29 May 2007
Today I ran a familiarization range for the soldiers and airmen in my
section. Because most of the staff folks don't shoot much, it is
important to keep what little weapon skills they have by doing some
routine training. We had a good smattering of folks out to brave the
heat today for some basic rifle and pistol shooting, from the steely
eyed killers with tricked out M4s and itchy trigger fingers to the
shaking sheep who were so scared at the fact that they were holding a
deadly weapon that they didn't know which way to put the ammunition in
it ("Hey! The bullets come out of THAT end so don't point it at
anyone!"). Through some repetitive drills, a little bit of yelling and
lots of mentoring, we got most of them to actually put holes in their
targets only 7 meters away. Overall it was a good experience, until the
mortars came. Now mortar fire into the IZ is pretty regular. In fact,
you can expect to be taking cover at least twice a day. Most times the
alarms go off and you don't hear the boom, but other time you hear the
boom, followed by the sound of the alarms that are suppose to tell you
the rockets are coming. Kind of backwards if you ask me. In any case,
one minute I'm assisting a class on how to transition from their rifle
to their pistol and the next minute I'm hearing the sirens and hugging
the ground, wishing I could make myself flatter. Now, I'm going to let
you in on a little bit of info I failed to mention before. It's hot
here in the Middle East. It's not "summer hot" yet, but the temps are
still about 113 at the hottest part of the day. When the sun beats down
on things, like car hoods, sides of buildings, T-walls and weapons that
you lay on the ground, they too follow the laws of thermodynamics and
get hot. Picture if you will a bunch of folks, sweating from shooting
all day in the hot sun, suddenly throwing their bodies to the cement and
gravel deck in order to protect themselves from the possibility that an
explosion is about to land near them and ruin their day. You might see
them lay still for a little bit, but the hot concrete that they are
laying on is now radiating the heat it's collected all day right back at
them. Lying there, trying to avoid incoming, I could smell Korean
"Wait a minute, that's ME cooking" I muttered as I tried to achieve
a compromise between a low profile and a careful balancing act on the
toes of my boots and my elbows in order to keep as many body parts off
the ground as I could. The "All clear" siren had not gone off yet and I
was getting warmer and warmer. I was starting to understand the plight
of bacon in a hot skillet.
"Great." I thought to myself. "I'm going to survive my first month
in theater only to be cooked to death on the ground of some rifle
range!" Eventually we got up and moved to a safer bunker, but not
before all the sweat on my uniform had dried up leaving only swirls of
white salt stains.
Interesting fact of the day: Slab side full auto M-16 lowers are very
old versions of the Army's main assault rifle. When I say old, I mean
Vietnam era old. Most of us now carry the M16A2, or the M4 carbine.
Today, from the hands of a United States Air Force pilot, I held a M16
slab sided rifle in my hands (with A2 hand guards) and was shocked that
they actually issued this weapon to him to go to war with. I guess
when we start depending on the Air Force to start shooting their rifles
well in a land war, then we're all in trouble. I told the pilot to
stick to fighting his battles in the air. He and his only slightly
perforated target agreed.
Here is what it gives me each time I try to log on.
"In accordance with MNF-I Memo 11.1, Annex F.12: The internet will not
be used to access unauthorized web pages (i.e. pornographic, gambling,
extremist, or racist websites). Playing games, conducting personal
business for financial gain, using any chat services (i.e. Yahoo/MS/AOL
Messenger, MIRC, AKO Chat, etc.) or using streaming audio/video are not
What's up with that? As far as I know, there is no porn, gambling,
extremism or racism on Blogger. I also can't play games, make money,
chat or use streaming video/audio on Blogger. It's not like I'm sitting
here all day trying to update my blog or anything. For the most part, I
type the things at night on my personal laptop and bring it into work to
upload before I even start work.
Just one more way fort "the man" to keep me down. I guess it's back to
the "email your blog in" method, which sucks because you can't put
pictures or edit what you type after you send it in. It's all good
though. I hope to get different access in the near future if they ever
move me to a permanent hooch. Rumor mill says that they will bring in
wireless access for a small fee. We'll see how that goes.
Interesting fact of the day: I hate silly firewalls that blog
everything with the word "blog" in it.
28 May 2007
I was taking the bus into work today... okay, let me clarify that since it sounds kind of weird. We live in a different base than where we work, therefore each day we “commute” to work on little busses with all of our gear on. The distance is not far and you can probably walk it when it’s cool outside, but being out in the open for no apparent reason is not wise here, so we take a bus. It’s a little bus that can hold roughly 18 soldiers or so. They are usually piloted by local nationals and the radio blurts out musak or Arabic tunes as we take the short 5 minute trip to the “office”. I just had to explain it because it sounds strange to picture us hanging out at a bus stop in body armor and weapons.
