in soldiering. I realize now that it is not.

I’ve become too jaded. I came this year to play the game to give it my best which I will continue to do until its done, but after the season is over for me in less than 168 days, I’m going to retire the jersey and sit on the sideline supporting the players still in the game. The military deserves the best. They don’t always get it because the lure of the corporate world looms over them and often pulls the brightest or bravest from it’s ranks. Uncle Sam thinks that just by throwing money at soldiers that they will stay in the game longer, but who can put a price on abstract things like watching your kids grow up? How much is missing someone you love for years at a time worth to you? What amount of money will compensate for the times you just weren’t there for the people you care about? No, the military needs great people and I realize that no matter how much I think I need to be part of the big green machine, the Army does not need me, or specifically, it doesn’t need people like me. I’ve become too cynical, too tired, too critical and too old. Okay, so I’m really not that old, but there are days that I truly feel beyond my years. I’ve given up a big portion of my life to the Army and I don’t regret a single minute of it. I have served with some truly awesome people who have done extraordinary things both inside and outside the uniform. It’s just time for me to realize that I don’t have to spend any more years with the nagging self proclaimed notion that I haven’t contributed enough. I can be a productive civilian, just like many of my friends and family. You don’t have to pick up a rifle and charge a sand dune to be a productive member of society as there are countless individuals who do extraordinary things each and every day. They help plan cities, help run computer businesses, teach or counsel kids, preach, go to school to be nurses, are physical therapists, firemen, work for defense contractors, run forests, raise money for the the disabled, help needy children and raise the future leaders of the world. I can take comfort from them in knowing that I don’t need to wear the uniform to contribute. I would be lying if I said that I won't miss it. There is always going to be a part of me that will be proud of my time in the service and of the people I’ve served with in the Army. The Marines have a saying that goes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” although I think that saying crosses the boundaries of service. I can take myself out of the Army, but I'll never be able to take the Army out of me.

Yes, I think that this is my last season. I will miss parts of this experience of being a soldier, but I look forward to the day where I will be content as a supportive Veteran like my father and his father before him, although I will most likely keep the haircut.

Today is Veterans Day. Whereas Memorial Day is in honor of all those who have fallen while in service to their country, Veterans Day is more of a celebration of the living Veterans who did their part to fight for a cause greater than themselves. I am grateful to know many of them and privileged to have served along side them in both peace and war. I want to tell them and all those who went before us that I appreciate their service and sacrifices (both past and present) to our great country.

Thank you.

Happy Veterans Day and do your part by thanking a Vet today.

Interesting fact of the day:

Veterans Day was born from Armistice Day which signified the end of “The Great War”, or World War 1. Although the official end of the war was marked by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 19 June 1919, the actual fighting ended seven months earlier when German and American forces agreed to cease fire. This is why Veterans Day is celebrated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each and every year.

09 November 2007


Let me propose to you a situation. Let’s say that today someone came up to you and said that they were going to give you a horse. “What?” you ask. A horse. It’s a large quadruped herbivore domesticated for various uses such as riding or pulling wagons and farm equipment, but that’s beside the point. Someone wants to give you a horse. Not a race horse to bet on at the track or fancy Clydesdale to pull beer wagons around, just a regular horse. Now, never mind the fact that you live in a 2 bedroom apartment in the city with no yard and the absense of an inner city horse stable near your domicile. What are you going to do with this horse? Would you turn it down? How could you? Horses are very expensive and becoming an owner of one definitely puts you in a higher social status. Everyone wants a horse, right? Plus, you are getting it for free. Why would you say no?

Let’s say you accept this gift. What are you going to do with this horse? You will have to find someplace to board it because the apartment complex frowns on road apples near the pool area. You have to feed it and last I checked, they don’t sell horse feed at the local 7-11. Housing and feeding an animal of that size would have to be done in the country which will make for long trips to visit or ride the animal. That will take a lot of time out of your weekends, not to mention be a little straining on your pocketbook for the fees you’ll likely pay for boarding. What will you do if the horse gets sick? If you think vet bills for Fluffy the cat are expensive, what do you think they will be for a horse? Do you even know how to ride a horse? I’m sure you can take a few lessons, but only after you go out and buy all the saddle, bit and tack you need to do it right. Can you afford the upkeep for something like this? Did you think about any of this before you said you’d take this very generous gift?

I write about this hypothetical situation to prove a point. In our efforts to help the Iraqis in their reconstruction, we don’t do a very good job of thinking through some of the decisions we try to help them make. I see evidence of this all the time and it is frustrating that the coalition leadership refuses to take off the rose colored glasses and take a good gander at reality. We pour money, blood and time into this place to give the Iraqis conveniences that they have never asked for, everything from state of the art technology to luxury items that are only seen on satellite TV. Time and time again I see Iraqi leaders being toured around the US to see examples of how we make things work back home in hope that they will glean some information from us to take back to their country to make it better. Instead, they see some gee-wiz-bang device or piece of equipment and make the proclamation that if they had a large quantity of those things then they could single handedly take back their country and the Americans and the rest of the coalition could go home. So, we go out and buy them a freighter ship full of stuff without putting a lot of thought or research in deciding if this is what they really need, or is it something that they just want. Take a kid to any grocery store and he is going to whine that he wants the candy at the checkout line. They might scream and make a scene, or they might turn into little negotiators by making hasty promises to do their homework and not beat up their little brother if they only got the candy. Regardless, it’s the candy they are focused on and not the other food in the cart. You want to make them happy, but at some point you have to realize that they need fruits and vegetables instead of sweets and you need to teach them the values of eating right.

