30 November 2007
What you are looking at is probably one of my biggest accomplishments here in Baghdad. It is a project I did a few weeks back that was completed on time, required only a little bit of coalition aid, was not rejected by the Iraqis and did not cost the US government a butt-load of money. It’s a paper shredder. It was broken due to some missing screws that got sucked into the bin. I had put a work order in to try and get it fixed but it was taking forever to get anyone to address it. With a little help from Tom, we disassembled it, cleaned, it, and with the assistance of some yellow duct tape, we made it work. After spending most of my days behind a computer or talking on a phone, it was good to use my hands and my engineering brain to fix something that was kaput (Stacey calls me the “Swiss Army Asian” because I like to fix stuff). I was surprised by the sense of accomplishment I received from this little 15 minute task, but it was enough to get me through the rest of the crazy work day. I just wish that I could get that same sense of achievement from helping the Iraqis here. Sure, most of the missions we have to get the Iraqis on their feet are a little more complicated than cleaning out a jammed feeder on a shredder and repositioning the control panel circuit card, but finding that good feeling of seeing the fruits of your labor in regards to helping the Iraqi government taking control of their country is not easy.
There are nuggets of accomplishment here and there that you try to hold onto in order to justify your existence as a deployed soldier. Getting a maintenance contract for a piece of Iraqi equipment that they are just going to break again and again might seem like an act in futility, but for the time that it is working, it could help them secure their borders or prevent bad stuff from getting to a place where it shouldn’t. For the most part our mission is a team effort and the little things, although they might not seem like much, contribute to the bigger mission. It’s just hard to see it that way when your nose is buried in your minute task. I try to remind myself that we are moving forward, albeit at the pace of snail with a ten pound shell.
We just received a large batch of new Air Force personnel into our organization. The sad thing is that these individuals were not suppose to come here because the mission they were originally slated to fill was cancelled. The only problem is nobody told the Air Force about this new change. So, 40 individuals, with no jobs, are now being integrated into slots in our existing organization instead of just being left to go about their normal lives back in the states. It’s a shame we don’t manage our people better.
They roam around in packs gawking at the maps on the walls and staring at all of us regulars hunkered down behind our computers at our dime-store desks. The “veterans” can’t help but look at them with a mixture of contempt and apathy because most of the newbies have a 6 month rotation while the rest of us are only midway through our year long tour. I can imagine that it’s the same look given to new prisoners, although we did spare them the flaming toilet paper and lewd comments about shower activities.
It was a much different scene 215 days ago when our crew arrived. The natives were happy...no, they were ecstatic to see us because we were replacing them. This meant that they only needed to show us where the mess hall was, help us set up our email, give us their folders and do a brain dump on us before they packed up their gear for the plane ride home. It was a joyous time, which is a stark contrast to the cold welcome we’ve given this new bunch. We are glad that they are here to help, but since their arrival precludes any of us from leaving this place early, we accept the fact that our sinking ship has adopted more stowaways. I guess a positive way to view this situation is that we now have more folks to help bail.
Speaking of sinking ships, tomorrow is the Army Navy game, and while I would normally not give the game a second thought since the Black Knights haven’t performed very well in the last 11 years, my old boss has a son that is a starting line backer for the Cadets and I think I might watch and see how he does.
Wow! I just learned that Dallas beat the Packers! I'm more of a Detroit fan myself, but when you live in the city of Cowboy Football, you can't help but adopt them (even when they battle for last place with the Lions).
So props out to the Big D for having a decent season this year.
29 November 2007
My last team was disbanded a while back and I now fall under a new section. My new larger team deals mainly with logistical issues and, just like my previous job, I haven’t the foggiest as to what I’m doing because I have about just as much experience at being a logistician as I do as a border expert (which is none). No matter though, as I’ve come to accept the fact that I’m just a PowerPoint mercenary for hire. Given enough time I’ll figure it out... or at least I’ll try like hell. One good thing about this new team is that there are more people, so theoretically we should be able to spread the work load out a little bit. I exchanged my three lieutenant colonels and gunnery sergeant for a full bird, three light colonels, a major, and, get this, three captains. THREE! Wow! More people to do the busy work. Unfortunately, the other two captains are on leave now and I find myself as the lone target in the gaze of the field grades.
So, since there is not much to report, I’ll just post some pictures.
A while back I said I was thankful for warm sewage lines from our trailers that keep the cats and dogs warm in the absence of heat. Here is a picture of one of the huggers of the poop pipes.
