30 July 2007


Running is on the short list of the things I enjoy doing. I should clarify...when I say running, I mean jogging. Running for competition, running from stray dogs, running to find a mortar bunker and running for the bathroom are things I do NOT enjoy. I enjoy the peacefulness of it. It’s a great way to sort things out and work through problems that toil around in my head. I made some of the biggest decisions of my life after putting a couple of miles behind me. Back home I do enter races now and then, but I do so for the challenge to beat the clock or my personal record for that distance. Trying to beat the professionals and chase prize money are things I am A) not trying to do and B) can't do because deep down inside, I'm a slug. Oh sure, I run, ride my bikes, and do the outdoorsy physical stuff all the time to give people the impression that I'm a physically fit individual, but it's just a façade. I would much rather be sitting on a comfy couch or easy chair, watching TV, and letting my physique slide slowly into slothdom. Actually, that would be true but if I could only stay sedentary for more than a minute or two.

Now staying in shape in the IZ is not super difficult. We have pseudo gyms on most of the FOBs and if you can't find time in your crazy schedule to fit in a normal workout routine, there's always the "walk around in the heat with your body armor on" plan that is guaranteed to shed the pounds away. Sure, you'll decrease in tonnage, but it won't keep you fit, which is why you need to do some form of physical training (I hear they have yoga at the Embassy pool if you consider that exercise). For most sections, no one is watching over you to ensure you are doing PT. You are trusted to do this on your own because it only benefits you and your ever growing ass. Plus, wearing body armor sucks and if you aren't in shape, then it sucks even more. In an attempt to keep a certain level of fitness, I hit the gym about 6 days a week to put some miles on the treadmill and maybe lift some heavy objects to the point of exertion. When I can drag my but out of bed early enough, I'll even go for a real run near the designated areas that we are allowed to be outdoors without gear on. It's nice to be outside free of the collection of Cordura covered Kevlar that we wear all the time and although it is a small length of road that has to be repeatedly trampled over to accumulate any sort of real mileage, it's what we have. The route actually might be very beautiful if it wasn't for the T-walls (or Texas Barriers) blocking every view. You can see the frawns of the palm and date trees peaking over the top of the walls and there is a rumor that just on the other side of the barriers exists a river (oh the silly fables they tell). The dusty road is shared with other runners and a vehicle or two, but for the most part it's rarely used. In the heat of the day when the concrete walls have absorbed all of the Iraqi heat, running the route is like running through an Easy-Bake oven. There are "races" at the end of every month where you can sprint a 5K and get a t-shirt for. Last month's turnout was in the ballpark of 300 runners which is pretty good for a war zone and they ran out of shirts. I've even heard of a Baghdad Marathon, but I've yet to see any real information about it. Sure, I can knock out a 5K without much notice, but I'll need to invest a little more time into training for a 26 miler which is hard to do when you are limited to only 30 minutes a pop on the treadmill. What am I thinking? I'm not running a marathon! Maybe I've been in the heat too long?

29 July 2007


Do you want to know what the scariest sound is here?  Is it the incoming fire alarm?  Yes, it is loud and its suppose to let you know that a rocket or mortar is on the way, but for the most part you get use to it since it often is a false alarm.  How about the actual explosions themselves?  Well, you hear a lot of booms from VBIEDs and indirect fire and unless you are actually hearing shrapnel pelt your trailer or have debris falling on your head, you tend to just move away from the sound.  What about the police or ambulance sirens that sound like the whistle of incoming fire?  It was hard to distinguish at first but now the seasoned ear can discern the difference.  I'll tell you what the scariest sound is...it's the sound of silence.  That's right.  It's the "wake up from a dead sleep" silence that lets you know that the power is off and your air conditioning unit has ceased spitting out cool air.  That makes for a long, hot night, and even if you manage to get some rest it will be a miserable slumber, regardless of how tired you are.  Plus, the absence of the blower humming in one's trailer makes the helicopters sound especially loud.

Did I mention that I'm a quarter of the way done?  I did?  Good.  Did I sound excited enough about it?  I did?  That's just swell.  I just want to make sure that people don't get the wrong idea and think that I'm not looking forward to the next 9 months to go by faster. 