So anyway, I’m riding in the bus this morning on my way to work and I’m sitting next to a sergeant who does not work in my section, but deployed with the same unit as me. We were engaging in small talk about being in Iraq when we came to the epiphany that today marked the 1 month anniversary of being deployed overseas. It’s hard to believe that 30 days ago I landed in the desert to start the magic 365 countdown, which mean’s I’m 1/12 through this fun filled Middle Eastern vacation! And no sooner than we stopped giving each other verbal congratulations than the radio busted out with an instrumental version of the Carpenters “We’ve Only Just Begun.”
Interesting fact of the day: I hate the Carpenters today.
In other news, Brendan decided to actually post a blog entry. Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.
Today is Memorial Day. For most of the folks back home, they are enjoying a long weekend off from work or school. For some, this weekend marks the unofficial start to summer and they are at the lake or campground bringing in the warm weather by enjoying the outdoors. For others, they are riding their motorcycles through the streets of our nation's capital bringing awareness of Americans who have not returned home from combat overseas. Regardless of what you end up doing today, remember what Memorial Day is for. Today is a day to appreciate the freedom of being an American and enjoy the liberties that were bought with the sweat and blood of American soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen.
So, take a minute today and set down the watermelon wedge or the bottle of beer and remember that there are men and women, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, parents, grandparents, family, friends and loved ones who have made the conscious decision to protect those freedoms that you are enjoying today and every day in America. Many are far from home, doing what needs to be done, and they don’t ask for anything more than for you to enjoy this day of rest, to eat another slice of watermelon for them, to drink a beer for them, and whatever you do, please don’t forget them because they will not forget you, for you, and our country, are the reason they are making the sacrifices they make today.
26 May 2007
This was a picture taken of me while waiting for one of the many air flights from Kuwait to Iraq. It's your typical "angry Asian" face. The date is wrong, but the emotion is real. I had played my PSP for about 2 hours straight and the face is the result of the pain from the onset of carpel tunnel syndrome. The hours I spend behind the keyboard and mouse here isn't helping matters much. I'm in desperate need for some ergo help.
If this photo works, I might be able to go in and add pics to my previous posts! Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.
I need to buy a lottery ticket. Not only have we been free of mortar
attacks in last 48 hours (well, at least free from serious barrages),
but good fortune has arrived in B-town for two straight days making me
the luckiest Asian IRR callback in my unit (did I mention that I'm the
only Asian call back in my unit?). Yesterday was the arrival of the
much missed "world traveling duffle bags" and today was the arrival of a
large box containing love from home, twin sized. My folks, the great
and wonderful parents that they are, sent me a memory foam mattress pad
to battle the sagging excuse for a bed that I've been racking on since
my arrival here. Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have a bed as
some soldiers are sleeping in the sand, on cots or in fetal positions on
the floor of a Bradley turret somewhere in the land of no A/C. I'm
grateful for an elevated sleeping surface with moderate padding, but if
it wasn't for the scorpions and spiders around here, my yellow butt
would be sleeping on the floor, especially since my sleeping bag arrived
with my duffles. This is because the springs of my current mattress
jabbed me in the side as I slept, not to mention it gave about as much
support to my back as an oversized halter top would give to... well, you
know. Anyway, I'm happy as a clam at the prospect of a good night's
sleep. I'm not really sure what that means except for the fact that
mollusks who live under the surface of tranquil waters must be pretty
The directions say to open the vacuum packing and let it rise and "air
out" for 24-48 hours because it might have a chemical smell to it.
However, I'm throwing caution to the wind and am going to lay her down
on the bed tonight and let her take me to dream land in a way that only
her "engineered for astronaut" technology can. I'm a rebel like that!
And yes, mattress pads, like soap, are female too.
Interesting fact of the day: You spend almost a third of your life
sleeping. That's averaging about 8 hours of sleep a night. Now if I
could just increase the number of hours I sleep here during my
deployment to 12 hours a night, then the deployment will only be half as
long! Thank goodness I've got a comfy mattress pad to try that theory
out! Thanks mom and dad!
The bags are here! I read the email this morning at work that told of
the place to pick them up and didn't believe it. I showed up at the
appropriate time to get the bags out of the connex (cargo container
unit) and didn't believe it. I stood in a work line shuffling bags out
of a hot and dusty freight box car for almost an hour and STILL didn't
believe it. It wasn't until I was standing next to my 4 long lost bags
that I actually allowed myself a small grin of excitement. Now, as they
are nestled under the confines of my warping bed, I am debating about
digging the keys out of my back pack to unlock the travel locks secured
to each hasp thus allowing me access to all my worldly possessions, or
at least all that I own on this side of the world. I have decided to
hold off for a few more days as the rumor mill states that there still
exists a small chance that we will get moved into our permanent rooms in
the near future. The Room Fairy has graced some more fortunate than I
(Brendan and Kevin for starters) with rooms of their very own and I
anxiously await the scrap of paper taped to the dirty wooden door that
there is a room of my very own out there, somewhere. Until that day, I
will refrain from opening my bags, not because I don't long to reveal
their hidden contents that I've lived without for the better part of a
month, but because I don't want to repack these things again when I
move. What can I say? The heat has made me lazy.