I sit in meeting after meeting listening to the higher brass talk a big game on how purchasing the Iraqis this or that will make everything better. I can’t and won’t give examples, although I wish I could because most are pretty humorous. It would be on par with deciding that monkeys need to eat warm meals, so you’re going to give them a microwave oven to heat up their bananas. Great idea, right? Maybe. Without a lot of patience and training, the monkeys will be happy they have something new to play with but will most likely break it if they don’t radiate themselves and their fellow monkeys first.

I’m in no way trying to make a stereotypical generalization that Iraqis are dumb like monkeys or whiny like spoiled kids. I’m trying to say that maybe we need to stop trying to decide what the Iraqis want and ask them what they need to get on their feet again and make them follow through on their plan. It is our responsibility when they come with this list of needs to really see if they’ve thought it through (which is a pretty integral part of the coach, teach and mentor mission we are suppose to be following). Have they thought about how they are going to maintain or sustain this or that? Have they developed a good plan that doesn’t include Americans buying or building more stuff for them in the future? I see way too many decision being made “for” the Iraqis with almost no input from them nor any education or training in the equation, only later to be analyzed by the next rotation of coalition who scratch their head asking “What was my predecessor thinking?”

I wonder how many times we’re going to keep throwing money and effort into this thing before someone will stop and be the voice of reason.

I’ve used one too many analogies, but here is my last (although it is nothing more than an extension of the first one):

We as Americans are generous lot, and I think that has to do with our culture and our relative wealth to the rest of the world. It is generous that we see the Iraqis walking everywhere and decide that we’d like to help them by giving them horses. The Iraqis, due to their culture, would be more than gracious to accept free horses out of respect, but they don’t know all the ins and outs of being a horse owner. Over time, this frustration will build despite our attempts to teach them how to rear these animals, but due to their culture, they would never say that that they can'thandle the task. In three years time, instead of reaching the coalition’s vision of Iraq full of happy galloping Iraqis, we’ll instead see a small shack selling horse meat kabobs that will only stay in business for a week or two at most. The Iraqis will be happy and satiated, but after that week is up, they will still be walking everywhere while contemplating when the next shipment of horse meat is from the US is coming.

06 November 2007


Nothing raises morale like combining electricity and pests.

Yes, I have lamented about the bugs here, and my cries did not fall on deaf ears for my parents sent me a gift that is worth all the sea monkeys and Slinkies that a soldier could ask for to fill in the slow spots in the deployment day. My new toy is the bug zapper!

The new sheriff in town

Don’t let it’s toy like appearance fool you. It is a death dealing device that has slain many a fly, mosquito, gnat and other unknown (and later unidentifiable) flying insect. Just a push of the button and the swing of the wrist and POP! No more bug! Flies that would normally be shooed away as an annoyance are now hunted down like prey. The sight of a flying intruder in our area brings on the battle cry of “We got one...get the zapper!” as we scamper to the drawer and retrieve the device. There are even rumors that members of the team purposely leave the outside door open to let more flies into the building in order to meet their maker at the hands of the zapper.

Although designed to kill bugs, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we end up hitting each other with this thing despite the warnings that this will hurt, and I’m not talking “snap a rubber band on your wrist” hurt. I’m talking about “knock you on your butt like you’ve just been tazzed” hurt. All I know is that I’m happy to have it here to break the monotony of the day.

We are a full week into November and things are getting busy. The increase activity is not so much a result of more requirements for us to tackle, but due to the fact that more people are leaving for their 2 week R&R leaves, it leaves the rest of us here to pick up the slack. That’s not a bad thing. I’m glad that people are getting to escape here for a short stint because that means that I will get to go on my R&R soon. To say I’m excited about being less than 60 days from seeing the people that I love is a gross understatement.

"Stay still Brendan...it's on your head."

03 November 2007


There aren’t many things to break the monotony of everyday life here so you tend to gravitate to things that are out of the norm. That’s what I did when I signed up for the DANCOM march back in the middle of October. What is a DANCOM march you ask? Well, it’s a 20km road march put on by the Danish Army (who even knew they had an army?) that is usually done in a deployed area. The briefing before the start of the march informed us that it has three purposes:

1) Road marching is a basic military skill that we all need to be proficient on (but is considered by most not to be the most “fun” thing to do on a deployment).

2) It helps to bring people from different nations and branches of service together by giving them a social outlet (similar to a volksmarch).

3) It helps to raise money for charity (although some of us had a sinking suspicion that it went to their beer fund).

In years past they marched through the IZ to some cool landmarks, but due to security, we had to do “laps”, 5 of them actually, around the embassy grounds. With over 400 participants, it was sure to be a social event. Since all of the captains I knew were smart enough not to waste their one day sleeping in on an epic trek, I ended up just meeting my old boss at the start line and hung with him and his LTC buddies for the first lap. After that, I picked up the pace and tried to finish in under my goal time of 3 hours.