28 July 2007


I’m ashamed to say it, but I have a problem. Unlike other troubles, my problem has no support group or 12 step process to assist me, so it is difficult to discuss with others. There is no pill that I am aware of that will cure my condition and I am uninformed of any treatments. My problem is that I collect backpacks. Oh sure, laugh if you will, but this is serious. I have more packs than President Bush has aides (insert Team America song here) and more bags than Imelda Marcos has shoes. It started off with a blue Nike gym bag I use to carry my schoolbooks in back in junior high. It progressed to a gray/black backpack in high school, followed by a rucksack in my college years. Towards the end of my formal education, I purchased a nice green Timberland carry on bag for weekend trips around New England and if I remember correctly, I was even issued some gray luggage and a garment bag. I think the real origin of my current predicament was the purchase of an expedition size violet blue gear hauler from REI. At almost 6,000 cubic inches, I could carry all of my worldly possession, or a small pony, on by back. I sewed an American flag on the top of it and started dreaming of hiking some distant mountain range with pots and pans dangling from the various straps. Things got progressively worse after “Old Blue” as I had to purchase another backpack (in case anyone wanted to help carry my pots and pans) and a duffle bag to store the stuff that wouldn’t fit in my backpack (like food for the pony). There were stuff sacks for my sleeping bag, waterproof bags for wet-weather canoe trips, compression bags for my clothing and “dity” bags for the little stuff. After I took up biking in the mid 90’s, I purchased a CamelBak, and when I deployed to the desert (of the Texas border) I was given another CamelBak as a gift which could haul more than just water (which I now use all the time for my mountain biking adventures). Because I fit the Asian stereotype of having a lot of cameras, I in turn have a lot of bags for those cameras, not to mention the multitude of carriers I have for my other electronic possessions. There exists a picture in my photo album of the entire 10 foot length of a walk in closet in my old apartment completely lined with backpacks of various sizes and shapes. I’m not sure why I hung them all in my closet, but since I had more packs than I had collared shirts, it just made sense to put them there.

I could sit here and try to justify having all of these bags by stating that they all have a purpose... which is what I think I’ll do. Seriously, they all have a valid reason for taking up space. In fact, they are the reason I rented a bigger storage facility before I deployed. I use every single bag because each one is used for a particular mission. I might not use all of them all the time, but like a woman who has shoes for every occasion, I have a sack for every situation. Am I going to the gym and need something to carry my stanky clothes in? Got one for that. Maybe I want to pack my breakfast and lunch for work. I got a big blue soft sided cooler bag for just that. An overnight business trip to Indiana or Arizona? One of my many daypacks should suffice. How about a trip to the gardens by the lake? Well, you can’t carry a camera, tripod, two water bottles, lunch, sunscreen, glasses, a blanket, spare batteries, a multitool, car keys, first aid kit, and a Frisbee in a plastic Wal-Mart bag, can you? Oh I’m sure you could, but only if you hate your fingers so much as to cut the circulation off from their tips after carrying that load around all day. Plus, you'll look a little ghetto.

When I was activated for deployment here, I was issued 3 big green duffle bags, a 4,000 cubic inch rucksack and frame combo, and a smaller camouflaged assault bag. However, 5 bags weren’t enough for me and my trailer now holds 2 more duffle bags, a civilian 2,700 cubic inch day pack (for my civilian gear), a tricked out olive drab laptop bag (just in case you need your computer during a fire fight), a black Air Force flight bag (I don’t tell anyone that it’s an AF bag to avoid ridicule), a large parachute gear bag (not that I plan on doing a lot of jumping out of airplanes in the near future), a CamelBak backpack (with attachment pockets, of course) for my daily gear, and a hygiene bag that doesn’t carry much more than a toothbrush and a razor.

What made me start this whole rant was that I just ordered two more packs online to be shipped to me here, and I’m even debating about acquiring a third one. One is small enough to carry my laptop (to keep it separate from my sweaty gym clothes in the morning) and the other is for my essential gear when I am out on missions and don’t want to lug around my pseudo assault pack. The third one would be used to house the expensive digital camera I’m debating about buying, and you know, I’ll HAVE to purchase the camera if I have the perfect bag to put it in.

I need to stop. I have the reputation of being a “geardo”, which is the polite way of saying that I’m a person who has a lot of “stuff”. While I collect cool gadgets and things that generally make life more interesting or easier, backpacks and bags constitute the largest part of my personal inventory. I need some sort of intervention to make me see that I really don’t need all of these backpacks. I can get by with one or two and make my life less complicated and cluttered. Sure I might sacrifice the convenience of having a place to put every item I own into it’s own protective case, but I think I can survive. At the rate I’m going, I’ll have to purchase another bag just to take the bags I’ve acquired here home!

Speaking of home, today marks the one quarter mark of my deployment. That means I’m 25% done with my stay in lovely downtown Baghdad. Has it gone by fast or slow? I’m not sure. There are times when I come to the end of a week and wonder what happened to the last 7 days. Unfortunately, these times are few and are overshadowed by long days at work and the occasional bouts with homesickness. That’s okay though. On those days when I’m particularly down, I just console myself by purchasing another backpack to carry my junk around.