Interesting fact of the day: A bar of Ivory soap will last exactly 1
month if used every day for a shower. I know this because the bar I
have has lasted 28 days and it only has about 2 more showers left in her
before she turns into a pile of white mush in the soap dish. Yes, I am
happy that my resupply is here. And yes, bars of soap are of the female
24 May 2007
So, after a whole mess of traveling, and some crazy stories to tell, I'm
back driving the computer at my desk at work. I just posted some of the
stuff I wrote while I was gone, although I was too tired to finish the
rest of my miandering thoughts. I didn't return to the hooch until
3:30am last night. I felt bad for my hooch mate after stumbling in the
dark like a three legged ox, but turns out that he didn't get back until
1:30am from his own travels. Spent a lot of time at BIAP where I
expected to see Brendan still stuck there, waiting for transportation
back. He was no where to be found because he returned already from his
mis-adventures. Debriefing of our trips will be discussed over
sandwiches at lunch with Kevin.
Wish I could post pictures. They say that they will have wireless
access at the hooches that won't be regulated by Uncle Sam in the next
few weeks. There is also a rumor that our bags are here and we have to
get them tonight after work. Its strange how so much can happen in just
two short days. I'll post pics when I can of Basrah. It was an...
interesting place to visit. I'll leave it at that.
I'm not quite sure how I can have 40 email messages to sort through from
being gone just two short days, but I best start cracking.
Interesting fact of the day: Soda cans (or pop cans for my Michigander
brethren) have pull tabs over here. I think the US got rid of them a
long time ago for safety reasons. I guess little kids getting tentnus
from stepping on pull tabs is the least of Iraqi concerns.
** Edit **
Here are some pictures:
British Merlin Helicopter we rode in
The entire Iraqi Navy (seriously)
Mission to head south. Only way to go is by helo and cargo plane.
Brits are running this one so we skip some unnecessary procedures.
Night flight, normal for most flights outside of the IZ now due to
choppers being hit. Walk to LZ from my hooch with my boss. Helmet,
body armor, rifle and assault pack on my persons. IBA is heavier due to
carrying basic load plus of ammo. Walk is long. Waiting area at LZ is
crowded. Missions going in and out crowd area near briefing trailer by
converted parking lot. Soldiers and civilians pass one another, barely
visible in the dim light. Traveling with a small group. Important
people in our numbers that don't wear the uniform. This is not their
first chopper ride, but their faces show apprehension. The Brits fly
Pumas. Smaller than our Blackhawks, but versatile. We wait on the side
of the tarmac in darkness. Briefing says that they are breaking us up
into 3 different birds. We split up accordingly and watch other helos
come in and pick up their passengers. A Russian made HIP, some small
Defenders and a sortie of Blackhawks. The helos come in low and with
lights out. Pilots fly with goggles that allow them to see what we
can't. Rotor wash pushes us and our bags around like tumbleweeds.
Dusty and hot. Like being hit by a giant hair dryer. Loud, but sound
muffled by yellow foamy earplugs. Pumas sound different than American
helos. They are heard before they are seen. First one down, then
number two. Bird number one is mine. I escort my half of team to
Puma's door. Gunner/crew chief is a young Brit, no more than 19 or 20.
Can only see his eyes from back glow of night vision goggles on his
helmet. Takes our bags and stows them in back. Helps civilians first,
then soldiers. Don't spend a lot of time on the ground. Security
conscious. Take off. Glow from the Embassy lights below fall away, but
not that far. Low flight path. Not a leisure flight. Combat flying
banks us left and right, up and down. Suddenly, Puma banking hard to
right. Staring at ground below from my seat. Flash! Pop! Flares
launch from either side of the open door. Someone in back yelps.
Gunner is calm. Normal procedures to avoid ground fire. More hard
turns. Blades dig into the air with resounding thuds. Blackness ahead
disrupted by blue runway lights on horizon. Within minutes, a smooth
landing denotes first leg of mission complete. Airport is busy. Air
punctuated by sounds of jet turbines and chopper blades. Even at this
hour, uniformed personnel with reflective belts scurry about. Moved to
a tent to wait. Moved to another tent, and then another. Time to move
to airplane. Hercules, but British version. Rotors have 6 blades
instead of 4. Can carry 64 soldiers. We have less. Passengers are
mostly British soldiers. A few civilians being taxied to their next
destination. Single file to the ramp. Cargo net seats. Cramped.
Neighbor has bad BO. Trip will be an hour or so. Helmet and armor push
me down into the netting. Can't feel my rear. Smooth take off. Trying
to find comfortable position to sleep. Surrender to a restless flight.
Land at Basrah. Brit controlled. Single file to awaiting busses.