And for the enjoyment of Thanksgiving, here are the decorations they put in the dining hall to put us in the holiday spirit.
Notice the bunny in the background which is suppose to be an Easter decoration.
22 November 2007
Gobble Gobble everyone! Today is Thanksgiving in Iraq. Back home folks are busy...well, busy sleeping right now, but they are dreaming of juicy turkey, pounds of sweet potatoes, gobs of stuffing and plenty-o-pies. Not only is today the big Turkey Day, it also marks the anniversary of when I received my letter to get recalled back into active duty. It's hard to believe that a year ago I was on my way out the door to head to my parent's house for some deep fried turkey and cranberry sauce when I tripped over the FedEx package on my doorstep that contained my orders. I often amuse myself by thinking of possible whimsical scenarios where I would leave the envelope there and some stray dog or big gust of wind would sweep the orders away and I would be none the wiser. Oh well. What's done is done. Complaining about it won't change it, and who complains on Thanksgiving? The airing of grievances is reserved for Festivous!
In honor of the day, I have a list of a whole slew of things I am thankful for. Here are just a few of them:
I'm thankful that I've survived 207 days here without anything more serious than a few blisters and hurt feet. Some folks haven't been as lucky and I can count my blessings accordingly.
I'm thankful that I live in a bigger trailer than Brendan and Kevin. Not that a bigger trailer is better...wait, yes it is.
I'm thankful that my feet do not resemble hamburger any longer (and I've actually started running again).
I'm thankful for Styrofoam because nothing boost morale for Thanksgiving than foam tanks and ships in the mess hall for the Thanksgiving meal.
I'm thankful for the 30 something days I have left before I get to go home for my mid tour R&R.
I'm thankful for the countless flying insects that, along with the zapper, provide hours of entertainment.
I'm thankful for the great officers and soldiers that I'm deployed with who have become my brothers and sisters in this ordeal.
I'm thankful for kids who send drawings that say "We love you Captain Glen!" on it.
(insert mortar attack)
I'm thankful that the insurgents are bad shots with their mortars.
I'm thankful my friends and family back home are safe.
And last, but certainly not least, I'm thankful for the family and friends who send me support and prayers that keep me sane and safe. My parents continually send me their love and Alissa keeps my spirits up to make it through another day. Without their love and compassion, I would be a shell of a man.
I did hear something during our morning Thanksgiving services that inspired me to write. The chaplain was saying that today was a day of thanks (obviously) and although we would spend a lot of time today being thankful for the good things (health, family, friends, etc), we should also take time to be thankful for the bad things. Sounds a little backward, but he put it in terms that most soldiers can relate to when he used the analogy of PT and training. Both are not meant to be easy. In fact, a good work out or a field problem will be hard, taxing both your mind and your body. But in doing these hard things you develop the muscles and skills to tackle harder events down the line.
So as I sit here in the throws of homesickness during this family centered holiday, I pause to give thanks for the hard times because they will make the good times that much better when I do get home to see the people I love.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.
I'm not the most patient of turkey eaters
Interesting quote of the day:
"Ingratitude is monstrous, and for the multitude to be ingrateful, were to make a monster of the multitude: of the which we being members, should bring ourselves to be monstrous members." From Shakespeare - The Tragedy of Coriolanus.
13 November 2007
How do you know it’s cold in Iraq:
1. You turn off the air conditioner for the first time since you’ve been here
2. The poncho liner on your bed just isn’t cutting it
3. You look ridiculous wearing socks with your flip flops because you didn’t ever think to bring slippers to a war zone
4. Bottled water in the box outside your trailer is just as cold as the bottles in the refrigerator
5. You think of your body armor not only as protection from bullets, but as a jacket
6. The vents in your boots to let out sweat and water now let in the cold
7. You realize that the insulating properties of plywood and tin aren’t so good
8. Hot chocolate replaces orange juice during the breakfast meal
9. Ice cream isn’t as appealing as it use to be
10. The stray cats and dogs hug the sewer lines to stay warm
When my old boss was here, he use to tell me that he looked forward to the heat of summer, which we thought was a result of him being in the sun too long. Later I found out that he wasn’t so weird and that he made that statement because when he got in country in the summer of 2006 it was hotter than hell. As the year went on and the weather got cooler, he knew that it would be time for him to go home again when the sun got high and the sweat started flowing.