24 July 2007

"These are a few of my many smells"

I remember stepping off the plane a little less than three months ago and making an observation that Iraq smelled like benzene. I’d like to recant my statement about that odor and replace it with one more fitting: Iraq smells like garbage. More specifically, it smells like burning garbage. This could be due to the fact that Iraqi’s burn their trash. Due to the lack of a decent waste disposal system, this is pretty much their only option for getting rid of their garbage. Not a day goes by that you can’t see multiple pyres of black smoke rising from the horizon as residents of B-town put a match to their refuse. And it stinks. We’re not talking the semi-familiar smell of burning leaves or aroma of a brush fire; both smells far more inviting than the stench that assaults your nose here. Instead, it just downright reeks. This morning’s “smell of the day” was the acrid tang of burning tires. The air was thick with the stink thanks to the high humidity and lack of a breeze, which helped to keep the smell lingering around for most of the early morning hours. And don’t look for relief from the stench inside your trailer or in a building. The A/C units smell like dirt as they can’t clean the filters often enough to rid them of their dusty odor (hey, as long as it’s a cold odor, I’m more than happy to suffer through the smell). Its days like this that make me miss being outside in the fresh air back home.

I know that Dallas doesn’t have the cleanest air on the planet because it is a major city and all, but when compared to Baghdad, the air of Texas is a gazillion times better. I miss the smell of wisteria and Bradford Pear blossoms in the spring. I miss the smell of water from White Rock Lake when I use to run or bike around it’s shores. I even miss the fishy smell of Cedar Creek Lake that my friend Jeff and I would troll to see who was the best bass angler (I’d say it was me, but most of the time it was Dr. Jones who schooled us both). There is a park that I use to frequent with my mountain bike up in McKinney that would turn red with Indian Paint Brushes in late February. As you would climb out of the tree lined creek bed onto the old abandoned air field, the fragrance from the flowers would almost knock you off your bike. I miss those smells. Now the only reprieve I get from the reek of this place is when I’m walking by the mess hall and catch a whiff of the meal of the day. Is that curry chicken or meatloaf?

By the way, the title of this blog is a from a Dead Milkmen song. Thanks goes out to my brother for keeping me alive with music that allows me to be inspired to write these off the wall observations.

23 July 2007

Out and about

Every once in while, when we are bored or have run out of things to make PowerPoint slides of, we move outside the IZ to conduct meetings at Iraqi facilities. If they are “local” to Baghdad then the mission will be just a day trip, but will still involve a lot of planning for movement in the not-so-safe areas of town. I can’t elaborate where we go, who we talk to, or what we talk about, but I can say that each time is an educational experience.

This is a list of lessons that are not completely new to my experiences here, but they are a few of the epiphanies from my last mission:

1. “Nothing in Iraq is easy.” – This isn’t the first time I’ve said this, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be my last. Transportation to and from places will take days to plan and simple tasks will take complex coordinated efforts to finish. Just know this and you’ll be okay.

2. “Everyone in Iraq is a General.” – If you hang around long enough, can use a computer, can talk louder than most and have a good mustache, then you too can earn the rank of General in any Iraqi organization.

3. “Toys are toys are toys.” – If you happen to pull out your cell phone, camera or laptop in front of an Iraqi, they will immediately show you their equivalent, setting it next to yours and comparing the models to see who has the better gadget. I think this might be a guy thing more than a behavior exclusive to Iraqis, but I say this only be I am a “geardo” at heart.

4. “If you love your stomach, you’ll pack snacks.” – Iraqis are very generous people, and they will push food on you to show their gracious nature even when they are fully aware that if one morsel of their food just so happens to touch your lips, you will become the human equivalent of a explosive muddy fire hydrant in less than two hours after consumption. Bring some snacks (like a case of Clif bars) to keep your lower GI from staging a revolt.

You just gotta love the name of these snacks my aunt in NJ sent!

5. “Your day must be planned around your potential potty breaks.” – The bathrooms in some of these facilities aren’t much more than a hole in the ground. This set up is okay for most folks, however there are some situations (ones that require any other position besides the standing one) that require the balance of Russian gymnast to facilitate doing your business. Also, bring your own paper.

6. “All Iraqi clocks are defective.” – Know that if you tell an Iraqi that you will be someplace for a meeting, plan on having them show up an hour after you told them. The trick is to tell them that you want them there at say 10 o’clock and not show up until 11 (I’ve used this trick on friends and family back home whose clocks also operate at different speeds than the rest of us here on planet earth).

7. “Listen for the click.” – This applies to the bottle of water that the friendly Iraqi has just handed you. If you don’t hear the click of the safety seal being broken, then that fresh bottle of liquid refreshment you have in your hand is nothing more than an empty plastic water bottle that they’ve filled with tap water. Go ahead and drink it if you hate your intestines and want to punish your colon.

8. “Tea is the universal drink in every place except the US.” – Living in the south, I’ve become accustomed to having iced tea with meals when I go out. Warm tea with honey and lemon is also a drink I use when I come down with a sore throat. However, I’m still perplexed at the concept of drinking a scalding hot cup of liquid when the temperature outside is pushing 120 degrees. Alas, it’s their culture therefore you must sacrifice your tongue for the cause.