Can't take helmet off. Soldier escort informs us that mortars are
landing all around. Be careful. Terminal is a tent. Bags are
recovered. Movement by Land Rover to living area. Fort is guarded.
Perimeter is in sight, which means that we are very close to Red Zone.
Tents are dark, surrounded by earthen barriers. Hescos. It's tomorrow
already. Watch reads 3:30am. Sleeping soldiers in my tent. Find an
empty cot and remove my gear. Tired and hot, but feel much better now
without my suit of armor weighing me down. Cot is a welcome feeling.
Much better than the bed at the hooch. Above the sound of snores, sleep
is calling me. Lay down, but not for long. Sirens alert of incoming.
Twice. Not a restful night. Busy day ahead. Need to find food.
Interesting fact of the day: Brits say "cheers" instead of thank you.
I thought that was just in the movies.
23 May 2007
A day that was dedicated for recovery from traveling turned into a day of unplanned meetings. To complicate things even more, our Iraqi guests were not treated well at the location that they bedded down last night. Everything we do wrong tends to get the harmful spotlight of “international incident” shone upon it. Its important stuff, but the politics and sensitivity of it all seems way beyond my pay grade. I’m here to do a mission, albeit one that I’m not fully qualified to do. I stay in my lane which keeps me silent during most conversations. I contribute and speak of things that I am comfortable and confident talking about, all with the knowledge that some folks take what I say with much more weight that they should. I am the lowest ranking person in this group. I was almost bumped from the flight twice since more and more brass wanted to attend and protocol is to drop strap hangers from the manifest. I am looked at to provide insight on things that are at levels far beyond my experience which frustrates me. I’m trying hard to stay positive, which at times is more difficult of a fight than the one being waged against the enemy.
British people talk funny. Technically, they speak English just like us “yanks”, but when they open their mouths and spout off the Queen’s English, it takes a few minutes to process in my Americanized mind. Not only do they talk funny, but the things they say are hilarious. Sitting in a room full of British officers is like watching skit out of Monty Python or Benny Hill, except for no scantily clad women running about and no giant animated foot coming down to squash us. They are having a hard time with the insurgents in this area. I don’t think we see much of their troubles in the news since the American presence here is small, which is why I suspect that there isn’t much news about Baghdad on the BBC. The Brits have a different way of handling things. They are what we would call “soft handed”, as opposed to the American “heavy handed” policy in the north and west. This gentle tactic is one grown from a country that had to battle it’s own insurgencies and terrorism, but I’m not sure how well it’s working here.
Brits like to eat too. They have lots of breads, crackers and butter at the mess facility, and they love their sweets. They have lots of cold cuts too, even for breakfast. It’s neat to try all these new things, although I think it would be much nicer to try them in a setting where mortars aren’t falling on your head.
Interesting fact of the day: Land Rovers last forever. The Brits use them as their work horse vehicle and they are virtually indestructible, which isn’t surprising when you find these vehicles all over the world in places where there isn’t a Mr. Goodwrench for hundreds of miles. I like them so much that I’m debating about buying one when I get back, but there’s that whole “metric” thing that I’d have to get a grasp on before I do. Maybe I’ll just keep my Ford.
17 May 2007
Will I be at the pool this weekend or will I be lounging at the internet café sucking down chai lattes? No one will know (although I will probably never do either). They don't like us to talk about our movements here for obvious reasons. That is why I'll likely talk about events that have happened a few days ago instead of outlining my big plans in the future.
So, a few days ago, I went into the much talked about "red zone", or the area that is NOT under the security of the CF (coalition forces). Tactically, it wasn't a big event, but considering that I wasn't allowed to cross the street by myself until I was 12 (and technically, I have still not gotten proper permission from my parental units to cross the ocean), it was a significant milestone for me. Pictures were taken, but of course nothing that I can post and events happened, of which I cannot talk about, but by golly, I crossed over into "Indian Country" and stared at the landscape of trash and squalor that is the unprotected Iraq. It almost seems silly to even write about it, but the fact that it happened will allow this event to be checked of my Baghdad TO DO list.
Things are still very busy here. The days are long and are made to feel even longer if your major task for that day consists of sitting behind a computer. I'm hoping to find the battle rhythm, or "groove" where the days start to flow a little faster than they have lately.
Interesting fact of the day: Cottage cheese in Iraq is not what we as Westerners would technically consider cottage cheese. It's more like curdled goats milk that has a small grainy texture in a slimy cream sauce. I'm staying away from the cottage cheese.
13 May 2007
Besides being Sunday and Mother's Day, today is the 1 week mark
that I've been in Baghdad. I know that starting this early for a
countdown will do little for my morale, but knowing that I only have 51
more weeks ahead of me gives me a sense of accomplishment, even if it's
only a little bit. I have a program on my computer called the "Baghdad
Donut" which calculates how long I've been here and how long I have left
to go and graphs it on a donut to show the progress. According to
today's donut, I'm 4% through my deployment. Again, it's disheartening
to look at, yet I open it every day for some masochistic reason.