The days are still warm but there is something about the wind that isn’t so “hair dryer” like which makes being outside not so miserable. Our blood has thinned a little in the heat and it will take us time to get readjusted. Plus, we have “snivel gear” to keep us toasty when the sun is down which, by the way, most of us thought was a preposterous idea to be lugging thermal underwear, jackets and insulated boots into a place like Iraq. I’m glad I brought it. I’m more of a warm weather guy anyway. I am learning that I am by no means a HOT weather guy, but I prefer the warm climates over the cold ones. I think it runs in my family as my brother hasn’t worn pants since 1992. Do I miss the heat? Not really. Will I complain about the cold? Probably. Am I looking forward to going home when the weather gets hot again? Definitely!
11 November 2007
My friends sometimes joke with me by saying “You can take the man out of the Army, but you can’t take the Army out of the man.” It’s a saying that usually follows some good hearted teasing resulting from something very “military-like” I’ve done like saying “Roger” instead of “okay” or when I unconsciously stand at the position of attention for pictures. It bothers me when I do that because I try to avoid drawing unnecessary attention to myself, but part of me can’t just turn off an influential nine years of my life which is slowly turning into ten and a half. In the six years I was out from my first stint, I was slowly starting to get comfortable with being a civilian. I was actually surprised how quickly I re-acclimated to the disciplined environment of the military when I got thrown back in uniform in January. Sure, some things changed (the names of the regulations, some of the force structure, the uniform) but so much of it remained the same. Was it because six years wasn’t enough for me to shake it, or was it because the Army will always be the Army? I suspect a little of both.
I have now served for 301 days in the “New Army” and it’s been a rollercoaster of a ride. I’ve been blessed to again feel the joy of camaraderie that I’ve only been able to find in a military unit. I’ve also dragged myself through the emotional lows that go with doing what feels like a pretty thankless job. There are so many personal reasons for me to want to make a life out of this because it feels good to be part of something bigger than just me. Although it doesn't always feel this way in my current job here in Iraq, it feels like I’m contributing to something worthwhile, and what’s more worthwhile than freedom? Being over here has made me appreciate the military even more than I did and that’s saying a lot from a self proclaimed patriot. I reperesent the fourth generation of military men in my family and while none of them made a lifelong career out of the service, they contributed to the same cause regardless of how many years they wore the uniform. There are times when I wonder if this is what I was suppose to do with my life, especially after such a long investment in soldiering. I realize now that it is not.
I’ve become too jaded. I came this year to play the game to give it my best which I will continue to do until its done, but after the season is over for me in less than 168 days, I’m going to retire the jersey and sit on the sideline supporting the players still in the game. The military deserves the best. They don’t always get it because the lure of the corporate world looms over them and often pulls the brightest or bravest from it’s ranks. Uncle Sam thinks that just by throwing money at soldiers that they will stay in the game longer, but who can put a price on abstract things like watching your kids grow up? How much is missing someone you love for years at a time worth to you? What amount of money will compensate for the times you just weren’t there for the people you care about? No, the military needs great people and I realize that no matter how much I think I need to be part of the big green machine, the Army does not need me, or specifically, it doesn’t need people like me. I’ve become too cynical, too tired, too critical and too old. Okay, so I’m really not that old, but there are days that I truly feel beyond my years. I’ve given up a big portion of my life to the Army and I don’t regret a single minute of it. I have served with some truly awesome people who have done extraordinary things both inside and outside the uniform. It’s just time for me to realize that I don’t have to spend any more years with the nagging self proclaimed notion that I haven’t contributed enough. I can be a productive civilian, just like many of my friends and family. You don’t have to pick up a rifle and charge a sand dune to be a productive member of society as there are countless individuals who do extraordinary things each and every day. They help plan cities, help run computer businesses, teach or counsel kids, preach, go to school to be nurses, are physical therapists, firemen, work for defense contractors, run forests, raise money for the the disabled, help needy children and raise the future leaders of the world. I can take comfort from them in knowing that I don’t need to wear the uniform to contribute. I would be lying if I said that I won't miss it. There is always going to be a part of me that will be proud of my time in the service and of the people I’ve served with in the Army. The Marines have a saying that goes, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!” although I think that saying crosses the boundaries of service. I can take myself out of the Army, but I'll never be able to take the Army out of me.
Yes, I think that this is my last season. I will miss parts of this experience of being a soldier, but I look forward to the day where I will be content as a supportive Veteran like my father and his father before him, although I will most likely keep the haircut.