9. “Drive it like you stole it!” This is the advice the convoy commanders give to the drivers who are integrated into their serial. Also be aware that road hazards include impact craters, downed palm trees, and donkeys. Driving around this place is an experience like none I’ve ever had. You drive by your own rules, through mazes of jersey barriers and through streets not designed for your big, lumbering armored vehicle. You drive at speeds that no sane person would drive and you maneuver through troves of garbage that litters every horizontal surface of this place. I have to admit, there is a small amount of excitement one gets from driving in this manner. I’d almost classify it as fun if it wasn’t for those stupid roadside bombs. I’ve heard countless stories of people who recycled back to the states after a stint here and realized that they had to reprogram how they drove. Stateside police frown at you jumping curbs in your Toyota just because you don’t want to wait for the intersection to clear out.

10. “Iraqi Mountain Dew just isn’t the same.” – If your Iraqi host doesn’t have bottled water, you are usually safe with canned sodas. Here is an example one of a soda that was given to my group last visit.

I don’t know about you, but I usually associate things that are “cloudy” with beverages I would NOT want to drink.

21 July 2007


Iraq beat Vietnam yesterday in soccer, putting them into the semi-finals of the Asia Cup.  This meant every machine gun owning Iraqi (and almost everyone here is) took their weapon outside to spray the sky in “celebratory fire”.  Now I’m not sure if it was a strong upper wind condition or if it was just the chance way they were orienting the barrel of their rifles, but it just so happen that the IZ was pelted with falling lead for a good half hour after the game.  By the way, we also got an email message telling us not to go outside for a little while, just in case you didn’t hear the barrage of gunfire and the smashing of rounds hitting the metal sun shades.  


I don’t understand this concept of blasting at the sky when you are excited about something.  Through all the events in my life that I was happy about, none of them compelled me to grab a gun, run outside and show the world how giddy I was by shooting at the clouds.  Despite my confusion about it, I am not a stranger to this phenomenon.  Growing up in Detroit, my brother and I use to bring in the New Year by standing on the porch and banging pots and pans together.  And if you listened carefully over the racket we were making, you could hear the gun fire in the distance.  I don’t think that the shooters understand that those rounds have to come down somewhere.  Granted, most of them are small enough that they won’t kill you if you are unlucky enough to be in the intended drop zone, but they sure will hurt like hell.  


 If Korea beats Japan today, then it will be Korea facing off with Iraq.  We’ll see if my Asian brothers can hold their own against a pretty good Iraqi futbol team.  If Korea wins, I think I’ll go outside and empty a magazine or two of my own.  

19 July 2007

Random closure

The Army likes technology. We’ve got remote controlled killer planes, self loading howitzers and the smartest bombs on the planet. We like us some toys! But of all the technology the military has embraced, the most overused has to be email. They love the internet too, which is evident by the multitude of websites made for soldiers to take distant learning classes, check their electronic military personnel jacket for their recent promotion point tally or see if their rich Uncle Sam decided to pay them this month. To the Army, the internet is good, but email is king. It’s a great way to distribute information to a large group of people, especially all of the unfortunate souls whose day is spent trapped behind a computer. If the safety officer has something important to disseminate, he whips up an email and sends it out. Does the Sergeant Major have a critical update to a policy memo? He just types out a mass distro to the unit. Has the early warning radar detected incoming rounds? You guessed it... an automated email is generated. I wish I was kidding about the last part, but sadly, it’s the truth. Just in case you don’t hear the sirens, or the blaring loudspeaker, or even the explosion outside your building, you can rest assured that an electronic message will flash across your computer screen informing you that “You’ve got mail! Now go find a bunker.” Why have we become so impersonal that we use email as a communication crutch? What ever happened to face to face conversations? Of the 100 or so emails I get a day, I’d say 40% come from people who sit no more than 30 feet of my terminal. That’s 10 yards or less! And why don’t people understand that the time it takes them to create a 2 page email, they could just pick up a phone and find the answer in half the time and not contribute to their carpel tunnel causing keyboard hacking? Have we become so lazy that we rely on computer emails to tell us life saving information? Maybe this digital reminder is geared toward people so enveloped in what they working on, like checking their email or creating a slide show, that the audible warnings of imminent death fall on deaf ears.

Speaking of slide shows, if there is a second place in the competition of “terribly overused technology”, it would have to be PowerPoint. Gone are the days of briefings printed on transparencies and displayed on an overhead projector for they have been replaced by the dynamic duo of PowerPoint and Proxima. Now, instead of spending half a day gathering the information you want to brief and half an hour putting it all together, you get to spend an hour desperately compiling the data and a day or twelve putting it into a whiz bang PowerPoint presentation. It’s ironic that a program created to make briefings easier and faster just makes it easier for your boss to expect elaborate 3 dimensional stacked bar graphs derived from pivot tables and embedded streaming video with transitions. If you understood any of the last sentence, then you need to put down the mouse, turn off the machine, and go get some sun.