Now some folks know that I like being outside, which is one of the reasons I like hiking so much. I also like the morning time because you get to witness the birth of a new day. So, a 4:30am wake up for a 12 mile walk seemed right up my alley, right? I thought so. What started out as a wonderful walk through the cool morning air turned into a hobbling limp at lap 5. The limp was a result of the growing blisters in my boots. It wasn’t until after 3 hours I stopped, collected my certificate of completion and got back to my trailer that I realized that I had did a number on the dogs because once the boots came off, they weren’t going to go back on without a fight.

This isn’t the first run in I’ve had with blisters. Back in basic I had a medic follow me around providing me a steady stream of bandages and antibiotics to fight the infection I received from a ruptured blister. I also got pulled off my short jaunt along the AT because I had not properly broken in a pair of hiking boots before I decided to go on a 150 mile trek across the Shenandoah Valley with Alissa. With all of this valuable experience, one would think that I’d learn by doing smart things like pre-taping my feet, getting smarter socks and maybe even doing a few shorter walks to toughen up my feet. However, that is assuming that I’m not stubborn or hard headed (which would not be an accurate assumption).

So, thanks to ample amounts of drugs, tape and moleskin, I’m still mobile, although I do appear to be hobbling around like a gimp. I refuse to wear the “soft shoe” profile because there is no better way to stick out as the weak target in the herd of digital camouflage than donning a pair of bright white/blue running shoes. I switched to my Danner boots which are unauthorized to wear due to their sneaker like appearance, but they are less conspicuous.

Despite my temporary handicap brought about by my stupidity, morale is much better than it has been in a long time. I got to go for a walk during my favorite part of the day, talk to some awesome people (one of which was my girlfriend via cell phone) and got some much needed endurance exercise in. I feel like a new man... with used feet.

Starting at the crack of dawn
T-Walls and razor wire don't make for great views
One of the many palaces
A bombed out palace on our route
Ahhh... the end

31 October 2007

Happy Halloween

Happy Halloween everyone!

I have this tradition when I pass out candy at home. I load up the largest bowl I have in my inventory with candy and treats in preparation for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters that would parade through my neighborhood. When the doorbell rang or if there was scurrying outside my door, I would open the door really fast to see the kids in their outfits and give them handfuls of whatever pre-wrapped confectionary that I happen to have purchased the week prior. None of this “one miniature Snicker for the Ninja Turtle,” or “one individually wrapped Twizzler for the mini Mr. T.,” crap that I use to get as a kid. And if the kids have a real good outfit that shows they took some creative thinking to put together, I give them gobs of candy. This theory backfires sometimes because I once filled a small child’s plastic pumpkin to the top with candy because of her costume was that great. Instead of smiling or saying thank you, she looked up at her mom, gave the saddest little frown I’ve ever seen and cried, “Does this mean I have to go home now that my basket is full?”

Another Halloween I was recovering from an injury so my mobility to the front door was a little hampered. So, I just set myself up in a chair and when someone would open the door for me, I would just throw candy at the kids to see if I could get it in their bags or buckets. This bit of fun only lasted for a sortie or two as the kids tended to fight their way into the house to get the pieces that were deflected to the floor of the entryway. Fun to watch, but frowned at by parents with little tykes who could have been trampled by the candy grubbing stampede.

I also put a few cans of lima beans and pinto beans by the side of the door for kids who are old enough to shave or the ones who come begging for food without even trying to put on a costume.

This is a lot of reminiscing of being home right now and really doesn’t address what I’m doing here. Reason for that is we really aren’t doing anything different. We had a pumpkin carving contest and one of the generals passed out candy to the directors in our unit, but that’s about it. We do have fun with one of those motion sensor bowls that has a hand in it that moves when you try to take something from it’s clutches. It’s something I think everyone back in the states have owned or seen in the displays at the local grocery store. Lucky for us the Iraqis that work in our building are not familiar with these contraptions and it is funny to see them get spooked by the phantom claw that tries to catch their hands. It provides almost hours of enjoyment. And, just to up the bid for craziest Halloween in Iraq, Chris was locked in a duel to the masticating death in an M&M eating contest with a civilian in his section. Yes folks, after staving off diabetic shock and potential lock-jaw, he managed to down 7 bags of M&Ms in 6 minutes without puking them up. Ladies and gentlemen, let it be known that he is the person that will win this war.

Not only is it another holiday down, but it’s also another month of this deployment behind me. The more behind me means the fewer are in front of me.

The victor of the M&M eating contest

The pumpkin has done a lot of work here

This is the result of the combination of boredom and pipe cleaners

Yes, this is Rhino and he has not destroyed this pumpkin...yet

Pumpkin carving contest at the DFAC

27 October 2007


13.1 Miles is half of a marathon
2 Quarts is half of a gallon of milk
Fifty Cents is a rapper, and also half of a dollar

What's the point? Today is the half-way mark for the deployment, or more specifically, today is the half way mark for what is commonly called "boots on ground". For those of us who have a one year commitment to the cause, this is our midway point. That would be 182.5 days out of 365. There are plenty of active duty folks who are playing the not so fun 15 month game, but there are also tons of others who get to do the whole six month “mini-deployment” schedule. If I was one of the lucky Air Force or Marines fortunate enough to get a gig like that, I'd be packing my bags and getting on a plane today. What's even more disheartening is that there are short-tour people who arrived after me and will leave before me. No matter. As long as we all go home in one piece, then life is good.