Today is Veterans Day. Whereas Memorial Day is in honor of all those who have fallen while in service to their country, Veterans Day is more of a celebration of the living Veterans who did their part to fight for a cause greater than themselves. I am grateful to know many of them and privileged to have served along side them in both peace and war. I want to tell them and all those who went before us that I appreciate their service and sacrifices (both past and present) to our great country.
Happy Veterans Day and do your part by thanking a Vet today.
Interesting fact of the day:
Veterans Day was born from Armistice Day which signified the end of “The Great War”, or World War 1. Although the official end of the war was marked by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 19 June 1919, the actual fighting ended seven months earlier when German and American forces agreed to cease fire. This is why Veterans Day is celebrated on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each and every year.
09 November 2007
Let’s say you accept this gift. What are you going to do with this horse? You will have to find someplace to board it because the apartment complex frowns on road apples near the pool area. You have to feed it and last I checked, they don’t sell horse feed at the local 7-11. Housing and feeding an animal of that size would have to be done in the country which will make for long trips to visit or ride the animal. That will take a lot of time out of your weekends, not to mention be a little straining on your pocketbook for the fees you’ll likely pay for boarding. What will you do if the horse gets sick? If you think vet bills for Fluffy the cat are expensive, what do you think they will be for a horse? Do you even know how to ride a horse? I’m sure you can take a few lessons, but only after you go out and buy all the saddle, bit and tack you need to do it right. Can you afford the upkeep for something like this? Did you think about any of this before you said you’d take this very generous gift?
I write about this hypothetical situation to prove a point. In our efforts to help the Iraqis in their reconstruction, we don’t do a very good job of thinking through some of the decisions we try to help them make. I see evidence of this all the time and it is frustrating that the coalition leadership refuses to take off the rose colored glasses and take a good gander at reality. We pour money, blood and time into this place to give the Iraqis conveniences that they have never asked for, everything from state of the art technology to luxury items that are only seen on satellite TV. Time and time again I see Iraqi leaders being toured around the US to see examples of how we make things work back home in hope that they will glean some information from us to take back to their country to make it better. Instead, they see some gee-wiz-bang device or piece of equipment and make the proclamation that if they had a large quantity of those things then they could single handedly take back their country and the Americans and the rest of the coalition could go home. So, we go out and buy them a freighter ship full of stuff without putting a lot of thought or research in deciding if this is what they really need, or is it something that they just want. Take a kid to any grocery store and he is going to whine that he wants the candy at the checkout line. They might scream and make a scene, or they might turn into little negotiators by making hasty promises to do their homework and not beat up their little brother if they only got the candy. Regardless, it’s the candy they are focused on and not the other food in the cart. You want to make them happy, but at some point you have to realize that they need fruits and vegetables instead of sweets and you need to teach them the values of eating right.
I sit in meeting after meeting listening to the higher brass talk a big game on how purchasing the Iraqis this or that will make everything better. I can’t and won’t give examples, although I wish I could because most are pretty humorous. It would be on par with deciding that monkeys need to eat warm meals, so you’re going to give them a microwave oven to heat up their bananas. Great idea, right? Maybe. Without a lot of patience and training, the monkeys will be happy they have something new to play with but will most likely break it if they don’t radiate themselves and their fellow monkeys first.
I’m in no way trying to make a stereotypical generalization that Iraqis are dumb like monkeys or whiny like spoiled kids. I’m trying to say that maybe we need to stop trying to decide what the Iraqis want and ask them what they need to get on their feet again and make them follow through on their plan. It is our responsibility when they come with this list of needs to really see if they’ve thought it through (which is a pretty integral part of the coach, teach and mentor mission we are suppose to be following). Have they thought about how they are going to maintain or sustain this or that? Have they developed a good plan that doesn’t include Americans buying or building more stuff for them in the future? I see way too many decision being made “for” the Iraqis with almost no input from them nor any education or training in the equation, only later to be analyzed by the next rotation of coalition who scratch their head asking “What was my predecessor thinking?”
I wonder how many times we’re going to keep throwing money and effort into this thing before someone will stop and be the voice of reason.