By the way, I just got an email telling me that they closed the FOB that I live at because it’s unsafe due to the fact they found an unexploded round (UXO) near the field by my trailer. Again, good information and a great way to get the word out, but what would have happened if I turned my computer off before I got that message and I strolled back to the FOB without that tid-bit of knowledge?

“Hey, how did you get your purple heart?”

“It was because I didn’t read my email.”

18 July 2007


When it comes to weather here in B-Town Iraq, you’ve got yourself two options: hot and sunny or hot and dusty. Yesterday a sand storm rolled in about mid day and I woke up this morning to a hazy sunrise and a coating of fine orange dust on everything. Most people have their own idea of what a sand storm is like based on what they’ve seen at the cinema. The storms of movies show billowing, dark clouds on the horizon, climbing into the sky to blot out the sun and howling dirt laden winds engulfing man and animal alike in mounds of earth and powder. This is the time when the hero and his sidekick buries themselves in the sand or cut open a taun-taun to crawl in it’s belly to survive. I could be confused about that last part.

During my brief stint in Kuwait, we were socked in a few days due to “black” road conditions caused by dust storms. The trucks could not move on the road because of the inability of the headlights to penetrate the dirty fog and we were reduced to spending the day hiding out and napping in the a/c tents. Here in Baghdad the storms aren’t as bad because we reside in a building filled city, but it still makes being outdoors miserable. Imagine walking through a really foggy day in Maine (only hotter) or strolling downwind from a huge wildfire (but there are no trees). It’s still light out, but visibility is low and the air has a taste to it. In a Baghdad sand storm, the air tastes like you’ve just licked the top of your dusty TV, unless of course you’re one of those compulsive duster types in which case you would only be left with the tang of plastic after frenching your television. In any case, your eyes feel like your eyelids are made out of a luffa, your chest feels heavy as you try to breath in the thick air and if you chose to breath through your nose, well, be prepared for some serious booger action going on in your snout. And contrary to what people think, there really isn’t a lot of actual sand in a sand storm. Instead, it closely resembles dirty, orange baby powder and it coats everything (and I mean EVERYTHING). Even the inside of our trailers get a fine layer of dust which really isn’t surprising since the high quality of craftsmanship that went into building them failed to notice the 2 inch gap around the door. It’s not enough to kill a Dustbuster, but enough to strain any electrical components that you happen to have left out in the open. Transportation by aircraft is hard (not undoable, but just more difficult), communications get a little iffy, and you’ll spend some substantial personal hygiene time cleaning out your ears. Not fun.

It isn’t all bad as there are some pretty decent benefits to the obscured sky and hacking cough. Because the sun is blotted out, the temps typically hover around the low 100s for the day of the storm instead of topping out at the usual 120. The daylight also last a little longer which is great for the folks who work late and normally have to trudge home in the dark. And the big plus is the bad guys can’t see the tower that they use as a target reference point to shoot rockets towards my hooch. Two thumbs up there! So in the big scheme of things, I’ll happily exchange the irritated reverse raccoon eyes and dry throat for the modified “armored turtle” position I take on the floor of my trailer on clear days during incoming barrages. Overall, I think it’s a fair trade off.

17 July 2007

Cat Herding

Missions change all the time here. Trying to coordinate them and keep track of who is going where is like herding cats. Almost on a daily basis we make numerous phone calls, send countless emails and arrange convoys of trucks for transportation to this place or that place just so that we can get Iraqis and coalition forces to talk to one another. We attempt to use things like video teleconferences (VTC) or phone teleconferences to avoid a lot of unnecessary travel, but nothing replaces face to face interaction, especially in a culture where your word is more important than your signature.

Planning meetings in Iraq is very similar to planning a family reunion. First, you have to find a date. It has to be a time that you’ll get the best turn out and won’t interfere with Uncle Tony’s back waxing our your nephew's trombone recital. Then you have to find a place to have it, making sure that it is available on the date you want (more importantly, that it will accommodate your rowdy relatives). Then comes the food. Are you catering this thing, or is Aunt Ethel bringing her famous apple ambrosia? Then, you send out invitations and wait for RSVPs, hoping that your family knows what those initials stand for. After everyone has responded, you focus on transportation and lodging. Will your cousin from Po-Dunk, Idaho bring the family in their 1974 Winnebago? Who will house your crazy sister and her flavor of the week companion? Then, when everyone gets to the event, what activities do you have to keep the relatives from just getting drunk and screaming at each other? Horse shoes? Croquet? Lawn Jarts? Maybe you ought to find some activity that does not involve potential weapons.