So, let’s recap the last 6 months of this fun filled deployment. It started out with a short lay over in Kuwait where we dodged sand storms, shot at camels (not on purpose), and acclimated (which is a fancy word for sweating your rear off). From there, we took a not so enjoyable plane ride up to Baghdad and were dropped off at the abandoned soccer field of our FOB (which was just cratered prior to us arriving by bad guy incoming rockets). We spent the next month or so dodging mortar barrages, learning our jobs, and if our sweat glands didn’t learn how to acclimate in Kuwait, they got a crash course in how to work double-time here in Baghdad. I made some trips out and about which earned me the role of designated driver and makeshift PSD (personal security detail) for the myriad of field grade officers in my team. And because someone saw that my rifle looked different from everyone else’s, they made me the quick reaction force commander to somehow defend the fort less we get run over by insurgents (lucky me). I made a few trips along the way to the borders, from the south near the gulf, to the west, and to the north west. I’ve chucked rocks (and cats) into Syria, snapped pictures of Iran from a helicopter and have even peed in the Persian Gulf. I’ve ridden in every form of utility rotary aircraft here (save the Osprey because it’s too new) and I’ve done more convoys than I can shake a stick at. I’ve spent a total of 26 days sleeping outside the “wire”, although 7 of them were for my pass. I’ve made friends with 1 dog, 2 cats, 1 mouse, a lizard, and countless blood thirsty mosquitoes. I’ve lived in two different trailers, had two different room mates, and have spent more time in body armor and in a bunker than I would have liked. I’ve eaten Pizza Hut in Qatar, real eggs in Rabea’a (I can only assume that they were from a chicken), had meals with the Iraqis in Baghdad (still alive too), and have most likely consumed a five gallon tub of Baskin Robin’s ice cream by myself over the course of my stint here. I’ve run over 275 miles (on average) on the treadmill and running track, lost 10 lbs of blubber, and gained 10 lbs of ice cream. I’ve received more boxes than I can count, enough letters to fill a boot box, and have written over 96 blog entries.

I’ve come a long way, and like I wrote before, today is the day I summit the mountain of this deployment. From here I can take a good look at the past six months and see all that I’ve done to get me where I am today. I can also gaze wantonly on the completion of my deployment that lies at the end of the downward path in front of me. This makes me ecstatic, especially when I know that my mid tour leave is only 2 months away.

So, if well begun is half done, then half way done is pretty sweet.

Morale isn't as low as it was, but still low

As a wee lad growing up in Detroit, I remember my grandmother telling me the old adage, “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” It’s a wise saying that was probably made up by some poor soul who had a friend in the Army in order to politely tell that soldier that they complained too much. Regardless, it is an attempt to tell the whiners of the world that while we know things get tough and life sucks, we only want to hear about it in short spurts. If it takes longer than a commercial break to complain about something, then maybe you should wait until you can put a positive spin on it. I see too many military blogs where people just complain about their plight. Yes, it sucks, but all that bitching just makes the support structure back home worry. We will all have our share of good and bad days, but the hard thing to do is refrain from spilling the poison and wait until you can see things in a different light. I started reading some of my older blogs and found that I was getting a little more cynical lately. Things are hard here and things get tougher when there are problems at home that you are powerless to affect. Complaining about it doesn't make it all better.

I have been absent from writing lately because I didn’t have anything positive to say. Morale was low for a variety of reasons but it has significantly improved in some areas while it simultaneously got worse in others. Oh the joys of deployment. I have had a lot of support through these rough days; from members of the Mafia, from mothers of members of the Mafia, and from coworkers, friends and family back home. From packages to emails and even a letter or two, I’ve received more support than one person deserves and I will be forever grateful. Leading off with the most support are my mom and dad, or more specifically my mom. It’s not that my dad doesn’t support me, but I think it was just that my mom was hogging the computer to make sure she sent out a lot of long emails in order to get me out of my funk. Sometimes its in the form of tough love, but the important thing is that they love and support me.

I also have a wonderful girlfriend who has been an angel through all of this. Not only did she help prepare me for this difficult time, she has continued to send her love and support in what you would call an extremely difficult long distance relationship. Most people tend to focus on the folks who are actually deployed, worrying about them getting hurt or worse, but for every person in uniform over here there is someone back in the US who is struggling to keep the home fires burning until our safe return. We must not forget about these wonderful people. Alissa is one of the most wonderful people for me and it is good to know that she has family and friends nearby to get her through her own tough times. She and I have had some rough points in our history, some of which have come up lately as we approach the 6 month mark, but we are strong and we love each other and are working through things which is difficult given where we are at. She is a wonderful person and our relationship is what keeps my hope alive. Without hope, well, I would hate to imagine what life would be like without the important things like hope and dreams. I will see her and my family in about 2 months, and I can hardly describe how anxious I am for that day to come.