I’ve used one too many analogies, but here is my last (although it is nothing more than an extension of the first one):
We as Americans are generous lot, and I think that has to do with our culture and our relative wealth to the rest of the world. It is generous that we see the Iraqis walking everywhere and decide that we’d like to help them by giving them horses. The Iraqis, due to their culture, would be more than gracious to accept free horses out of respect, but they don’t know all the ins and outs of being a horse owner. Over time, this frustration will build despite our attempts to teach them how to rear these animals, but due to their culture, they would never say that that they can'thandle the task. In three years time, instead of reaching the coalition’s vision of Iraq full of happy galloping Iraqis, we’ll instead see a small shack selling horse meat kabobs that will only stay in business for a week or two at most. The Iraqis will be happy and satiated, but after that week is up, they will still be walking everywhere while contemplating when the next shipment of horse meat is from the US is coming.
06 November 2007
Yes, I have lamented about the bugs here, and my cries did not fall on deaf ears for my parents sent me a gift that is worth all the sea monkeys and Slinkies that a soldier could ask for to fill in the slow spots in the deployment day. My new toy is the bug zapper!
The new sheriff in townDon’t let it’s toy like appearance fool you. It is a death dealing device that has slain many a fly, mosquito, gnat and other unknown (and later unidentifiable) flying insect. Just a push of the button and the swing of the wrist and POP! No more bug! Flies that would normally be shooed away as an annoyance are now hunted down like prey. The sight of a flying intruder in our area brings on the battle cry of “We got one...get the zapper!” as we scamper to the drawer and retrieve the device. There are even rumors that members of the team purposely leave the outside door open to let more flies into the building in order to meet their maker at the hands of the zapper.
Although designed to kill bugs, I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we end up hitting each other with this thing despite the warnings that this will hurt, and I’m not talking “snap a rubber band on your wrist” hurt. I’m talking about “knock you on your butt like you’ve just been tazzed” hurt. All I know is that I’m happy to have it here to break the monotony of the day.
We are a full week into November and things are getting busy. The increase activity is not so much a result of more requirements for us to tackle, but due to the fact that more people are leaving for their 2 week R&R leaves, it leaves the rest of us here to pick up the slack. That’s not a bad thing. I’m glad that people are getting to escape here for a short stint because that means that I will get to go on my R&R soon. To say I’m excited about being less than 60 days from seeing the people that I love is a gross understatement.
"Stay still Brendan...it's on your head."
03 November 2007
1) Road marching is a basic military skill that we all need to be proficient on (but is considered by most not to be the most “fun” thing to do on a deployment).
2) It helps to bring people from different nations and branches of service together by giving them a social outlet (similar to a volksmarch).
3) It helps to raise money for charity (although some of us had a sinking suspicion that it went to their beer fund).
In years past they marched through the IZ to some cool landmarks, but due to security, we had to do “laps”, 5 of them actually, around the embassy grounds. With over 400 participants, it was sure to be a social event. Since all of the captains I knew were smart enough not to waste their one day sleeping in on an epic trek, I ended up just meeting my old boss at the start line and hung with him and his LTC buddies for the first lap. After that, I picked up the pace and tried to finish in under my goal time of 3 hours.
Now some folks know that I like being outside, which is one of the reasons I like hiking so much. I also like the morning time because you get to witness the birth of a new day. So, a 4:30am wake up for a 12 mile walk seemed right up my alley, right? I thought so. What started out as a wonderful walk through the cool morning air turned into a hobbling limp at lap 5. The limp was a result of the growing blisters in my boots. It wasn’t until after 3 hours I stopped, collected my certificate of completion and got back to my trailer that I realized that I had did a number on the dogs because once the boots came off, they weren’t going to go back on without a fight.
This isn’t the first run in I’ve had with blisters. Back in basic I had a medic follow me around providing me a steady stream of bandages and antibiotics to fight the infection I received from a ruptured blister. I also got pulled off my short jaunt along the AT because I had not properly broken in a pair of hiking boots before I decided to go on a 150 mile trek across the Shenandoah Valley with Alissa. With all of this valuable experience, one would think that I’d learn by doing smart things like pre-taping my feet, getting smarter socks and maybe even doing a few shorter walks to toughen up my feet. However, that is assuming that I’m not stubborn or hard headed (which would not be an accurate assumption).
So, thanks to ample amounts of drugs, tape and moleskin, I’m still mobile, although I do appear to be hobbling around like a gimp. I refuse to wear the “soft shoe” profile because there is no better way to stick out as the weak target in the herd of digital camouflage than donning a pair of bright white/blue running shoes. I switched to my Danner boots which are unauthorized to wear due to their sneaker like appearance, but they are less conspicuous.