Now, to give it an Iraqi flavor, let’s complicate the date by adding a thousand other commitments. Can’t do it this day because General So-n-So has a briefing. Can’t do it that day because the WNBA cheerleaders are going to be town at the USO. Locations for meetings are hard to come by because despite the US and Iraqis “helping” one another, neither one trust the other enough to allow free access to each others bases. Feeding this gaggle is tough because you have to take into consideration the different cultural quirks, not to mention that it’s not as easy as calling the pizza place and have them deliver 10 pies and couple of two liters. Domino’s doesn’t deliver in Baghdad? What’s up with that? Now, for those of you who don’t know it, an RSVP is actually a French abbreviation for “respond please”. Want to completely confuse your translator? Tell him that we American’s occasionally use French words and see the odd look he gives you. Some trips require overnight stays due to the distance that must be covered. There are no Red Roof Inns or Ho-Jos in B-town. And if you think that your inebriated Aunt and Uncle don’t get along, then you’ve yet to see how the “cordial” interactions between different departments of the Iraqi military, police or government can sometimes lead to gun play. Speaking of guns, everyone in the meeting will either carry one or they will have 6 of their homies in the next room who have more weapons than the A-Team (although their rides won’t be as cool). I pity the foo who starts a heated argument in that gathering. And did I mention that we’re in a war zone, where roads are littered with IEDs and mortars fall like explosive bird crap? Yeah, that tends to complicate little get-togethers.

So, as I am writing this, the fluid environment that we swim through is getting choppy and the mission we’ve been working on for the past week is changing. We’re jumping through hoops to make it happen because frankly, that’s what we’re expected to do here in the world of headquarters and staff. It’s not a glorious job, but neither is herding cats.

In other news, all operations in our section came to a screeching halt this morning by the presence of an intruder. Somehow a stray cat got into our building and was traipsing around like he owned the place. In a matter of a few minutes, a slew of field grade officers were in hot pursuit trying to grab him or shoo him out. At one point it got stuck between a desk and a wall and he hissed like a cobra at anyone who tried to retrieve him. Once free, he ran into the chief of staff’s office to hide behind a file cabinet, followed by a horde of “cat herders” who were determined to catch this thing. Eventually he was shown the door, but not after 15 minutes of crazed excitement in the building.

Like my boss says, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

The picture of the four legged interloper. He looks like a relative of P-Cat, but with a little more spunk.

16 July 2007


I eat a lot of oatmeal here.  Not sure why.  It isn’t like they lack options for us at the DFAC.  With piles of pancakes, copious amounts of pastries and all the powdered egg omelets you could ever want, breakfast isn’t a bad meal.  Yet despite the selection, I always go with the standard instant Quaker oats.  Oh I might get crazy and mix a maple and brown sugar with an apple and spice now and then, but systematically my morning feast consists of 2 packs of instant oatmeal (with some raisins thrown in for good measure), cranberry juice to drink and a bowl of whatever the fruit of the day is.  I’m not sure what started this trend.  I have nothing against turkey bacon or “breakfast on a stick” and I’m not concerned about my cholesterol either.  I rather fancy variety which is why it baffles me at my craving for oatmeal every day.  To make things worse, I even eat an oatmeal raisin cookie for dessert at every dinner sitting which I justify as not a real dessert since it has two healthy ingredients in the title.  Is there such thing as having too much oatmeal?  Can a person have a cholesterol score of say 20?  Will my colon suddenly blow itself out with that much fiber?  Is there risk that I will suddenly abandon all of my electronic possessions, wear funny hats and drive a horse and buggy?  Wait, that’s Amish, not Quaker. 

15 July 2007

Yankee go home?

Wow.  I normally don't pay much attention to the news, but I read something today that sparked my interest.  According to the news article, the prime minister of Iraq, al-Maliki, says I can go home whenever I want.  Sure, he has gotten beat down from the congressional reports that his country isn't doing so good and the world is questioning whether or not his people can handle the security of their own country.  He still has provinces that are not under Iraqi control and everything from EFPs to foreign fighters are pouring through his borders, yet he wants to publicly announce that he doesn't need our help anymore. 


There is part of me that says, "Screw it!  Let me go home!" which is a feeling that is shared by a majority of us who were called up to serve or has had the unfortunate experience of seeing a buddy hurt here.  If Maliki thinks he can run things, well let him have it.  We'll take our soldiers, marines, airmen and sailors home and try to get on with our lives without thinking about this place any more.  On the other hand, there is a part of me that is enraged that he would publicly say something like that when we all know damn good and well that his country is in no condition to stand on it's own yet.  Don't get me wrong, there is progress here, albeit very slow progress, and it is measured on the ground in inches earned by sweat and blood of American soldiers.  Without coalition presence to keep the pseudo peace, all of the efforts of the past 4 years, all of the money and lives that were spent to keep things moving in a positive direction for this place will be for naught.