I don’t like airing out the details my problems in a public forum, but I can say that things are better now thanks to the support of some wonderful people. Morale is still a little low right now, but it's getting better due to the "surge" of support, hope and love I've received. I’m about to crest this deployment mountain before me and I pray that the downhill side will be easier and faster than the first part.

Thank you everyone.

22 October 2007


Morale is low today. Dare I say, it is the lowest. No witty banter, no pictures of stupid crap. Just low morale. Not much else to write besides that.

19 October 2007

Boxes and Desk

I get teased sometimes because of the mail I get. Not so much for the contents, but more for the quantity. Everyone thinks I get a ton of packages and correspondences, but what they don’t realized that I am the mail clerk for our section. This means that when I come schlepping through the building with boxes stacked up to my eyeballs and my cargo pockets stuffed with envelopes, they all aren’t all for me. However, I will admit that it does give me a boost in the popularity department.

The most recent pile o' goodies

I get a decent amount of mail thanks to some awesome parents, a great girlfriend, and the generosity of many family, friends and church groups that somehow acquired my overseas address. The amount ebbs and flows as the seasons change. The postman delivered a plethora of packages around the 4th of July containing flags and summertime items, but things slowed down a little after that with the lack of a real holiday in August and September. Now with Halloween right around the corner, we are getting the first batches of candy and pumpkin paraphernalia. Amazingly enough, some of the mini chocolate candy bars actually made it intact, although the gummy spiders didn’t fair so well as they look more like gummy blobs than scary, sugary arachnids. No matter. They all taste the same. Also, I have a veritable mountain of popcorn balls. Although I’m positive that their purpose was to bring joy to folks by consuming them, they now bring pain to the bystandards who get pelted with them (not the original intent, I’m sure).

Balls of semi-healthy snacks, or potential projectiles? I'm thinking the latter.

I do get some other cool things that end up as knick knacks on my desk. You’ve seen Gumby and Pokey proudly displayed, but there are other items like my floating basketball hoop set, my arsenal of water guns, a pool table, squish balls, gliders, Mr. Bendy, and some miniature construction equipment. Now there is even a pumpkin patch growing above my computer! All of these trinkets can make the desk seem a little cluttered and untidy, but I don’t care. The stacks of toys and pile o’ gourds are reminders of people back home who haven’t forgotten that I’m still deployed.

One of my coolest knick-knacks pushing a pistachio (send more pistachios!)

So, thank you one and all for the packages of goodies. If it wasn’t for your Costco memberships and mastery of navigating the postal customs form, my team mates would be a little slimmer (and sadder) and the Iraqis that we work with would go home empty handed.

Believe it or not, but there is actual work done at this heap o' stuff

17 October 2007


These past few days of chasing my tail at work has tired my resolve to stay positive. Couple that feeling with a comment on my last entry and I am coming to the realization that I feel more like a mouse in a maze than a soldier contributing to the rebuilding of Iraq. The high walls that both close us in and protect us from incoming also keeps me from witnessing the fruit of my daily labor. The network of red tape we navigate through to get projects complete is complicated by our cultural differences with the Iraqis and our unwillingness to let them fail at anything. What ever happened to the “teach a man to fish” cliché? I think it’s a good saying, very applicable to our mission here, but at times it feels like the brass is more concerned about showing reports of all the equipment we’ve given the Iraqi’s instead of educating a struggling government on how to procure the gear themselves. An Iraqi asking the current coalition force leadership how to make things better is much like a hungry man consulting the Long John Silvers cashier for fly rod casting techniques. We give them everything they need so they don’t let a mission fail, and the Iraqi’s know this. Instead of assuming the role of teachers and advisors, we more closely resemble the reluctant father teaching his child to ride a bike for the first time. If the child knows that someone is always going to be there to catch them if they lose their balance, then what incentive do they have to try to do it on their own? In my opinion, we need to let them fall. I’m not talking about just giving them a bike and walking away, but we need to let them get the bumps and bruises to do it on their own without depending on us to always be there to bail them out. We can give them pointers and maybe even a good shove now and then, but they need to want learn to do this on their own and make efforts to gain that independence. It’s the only way we’ll ever leave this place and not have to send our kids over here to finish the things we didn’t complete.

I have a sour attitude today that is borderline bitter, but despite my negativity, we are doing good here (take that skeptics!). It’s painfully slow and frustrating when progress is at glacial speeds, but we are making gains in areas that I’ll probably not be around here to see. In the meantime, I’ll keep scurrying about the labyrinth of “reconstruction” searching for the cheese. And when I say cheese, I’m not referring to a philosophical representation of national peace for the country of Iraq. I’m referring to the day that I depart from this place for my leave. Yes, it is short sighted and selfish, but the thought of going home, even for a little bit, is the only thing that keeps me motivated to put on my body armor each morning and trudge through another day.

Worthless fact of the day:

Did you know that Mr. T’s real name was Laurence Tureaud? He changed his name to Mr. T so that everyone would have to address him as “Mister”. I think if Clubber Lang came over to Iraq, all the kids would call him “Mee-ster T”.

16 October 2007


My arch nemesis is back…

…and this time he’s not alone. He’s brought a thousand of his closest relatives and even a few hundred friends he picked up from the garbage heap across the river. All of them are converging on the IZ with one sole purpose to their maggot born life; to fly in my ear and up my nose. Argh!