I also decided that today would be my "rest" day from working out.
6 days a week of hitting the gym should be enough to keep me in shape
and my body needs a recovery day. It all sounds good but to tell you
the truth, I just didn't want to get up and run today. The way I see
it, I worked late last night and I woke up from a restless night's sleep
on the world's most uncomfortable bed this morning so I was justified in
just blowing off the gym. Maybe I'll abandon the whole "keeping fit"
idea and try to see how much weight I can gain (like some of my
counterparts who deployed with me are consciously doing). You know, in
some Asian cultures, being fat is a sign of wealth since only the
richest individuals can afford to gourd themselves with all the food
they want. Or, I could be a sumo in training and eat 2 lbs of bacon and
two dozen eggs every day! I could work on growing multiple chins and
fat elbows! On second thought, maybe I'll just stick to my work out
plan and not turn all slothy and such.
Interesting fact of the day: "Bula" means hello in Fijian. I know this
because a) I'm reading a book about island life in the South Pacific and
b) the contract company that was hired to provide security for our base
is comprised mostly of AK wielding Fijians. They are all very friendly
and very laid back, but rumor has it that they are very fierce fighters.
Thank goodness we hired them before the insurgents did!
12 May 2007
Yesterday I put in my first 15 hour day of work. Tons o'Fun! It wouldn't have been bad if I was busy the entire time but as usual, it turned out to be a lot of waiting for other people to get their stuff done with a mad dash at the end of the day to compile it all. Believe me, I'd much rather be busy than bored, but it's frustrating to see weaknesses in organizational skills of the people I work with. Seriously, how long have you been a professional and still don't know how to operate your computer?
We did have a little excitement today in the "office". Besides the standard power outages and fending off the large shipment of girl scout cookies from entering our mouths, we had a mortar attack. Now, talking about this has me going down a road that I don't frequent. Sure I usually write about trivial things like clean workout rooms and Baskin Robbins ice cream, but the truth of the matter is that we have IED attacks, suicide bombings, small arms fire and mortar attacks every day. Those are just the facts of being in a war zone. I don't always write about the mortars that land near here because frankly our insurgent friends are pretty bad shots and they tend to hit a lot of nothing. Besides, I'm not one to highlight the bad events because it is unnecessary to make folks back home worry, and we all have enough to worry about as it is. This was just the first time that the rounds got close enough to knock things off tables and have us scramble for our body armor and helmets. For most of the folks in the shop, they simply put their gear on and went back to their computer terminals and continued doing what they were doing, almost like a scene out of M*A*S*H. A few newbies freaked a little, but nobody was hurt. The whole incident was over in about 3 minutes and we were soon back to work like normal. As far as excitement goes, I would have rather had a water balloon fight or an impromptu smashing of a piñata instead of the shelling of our base, but the bad guys don't always bring fun things to the party (which is why we don't invite them for sleep-overs).
Interesting fact of the day: Today is Mother's Day, or at least it's almost Mother's Day back in the states. Don't forget to call the lady who raised you to be the person you are today and tell her that you appreciate all the important life lessons she taught you, like donning clean underwear before you leave the house and washing behind your ears. Myself, I have quite possibly the greatest mom in the world, and if you doubt me, I'll defend her honor by challenging you to an Indian Leg Wrestling contest (you'll have to come to Iraq though as my boss won't let me leave just yet). Seriously though, tell your mom that you love her today. You'll both appreciate it.
11 May 2007
Today was my first official day off. Well, actually, I really didn't
have the day completely off. In the Iraqi culture, their Friday is
equivalent to our Sunday in that most places of work are closed for a
day of "rest". Because of this, we of the coalition forces take a half
day off since most of our Iraqi counterparts aren't around to do
business with. The odd thing about it is that we take the morning off,
reporting in around lunch time. Wouldn't it make more sense to take the
afternoon off? My guess is the policy makers are folks who like to
sleep in so we just show up at lunch and work until 8ish or so. It's
still a full day of work, but the illusion is the military doesn't work
us 24/7 and they actually give their folks some personal time to do
things like laundry, or write home to their loved ones, run errands that
they can't do during the week, or even have a nice picnic lunch outside
under the sandbag reinforced mortar awning with razor wire surrounding
it. We don't have much say in the matter. Uncle Sam is paying for this
vacation, so he gets to make the rules any way he wants. I guess it
doesn't matter much to me as it's not like I'm going to go dancing at
the embassy on salsa night nor do I have a desire to go hang out at the
MWR (morale, welfare and recreation) pool with the DOD contractors or
interpreters. If you think a farmer tan is bad, a Kevlar/body armor tan
is just plain ridiculous.