Part of me isn't surprised by his statement.  In our cultural training we received prior to our deployment, we learned that it is custom for Iraqi's to always say yes.  Regardless of what you ask them, they will always try to please you with the answers you want to hear, even though they never intend on fulfilling your requests. 


"We have a shipment of new uniforms, weapons and body armor for your police forces.  Will you have people there to receive the truck?"  Of course they say yes, but when the individuals never show and $250k worth of equipment shipped on a $50k convoy risking the lives of the military escort has to be re-routed to another location, it puts a sour taste in my mouth.  When we try to find out why this mission failed on the Iraqi end, we discover that they never even had the number of people, the right type of equipment or inkling to do their part in the first place.  And to rub a little salt in it, they ask us to deliver again the next day when they know that they won't have the assets there to receive the gear.  This irks me.  They (being the Iraqi's that we work with) say that it's an honor issue.  They refuse to appear that they don't have the answers or the ability to do something.  I can understand the concept of pride, but how can they be too proud to say "no" when they are not shy about asking for more of whatever we give them?  In the whole "give a man a fish - teach a man to fish" analogy, they don't seem to want to learn and they complain if you say you're cutting the fish supply off until they start trying. 


Didn't mean to get off on a rant about all of this.  Normally I try to keep the political viewpoints to a minimum as I'm sure you can turn on the news or pick up a paper and read someone more official than me blabber about what he or she thinks regarding this whole war thing.  It's just been a bad day.  I don't mean to generalize and say that all Iraqis are anti-fishermen.  There are some good people here, but it has just been my experience (in the small microcosm that I work in) that with the exception of a few, the good ones are either not in charge, or they’ve fled to somewhere else.  


Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go back to my hooch to do some packing since the Prime Minister doesn't want me here anymore. 



By the way, here is the article if you feel like doing some extra credit reading.  This is not testable material. 





12 July 2007

Captain Mafia

We are the Captain Mafia.


We are the lowly company grade officers who work our tails off to make sure things get done.  We gather the intelligence, make the reports, create the slide show presentations and make sure our bosses know what in the heck is going on.  We are the minority here in a sea of oak leaves, eagles and stars.  In the real army, we would be company commanders and battle captains, directing soldiers into the fray and putting down the insurgency with bullets and rockets, but here in the staff, our weapons are our computers and telephones for we are just cogs in the war machine, the oarsmen on the assault craft, the donkeys pulling the cart full of aimless field and general grades (although at times it feels like WE are pulling a cart full of donkeys instead of the other way around).  


We are the Captain Mafia.


In the world of “planners” and “doers”, we deafly epitomize the latter.  Ours is a brotherhood (and sisterhood) of folks whose “give a crap” factor might not be as high as others, but we still do the work because it’s what needs to be done.  Do we take our job seriously?  Sure.  Do we take ourselves seriously?  Not always.  Do we take our superiors seriously?  Usually not.  We have no subordinates because in a top heavy staff, we are the lowest men, and crap always rolls downhill (and gains speed as it rolls).  Sure, there is a smattering of Command Sergeants Major here and a couple of warrants behind a desk or two, but the few enlisted amongst us, with no responsibility, have more power than the lowly captain... and we as captains can be a jealous lot. 


We are the Captain Mafia.


Cross one of us, and buddy, you’ve just placed yourself in a most particular situation (and when I say particular, I mean particularly bad).  We watch each others back around here.  Mistreat your slide maker and your budget request just might get conveniently misplaced.  Want to keep one of our ranks late to do the work you failed to do?  Only if you want your pass paperwork in the bottom of a shredder.  Want to suddenly develop a pay problem?  Make the mistake of putting your name on a report that your O-3 subordinate worked for two weeks on and not give him credit for it.  


We are the Captain Mafia.


We have our fingers on the pulse of all aspects of what’s going on.  Our numbers are few, but we serve in every section and operate on every staff.  Of course we are aware that we have no control nor do we have the slightest inkling of authority to make any decisions, but we still do our jobs.  Why?  Some of us do it because we answered the call of the war drums to fight a faceless foe.  Others of us do it because we are here to support our family of warriors, no matter what the mission calls for.  Most of us IRR folks do it because we were foolish enough to read our mail one November morning in 2006.  Regardless of the reason, we are here, and we can’t wait to go home.  



07 July 2007

Lucky number sevens

Finding the inspiration to write can be a chore at times. I thought about pontificating about the date (it’s 07/07/07 today... lucky number sevens!) but I’m not feeling very lucky. Instead I’ll just post some pictures of my trip a few days ago out from under the protection of the International Zone’s paper umbrella of defense.

Some pics of downtown Baghdad

Odd to find a church here, but they do exist

The billboard is made up of many small pictures of Iraqis

One of our convoy gun trucks that provide protection for us.