As I’ve noted before, the weather is getting cooler here, which I thought was a good thing. I think it only broke 100 degrees once or twice this last week with most days topping off around the high 90’s. There is even rumor of the high tomorrow getting to scalding 85 degrees! The milder weather has brought about a second spring here. Flowering bushes and roses, reduced to shriveled twigs by the oppressive summer heat, are now replacing their dirty browns with shades of green and are re-blooming again with the onset of autumn. Brisk mornings, singing birds and blossoming plants are all good things, right? Well, they should be. Everything would be perfect if it wasn’t for the re-emergence of the bugs. I’m now hunted at night by bloodthirsty mosquitoes and the flies spend most of the day buzzing around my head forcing us to beat each other profusely with fly swatters to keep them at bay.

So it begs the question, is it better to have bugs harassing you night and day until you lose your mind or to have 120 degree temps cook your brain inside your own helmet? I’m saying neither as I wait patiently for winter to come to Iraq. Let’s hope it come soon as I’m not sure how much longer before we graduate from plastic fly swatters to bullets.
Oh, on top of the bugs, we are seeing other critters like our friend Fival here. He lives under my desk.

Even though I’ve changed desks from one side of the isle to the other, he still makes frequent visits in hopes that I’ve dropped a pistachio or other morsel of food. I wonder if he can be trained to eat flies?

15 October 2007


Uncle Sam likes me. Not only did he treat me to an all expenses paid vacation to the sunny Middle East, but he also outfits me with a complete snazzy wardrobe to wear while I’m here and feeds me as much curry chicken, mushy ravioli and rubber lobster that my stomach can handle. Just recently he decided that I’m worthy enough for some protection around my living quarters from the mortars that get lobbed into our area now and then. I’ve been here going on 6 months and my trailer lacked any sort of protection from incoming, not even a sandbag (but I did have a cool ACU patterned blanket that was good to keep the dust and mosquitos off me). Part of this lack in protection is due to the fact that I live in a “stack” and they didn’t have a lot of barriers that reach to the height of my roof. The other reason is that they hate captains, which is why a majority of the crappy real estate is occupied by the O-3s.

I’m not quite sure why they waited this long to afford us the protection enjoyed by the other trailers on the base (both of higher and lower rank). The reason could be that we were waiting on a new force protection budget to be approved. Funny how we can spend roughly $178 a second to purchase pants and sunglasses for the Iraqi police forces but we can’t afford to emplace a $1,000 barrier to protect the trailers on our own bases. Maybe they were lacking the barriers in country. The normal barriers are called T-Walls (short for Texas Barrier) which don’t reach as high as the second floor. Maybe it’s because we passed the magic “1,000th rocket” mark and this is our consolation price for going this long without getting wacked. Whatever the real reason may be, it’s irrelevant because my trailer is now surround by thick hardened walls which makes me feel all warm inside. Funny how one can find comfort in something as simple as reinforced concrete.

I hoped that the addition of these gray fortress walls would protect my tin trailer from vibrating apart by all of the helicopters that like to fly right over the roof. Instead of making it quieter, it just makes it sound like I live in a seashell...with helicopters flying over the opening.

The placement took away my elevated view of the compound from my upper porch area, but that’s okay. I’ll exchange pretty sunsets for protection from exploding shrapnel any day of the week.

Ah, the days of unhampered views over the mortared soccer field

What's this? They're closing us in!

They installed what they like to call “Alaska Barriers” which are much higher than the T-walls. Does this mean that next bigger size will be called “Australia Barriers”?

11 October 2007

Which is it?

This is the back of an envelope I received today. Although it contained a wonderful card, I was perplexed by the stickers on the envelope and the image they were trying to portray.

So, I ask you, which of the two scenarios do you think is most representative of the picture? Is it:

a) Two happy and frolicking frogs hopping around at the excitement of playing with their new friend Mrs. Ladybug


b) Two crazed amphibians spaced out on meth, stalking their next meal

I'm guessing "a", but it's open for interpretation.

08 October 2007

Welcome home Jim Spiri

I never claimed to be a writer. Just ask my EN302 professor or my AP English teacher from high school. From my ignorance of how to properly punctuate a sentence to my habitual dependence on my computer’s spell checker, I am nothing but a hack at this game of wordsmithing. Just because I type a page or two of words on a computer, it doesn’t give me the credentials to be a writer.

This fact does not stop me from writing though.

My blog is just a venue to tell of my experiences here in Iraq. I created it for my family and friends and it focuses on my day to day happenings from my point of view which is why it’s closer to a journal than to any sort of real journalism. It has the smell of a voyeuristic diary with a smidgen of sarcasm for good measure, but there are people out there who tell the story of Iraq with much better flavor than me.

I’ve come across some good writers in my surfing of the web and I’ve highlighted them in the past. Check out the right side of this page and you’ll see the links to a few of their sites. Most are of fellow IRR officers I know or of friends back home. Two of note are Michael Yon and Jim Spiri. I read Mr. Yon’s articles a long time ago and supported his style of journalism because it focused on events that were not in the mainstream news. Two months ago I started reading the Philadelphia Newspaper site featuring Mr. Jim Spiri.