I did try something new today. Since they didn't serve breakfast at the
base, we had to fend for ourselves and try to hunt down another DFAC
serving breakfast. We strolled over to the embassy to find chow and
ended up just missing the mess hall hours. This prompted us to hit the
coffee shop in the embassy. Green Beans is a military coffee shop that
is a replica of Starbuck's in that they serve lots of foo-foo coffee and
muffins for those willing to dish out the dough for a $4 cup of coffee.
Since my compadres wanted coffee, we stopped in for breakfast. Now, I'm
not much of a coffee drinker. I'll occasionally have a cup after a big
meal or with dessert, but I'm not a regimented drinker like the folks
who can't function until they've had their daily cup of joe. The Green
Bean menu was a limited one so I opted for a vanilla chai latte, which
is basically tea with steamed milk and some vanilla flavoring. Very
yuppyish sounding, but I soon learned not to judge a drink by it's sissy
name. It turned out that the drink was pretty good. Not "I must buy
one of these every day and spend a small fortune to support my daily
chai latte habit" good, but tasty enough that I would buy one again if I
happened to be near a good coffee shop.
Interesting fact of the day: The plumbing system in Iraq is very
sufficient for their indigenous population, but is not designed for us
"westerners". In order not to stop up the toilets in the bathroom, one
has to dispose of their "used" toilet paper in a bin next to the commode
instead of actually flushing it down with the rest of their business. I
guess it's better that using rocks like some other cultures use.
To combat this new battle of the bulge that the mess hall has waged with
me and my waistline, I've been hitting the gym on the base near work for
the last three days. I've heard stories and seen pictures of other gyms
that soldiers had access to during their deployments and I was prepared
for the worse: dusty and dirty tents housing chipped and broken cast
iron weights on rusty weight bars that one has to guestimate the
poundage of, piles of cardio equipment that sit in a broken heap in the
corner, and soldiers bench pressing items like buckets of rocks and
smaller members of their squad to supplement the lack of weights. The
gym near my hooch (place where I sleep) is nestled in a bombed out
section of the Palace and is pretty shabby, which is why I try to work
out near work. For a deployment style gym, the gym near my "office" is
a pretty modern facility that would give some civilian health clubs a
run for their money in terms of cleanliness. The 4 TVs they have
scattered around air satellite TV stations such as CNN, ESPN and even an
Arabic version of MTV. Let me tell ya, nothing gets you more fired up
to do your next set of squats than seeing the Middle Eastern version of
N-Synch break'n it down in their man-jamies. The best part about the
gym is the showers. Nice, roomy, clean showers with all of the hot
water you can use (just don't let any get in your mouth or you'll be the
proud new owner of a mud-butt). Compared to the "combat showers" we
took in Kuwait and the rickety shower trailers near the hooches in the
IZ, the gym here is the lap of luxury. Best of all, it is surprisingly
under-utilized. That could be because everyone is too busy to work out,
or due to the fact that the base is filled with mostly Air Force folks
and everyone knows that they don't do PT. I'll see an occasional Marine
in their trying to bench press the weight equivalent of a VW Bug, but
for the most part, it's just me, my MP3 player, and music videos of
camels and burkas.
Interesting fact of the day: Treadmills run on power. Unlike some of
the stationary bike machines that use the motion of the user to power
the computers, treadmills have to be plugged into a power source. I
mention this because running on a treadmill with no power means you're
not going anywhere. Running on a treadmill that has power, but suddenly
stops because of the frequent power outages here, results in a humorous
display of stumbling and tripping that onlookers can laugh at. After
Brendan thoroughly entertained us yesterday with his very own rendition
of the "treadmill tap dance", I got to play the fool this morning when I
almost impaled myself on the heart-rate handles during a brown out.
Lucky for me, no one was there to notice.
Food. Without it, I'd be living in an eternal hell of a liquid diet,
and I speak from experiences when I say that ain't fun. Although not as
important as air or water, your body needs it to function. Because it
is so vital to one's existence, the military decided that they will
provide us with as much as we can eat. Gone are the days of the stingy
Ft. Benning mess server who dished out 3 miniature meetballs, no more,
no less, as if the nation was emergency rationing burger and meat
fillers. Here in the IZ, just like Kuwait, they give us the ability to
eat ourselves into oblivion with the Golden Coral style "all you can
stuff your gullet" buffet of food. It is very easy to lose track of how
much you are piling on your tray since you want to try everything, and
before you know it, your forearms are reaching muscle failure before you
can make it to an empty table to devour the mountain of viddles you've
accumulated. I'm doing my best to be responsible for my own fitness and
for the most part I try to make good choices in the food I get, but
again, Baskin Robbins has decided that they will do their part for the
war and send tubs upon tubs of real ice cream here, and the friendly
Pakistani gentleman who mans the scoops is just too generous with the
Pralines and Cream and Mint Chocolate Chip to resist. Why do they
torture us so? Why do they serve ice cream for both lunch and dinner?
Why don't they serve it for breakfast too?!! People have told me that
you'll lose weight during a deployment because wearing the body armor
all the time is like a workout in itself, but I don't think those people
had access to the sweet goodness of Baskin Robbins, for if they did,
they would have told me to wear my stretchy pants to war.