Me and my posse

Interesting fact of the day: Left handed individuals in Iraq are said to be “clever”. This is strange since in the Arab culture, use of the left hand is frowned upon because it is the “dirty” hand. Regardless of which hand is dominant, the left one is used for specific purposes that aren’t the most sanitary, which is why you never shake an Iraqi’s left hand as it is considered an insult. Did I mention that almost half of my team is left handed? Not that there is anything wrong with being a lefty because I’ve been told that they are the only people in their right minds, but it’s just weird to be surrounded by so many backward people.

04 July 2007

A Happy 4th

Happy Independence Day everyone.

I haven’t had time to write or to use my new fang-dangold computer much. So, in the absence of me thinking up something original to write about, here is an amusing observation that I made today when I rolled into the “office”. Because I work for a multi-national headquarters, I fight along side members from many different branches of service, as well as different countries who make up the coalition force. At one time I was working for a Navy Captain who is equivalent to an Army Colonel. This made for interesting conversations.

Me: “Good morning Captain Smith (not his real name).”
Smith: “Good morning Captain Glen (my real name).”
Me: “Captain Smith sir, we need this requisition signed.”
Smith: “Sure Captain Glen, where do I sign?”
Me: “Sign over the signature block that says ‘Captain Smith’.”
Smith: “No problem Captain Glen.”

After a while he just called me by my first name and I just called him “sir”.

When we would talk about him in his absence, we usually referred to him as “the skipper” and we were all his “little buddies”.

In any case, the skipper went on to another section and turned our team over to a British Colonel. Now, as I have written about before, the English are a lively lot who have a very different outlook when compared us Westerners. They love them some tea, they say “cheers” a lot, they have amusing names for everyday things, plus they just flat out talk funny. Working for one is not too bad, as I can’t help but laugh at his accent, even when he’s chewing someone out for messing up. So, I strolled into work this morning and opened up my email to find this message from my new foreign boss:

“Happy Independence Day to one and all. The deal we struck last night in the absence of any guidance from PB (the general) is we will work normally this morning. Provided there are no commitments, this afternoon and evening are relaxed to do whatever you want within reason - burning a Brit or chucking him into Boston harbour (note correct spelling) are not options.

I'm also celebrating the fact that before 1776 everything that went wrong in the world was blamed on my country, but afterwards the blame gradually became your problem, letting us off the hook very neatly. So I'm sitting here drinking a lovely cup of tea and toasting King George III.....you know the mad German bloke!”

He’s a funny guy, and I had to laugh out loud at the fact that a Brit was wishing me, an American, a Happy Independence Day, a day celebrating our independence from British rule. And here I am today (an American) fighting in Iraq (what use to be a British colony) under the reign of a limeys boss! By the by, we didn’t get the afternoon off because, well, we just don’t get holiday’s off here.

Since the 4th has fallen on the middle of the week this year, I assume the rocket-light shows, concerts and BBQs were all crammed into last weekend, so today probably isn’t that big of a deal for most stateside dwellers. If you work for the government or a bank (or for my civilian company), you’ll probably have today off to go take advantage of Independence Day sales and work on the lawn. As for me, I’m going against the norm and hoping for a peaceful night absent of fireworks. I guess I’m just getting boring in my old age.

Interesting fact the day: The Declaration of Independence was adopted by 12 of 13 colonies (New York did not vote) on July 4, 1776, but it was not actually signed by all of the delegates until August 2, 1776. Personally, I think this is grounds to have another official holiday 29 days from now as there are no national holidays, and subsequently no days off from work, in August.

01 July 2007

Internet Cafe

Internet Cafe

So, the computer is up and running. I’m in the “internet café” they set up for us at the base camp, although I’m not real sure why they call it that. There’s no coffee here, nor any means to make food what so ever. It’s nothing more than an old metal double wide trailer filled with makeshift furniture, a TV playing old VH1 videos and plywood furniture. There are 12 hardwired internet lines that are scattered along the outside of the room where the common soldier, armed with a laptop, can surf the waves of the web. It gets more and more crowded as the work day ends and people find their way back to their trailers, dump off their kit, and try to find a communal place to unwind from the day. There is a lot of energy in here which is a little loud for me, but I’m just here to plug into the outside world via Ethernet cable, check my email and access the blog. The mini-cubicles host a lot of different people. There are two soldiers on the far wall who are frantically typing on a chat to some distant friend or loved one. Three guys on my wall are looking over each other’s shoulders as they discuss what options they want on the Harley motorcycles they are going to purchase here with their combat pay. In the corner is a guy video chatting with his family, and after seeing the smiles of the kids on the other end, most of us overlook the fact the he is being louder than he realizes. Do to my crazy work schedule, I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to use this new base perk, but it definitely gives me a means to keep the blog updated a few times a week.
Interesting fact of the week: The military takes safety very seriously. Just look at this sign posted near the Embassy posted by the Safety Officer.