I first mentioned Jim back in August when I met him on one of my border visits. Standing outside a kitchen tent in the light of a sun setting over Syria, we swapped stories of our experiences and why we were in the middle of nowhere. He was a contractor helping with air movement in Kuwait and I was an IRR call back up from the IZ visiting the port we were standing in. Both the IZ and Kuwait were a long ways away from northern Iraq, so we took a minute to explain what we were doing there. I was informed that he was no longer a contractor but was traveling Iraq, collecting stories and taking pictures and documenting them in a blog on philly.com. It wasn’t until I returned to the IZ that I could start reading his entries and I saw that his stories portrayed a realism not seen in other news mediums. I passed the word out to my family and friends about this man on a mission and they soon followed me in tracking his progress across the country. Jim and his camera, a Nikon that was replaced 3 times during his time in the desert, followed soldiers and marines doing their day to day missions all over Iraq. From maintaining a fleet of unmanned drone aircraft to walking the beat in Fallujah, he has done an exemplary job of recording the lives and missions of the military forces in country. This is important because the people back home don’t get to see a lot of what is going on here, with the exception of the aftermath of a car-bomb in Baghdad or some important general pontificating about when they think we’ll start sending troops home. And the best part about it is that Jim wasn’t a paid journalist trying to gain any particular fame nor was he tied to the constraints of a finicky editor more concerned about selling papers than relaying the real stories over here. He didn’t go hunting for body counts to plaster on headlines nor did he seek to document smoldering battle damage that streams every half hour on the national news channels. He focused on the soldiers, the marines, the members of the military who do their difficult jobs, day in and day out, and that made him special. Read Jim’s blog and you’ll understand that he is a husband, a father, and more importantly, he is a patriot.

The reason I mention Jim is because his mission is now over. He returned to his home in New Mexico and is anxiously waiting for his wife (also deployed as a contractor) to return home. Because his travels are over, he will probably not write much more as he gets on with his normal life in the “real world”. However, if you have the time, you ought to check out his site and feel his Iraq experience through his eyes as he tells the tales of all of us over here. He can do this because he walked among us on the patrols, fought the complexities of air-movement like we do on a daily basis, shared a plastic tray of mystery food in the chow halls next to us and experienced the struggle and danger by our side. He might not have been wearing a uniform when I met him, but as far as I’m concerned, he’s one of us.

Welcome home Jim. God speed to your family, Candi and Jimmy, in returning home safely.

05 October 2007


It's 5 am on a Saturday morning here in Iraq and I'm listening to the sound of rain on the tin roof of the internet trailer. I can't even remember the last time I heard rain. It's amazing. I apologize for not having more to write about it, but I'm just a little giddy about this experience and I want to enjoy it.

Okay, so it only lasted for 2 minutes, but it was nice to hear for the short time that it lasted.

03 October 2007

Man in the Moon

Some folks have asked me why I added the “moon cycle” thing to my blog page. Maybe a better question would be why wouldn’t I put the cycle of the moon on my website? The moon is cool! In fact, it's the coolest! Vampires change under it, witches chant spells in its light, werewolves howl at it, and that’s just a small sample of only the Halloween appropriate coolness! Seriously, I’ve always liked the moon, the stars and space in general. The fascination with the night sky started with my childhood dream of growing up to be an astronaut and progressed after my 5th grade teacher taught me where to find the big dipper (along with the lattice method of multiplication and how to keep score in bowling). Little did I know that my dreams of walking on the moon would end at the tender age of 21 when a doctor informed me that my eyes weren’t good enough to be a pilot thereby squashing my future as a shuttle operator. With my hopes of spending time in Houston, eating freeze dried ice cream, and wearing those fancy space diapers that all the cool astronauts seem to be wearing in the news now a days dashed upon the rocks of disparity over my lack of perfect vision, I never let it ruin my fascination with the stars and the moon. Here are some cool facts about our nearest celestial body:

1. The moon was worshiped in many cultures and was known as the symbol of various deities to include Artemis (Greek moon goddess), Soma (Hindu moon god), Mawu (African moon goddess) and Khons (Egyptian moon god). And no, the “Man in the Moon” is not a god.

2. The moon is one quarter the diameter of earth which is a lot of green cheese!

3. The moon takes 27.3 days to cycle through all of its phases, which is about once a month. That means I only have 7.5 moon cycles to go until I'm done with this deployment.

4. The gravitational pull of the moon causes the changes in our ocean tides, but seeing as the nearest ocean is many miles from here in the Persian Gulf, I won't be seeing tides or waves any time soon. Besides, Iraqi's don't surf.

5. The moon is 280,000 miles away from the earth, which is just slightly farther than Iraq is from Texas (but only slightly).

6. Gravity on the surface of the moon is one sixth of what it is here on earth, which means that I could carry all of my gear and NOT get plantar faciitis there.

7. The temperature on the sunny side of the moon’s surface is 243 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about equivalent to a typical summer morning in Baghdad.

8. The moon is about 4.6 billion years old (only a little bit older than my gray hair makes me feel some days).

9. At a rate of 3.8 centimeters a year, the moon is slowly pulling away from the earth’s orbit. I wonder if I slept for an extra 3.8 minutes a day if I could just sleep through the last part of my deployment once I return from leave?