Interesting fact of the day: In Iraq, the doors are all backward. When
you enter a building or a room, the door is a "pull" instead of a
"push". This results in entertaining displays of soldiers performing
body slams into doors that cause a Three-Stooges style chain reaction of
the soldiers behind them crashing into one another.
Ahhh...the first day of work. There is nothing like starting your new
job with an impromptu conversation with the outgoing senior NCO over a
Belgian waffle on how the section you are going into has a LOT of room
for improvement. I guess that means I can't screw up things too badly,
doesn't it? The building I'm working in is pretty new which is a stark
contrast to most of the structures in the International Zone. A
majority of the palaces and towers bear the scars of bomb and mortar
attacks done by the insurgents over the past 4 years (not to mention the
damage we did back in 2003). New construction is something I haven't
seen much of in Baghdad, but that could be due to the fact that I just
can't see a lot behind the tall barriers and guard towers. The building
I'll be spending most of my time in, along with the mess hall across the
way, are both fairly modern. I have been assigned a work station
amongst a row of cheap particle board desks that barely supports a
computer monitor and keyboard on its sagging top. The working
environment is not very egro friendly (where is Rhyne when I need him?)
and only after a day of being on the computer I can feel the onset of
carpel tunnel syndrome in my wrist and forearms. Of course, the 3 hours
of playing PSP at the airport in Kuwait probably didn't help matters
much. I don't have a desk phone which isn't too bad since they have put
me in for a military cell phone. Most communication is done by cell
here and it will be nice if I get one of the fancy phones that will
allow calls back to the states. Even though I put a full day in,
getting my email set up was the only real accomplishment of the day.
Around 8 tonight I returned to my temporary room which resembles a
closet more than an actual room. In fact, it's miniscule, but not as
small as Kevin and Brendan's room. Oh sure, they have their own
bathroom, 9" satellite ready TV and micro fridge, but at least my room
has enough space for my roommate and I to stand at the same time on the
floor space not occupied by furniture. The bath and shower trailer is
about 40 yards away and while the trek is a little annoying, especially
when I've had to pee in the wee hours of the last few nights, but it's
not too bad when I think of the alternative. My new roomie, Thomas, a
fellow IRR call back, discovered that the metal his bed frame was
extruded from resembled tin foil more than steel and he posed for a
great Posturepedic add picture that I hope to post some time. Our
trailer sits in the shadow of one of Saddam's many palaces and we are
surrounded by giant Texas barriers (called T-walls) to help shield our
living quarters from the stray (or not so stray) mortar rounds that
frequent the IZ. Oddly enough, it's comforting to know that I have a
little bit of Texas keeping me safe.
Interesting fact of the day: They don't call it the Green Zone anymore.
Instead, they like to call it the International Zone, or "IZ" for short.
See, being green would mean that things are safe, and technically, there
isn't a place around here that is very "safe" in the true sense of the
Benzene. That's the smell that hits you when you step off the plane at
BIAP (Baghdad International Airport). I don't think I've ever smelled
benzene before, but everyone who has deployed here before says that is
the smell that makes them think of Iraq.
The flight from Kuwait to here was on a military aircraft designed more
for shipping mass amounts of cargo and equipment than comfortable
transportation of humans. They packed us in to makeshift rows of
modular airline seats bolted down in the cargo bay and turned on the
heat, or at least that's what it felt like. With all of our gear on, it
wasn't long before we were drenched in sweat which made this flight the
hands down winner of the worst plane ride I have ever taken in my entire
life. Because our flight landed late, we were unable to get transported
over to the holding tents to spend the night at BIAP. Instead of a
comfy army cot to rest my travel weary bones on, a picnic table became
my temporary bed for the remainder of the evening. Chow this morning
was at an Air Force facility and I have to give props where props are
due; the Air Force knows how to keep it's people plump and happy. After
a big fatty meal, we went to the staging area to retrieve our duffles
The ground transport from BIAP to our new home in the IZ was, well, it
was classified. In fact, most interesting events that happen here fall
under the umbrella of the "secret squirrel clause" that the military is
holding over us. I understand about OPSEC and all so maybe these are
stories that I'll keep to myself until one day, many moons from now, I
can sit in my rocking chair on my screened in porch and tell my
grandkids of the zany things their grandfather did in the war.
Regardless of everything, I am here and have only 359 days to go before
I return to the states.
Interesting deployment fact of the day: Light switches in Iraq are
opposite from those in the US. Up means "off" and down means "on".
This takes a little getting use to, especially if the light fixture you
are trying to turn on doesn't have a light bulb in it.
10 May 2007
week, but who's counting? I've written a few blogs, but Uncle Sam has
deemed it unlawful to use the military internet access to view or post
on most blog sites. So, I've found this work around where I can post
via email. I can't add pictures right now, but if all goes well, I'll
get personal internet access some time at the end of the month and will
be able to show what's happening. I'll go ahead and post the past
entries later, but for now, I wanted to make sure that everyone knows
that I'm here, alive, and sweating and that the countdown is well under
way. I'm 3% done with my tour!
Yeah, countdowns aren't so much fun when you have over 90% left to go.
05 May 2007
Went to the rifle range two days ago to re-zero our weapons. It was more like a open piece of desert with a few targets instead of an actual range. It was hot, and for the first time ever in my army experience, we had to call a cease fire due to the fact that there were camels on the range. I'd post pictures, but the system here is pretty slow to accept any uploads of files. I'll post them later when I get decent access.
Besides that, not much to report as we are doing a lot of waiting. If patience is a virtue, then our group should be on the short list for sainthood. Morale is a little low at times, just because things are changing so much (pack your bags, don't pack your bags, pack only one bag, now pack the little bag, make sure you have your left combat boot socks in the right pocket of your ruck sack...). It will get better soon. Life without my luggage was a curse at first, but now it's not so bad since I don't have much option on what I can and cannot pack. The bags are suppose to arrive today at our locale, but that's one of those "I'll believe it when it actually happens" type things. It has cause a lot of heartache for everyone and we blame our S4 (supply guy) for it being all screwed up. In fact, we beat up on our S4 quite a bit because he constantly drops the ball on all of our supply issues (plus he smells). Did I mention that CPT Brendan is our S4? :) Actually, he's doing a great job of rolling with the punches and he does receive a lot of uneccesary heartburn for things he can't control. The only reason I mention him is because I know he hasn't contacted his mother (which we harp on him about) and I wanted her to know that he is doing fine. He does, however, smell, which is probably due to the fact that he doesn't have any clean clothes (which is the reason why I smell too).
02 May 2007
They found our bags! They had not fallen off the truck on the way to the airport, they didn’t find them floating in the Atlantic, and they were not stolen by terrorist in an evil plot to steel our individual supplies of Gold Bond powder and beef jerky. Somehow they never made it off the plane when we landed in Kuwait and were taken back with a Marine unit stationed in California returning from theater. Now the question is how are we going to get this stuff back in time for us to show up at our next duty station? Enter our friends at Federal Express who are going to get the bags and fly them over to us in a most Ricky-Tick fashion. We won’t get them for a few days still, and most likely they will meet us in Iraq instead of here in Kuwait, but at least the days of washing my underwear in the sink are numbered. I’m looking forward to getting my stuff back. Even though I had packed two pair of running shoes in 2 of the 4 missing duffle bags, in order to be able to wear my PT uniform I had to purchase a pair of horrendously ugly, day-glow orange running shoes at the Base Exchange. I chose them not because I’m a fan of day-glow orange, but they were the only shoes they had in my size since the pickn’s are slim in the middle of no-where.
Tonight is suppose to be steak and crab night in the dining facility, or at least that’s the rumor. Now before you go thinking that life can’t be so tough for a soldier when the Army is feeding him/her a surf and turf meal, let me say that while it can be morale booster, it is often a crushing let down since the steaks are boiled and the crab legs are rubbery. It’s still better than chile-mac and dried chicken, but only slightly.
01 May 2007
In my normal life, I’m not much of a napper. There was a time back in college where sneaking in 5 minute power naps between classes was an art form only perfected by individuals who’s free time is tightly regulated. Back then, I was a self proclaimed “rack master”, trying to make up sleep throughout the day that I missed out on the night before. As school life moved onto the real world, I lost my knack to nap as most employers frown on sleeping in your cubicle between meetings, but I often longed to curl up under my desk at work and catch a few Z’s before the next teleconference.
Now, in my current situation I’ve discovered that napping, much like riding a bike, is a skill you don’t lose. I think I’ve napped more in the past 3 days than I have for the better part of the last decade. And I’m not talking short little naps because you are bored and don’t want to engage in any time consuming activities between appointments. I’m talking 2 to 3 hours of full on power racking! And, in my defense, I’m not the only one participating in this new deployment pastime. It’s not uncommon to walk into our tent and find 90% of the group sprawled out on their cots in a comma-like sleep (the other 10% are usually just getting up from a nap or about to lie down for their next installment of Slumber Fest 2007). This is no easy feat as there is a constant drone of generators around the tent, the roar of helicopters buzzing and the whipping wind of the sand storms shaking the frame of our quarters. Despite these distracters (and a few snoring folks that have followed me all the way from Benning), we forge on with our pursuit of sugarplum visions and REM dreams. I hypothesize that sleep begets sleep, or seeing other people in the horizontal siesta position makes others want lie down and doze off for just a little while, and that is why I’m napping so much, or at least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I’m not sure how napping in an air conditioned tent is suppose to get us ready for operating in the cities and deserts of Iraq, but let’s just say that we are fully trained to take on any enemy that wants to challenge us to a sleep off.