10. And finally, the moon travels at 2,300 miles per hour around the earth. That means if I could fly a plane as fast as the moon, I’d be home in about 2 and a half hours.

These are all great and interesting facts but none of them are the reason I posted the phases of the moon on my blog. With the days getting shorter here, I wake up in the morning and return to my trailer in the dark allowing me to see the moon quite regularly, except under the inky black night of a “new moon”. I use the moon phases to help me gauge how much longer I have to go here in lovely Iraq, kind of like how the American Indians and many other past cultures told time. As the moon cycles through it’s phases, I count the number of full moons and crescent moons I have gone through as a way of measuring my progress here. Oh sure, I could look at a calendar like normal folks, but I like answering the question of “how long until you take your leave?” with “I have many moons to go.”

Lastly, the moon is the only real physical connection I have with the people back home. Wherever I am in the world, I can look up at the night sky and see the same moon that they see which gives me a strange sort of comfort that helps when I get a little lonely over here. Just as the Man in the Moon shines his bright big smile at me, he grins the same grin to the people back home on the other side of the world. Yeah, it could be considered by some a silly interpretation of what can scientifically be explained as the normal reflection of sunlight off earth’s largest satellite, but I never claimed to be the most serious of souls in uniform here.

Interesting quote of the day:

“Gonorrhea is not in your chest!”

- a frantic response after a discussion of what could be causing the sickness of a captain who will soon be home with her husband while the rest of us here are hating life.


“We never miss a chance,
We get up and dance,

And do the Curly Shuffle.”

Ah yes. The Curly Shuffle. A song straight out of my distant past. That particular tune came out during my childhood at a time when staying up late past the 11 o’clock news to watch the Three Stooges on a Friday night was a rare treat. The comedy was simple and purely slapstick, but my brother and I would crack up while fighting to stay awake to catch all of the episodes. Frankly I’m surprised that through our childhood, neither one of us ended up blinded by getting their eyes poked out by the other.

For the past day and a half I’ve had that song stuck in my head. It’s like a bad rash that won’t go away, or more specifically, it’s like that bug they put in Checkov’s ear and bored into his brain in “Wrath of Kahn”. Anyway, I’m sure it has to do with the fact that our section is going through a “shuffle” of its own, but it could be because I’m trying to find some humor in the recent events that will most definitely turn the unit upside down. Not to get into the details of it all, but the job that I’ve worked hard at for the last 5 and a half months is going away to another section as we all go through a major reorganization at the behest of the guy in charge with the stars on his uniform. It’s not fun.

I’m not a big proponent against change. In fact, I have expressed my opinion many times before that change is a good thing. Here are some examples of good changes:

1) Change in leadership
2) Change of pace
3) Change of scenery
4) Change of menu at the chow hall
5) Change of underwear

Sometimes you need a fresh vantage point to engage with a new person in order to see a different perspective or to get out of a rut. Just because you’ve done something for 3 years or so doesn’t mean that you need to continue doing it for the sake of “that’s how it’s always been done.” Plus, change gives you the chance to start fresh by leaving your mistakes and issues in the past, paving the way to move forward and start anew with the lessons of your mistakes engrained in your brain (and maybe even on your heart). Change, however, is hard. You get so comfortable doing things a certain way or become overly confident in your understanding of the quirks and motivations of the people you deal with that it’s often difficult to entertain the thought of operating another way with relative strangers. I know that what I’m spewing here isn’t any great epiphany by any means. Ask anyone who has moved to a new place, changed a job, or adjusted to a new relationship and they will most likely agree that it wasn’t as easy as they thought it would be. You’d think we'd learn from this, but some of us don't. Despite the headache and heartache of the experiences, it doesn’t prevent us from tackling new adventures in the future. Some folks are more reluctant to change, scared to leave the comfort of their shell because they don’t know what’s around the bend or over the horizon. What they don’t know is that regardless if they find the courage to crawl out to face new experiences, change will happen with or without them.

Change here in Iraq is a good thing, but it is a headache. By throwing me and countless others into new positions under the guise of “streamlining”, it makes it hard to make a smooth transition when most of us just got into our current jobs not long ago. Plus, it takes away the small bits of job satisfaction that we struggled to gather in the 5 months we’ve been here. Projects and missions started back in May are just starting to develop and the soldiers who struggled to make these things happen will not have the fulfillment of seeing the final results of their time and effort here. Morale is low due to the uncertainty of where we’ll go and what we’ll do in this new organization. Preliminary reviews of the change doesn’t seem to make much sense either. Putting engineers in logistics roles or making infantrymen create PowerPoint slides seems counter-intuitive, but it’s the Army’s blog policy is not to bad mouth our superiors or the decisions they make. So let’s just say that things around here could be better...then again, they always could be better. In the meantime, I’ll continue holding out hope that I get picked to do a decent job after the shuffle, but then again, I really don’t care what I do for the next 6 months as long as I get to go home on time.

Funny quote of the day:

“Alright. Why did someone fork my beets?”

- an Army Captain in regards to the placement of his utensils on his food tray after leaving the table to get a beverage.