28 February 2008

Knick knack transportation

I’m being moved from my desk to make way for a new inbound person into our section. Unfortunately this isn’t my replacement, but one that will be working on the team to take over Tad’s position. So, in order to consolidate areas of responsibility, they are moving me out of the section to a desk around the corner and out of sight to make room for him. It’s probably a good thing according to that whole cliché “out of sight, out of mind”, but it still sucks to move for the fourth time and this close to the end of my mission. I don’t lay any personal claim to the desk I currenlty occupy as it is the third one I’ve driven since I’ve been here, but it does house a lot of crap in the form of binders of briefings that I’ve given over the months, folders of files that no one really cares about but me, and gobs of knick knacks that do their part in cheering me up when work takes a healthy steamy dump on my motivation.

Besides Pokey and Gumby, I have Mr. Bendy (your dependable, bendable friend!) in my collection of plastic figures I can pose on the shelf. I actually think this was a donation to my clutter from one of Kevin’s care boxes and it joined the ranks of my large army men, Legos and mini construction equipment early in the deployment. He’ll be one of many that I box up and move to the new location.

Mr. Bendy and his bent up 7.62mm round

It’s good to see replacements coming in, even if they aren’t here to take over my duties. It’s just another sign that the end, although a wily moving target, is in fact getting closer. It seems that not long ago I was praising the fact that I only had 50 days left to go until I would be leaving this place. Ah, those were the days. That count seems to be back up to 60 for some reason. Is that because of the leap year?

Not really sure why I’m suddenly getting more and more spam on my blog comments, but it might be time to turn on the ol’ filter.

26 February 2008


For those of you who have noticed, the absence of my countdown timer is no accident.  I’ve been given so many different dates of when I’m leaving country that I’ve given up on trying to track anything anymore.  Technically, they can’t keep me past 365 days of my “boots on ground” date but I’ve learned that incompetence does not go punished here, giving the leadership no motive to even attempt to straighten out our movement dates.  I will know when I’m going home when I find my happy butt sitting in an airplane heading in a westerly direction.  Until then, I’ll keep my head down and plod forward. 

25 February 2008


To say that I’m pissed would be a gross exaggeration, although I’m not really sure how to express my frustration without sounding like I’m whining.  Let’s instead say that my leadership is failing me and the rest of us in their decision making and they lack the professionalism to try and fix the situation in a logical and just manner.  To publicly go into specific details would be in violation of military regulations, so I’ll try to be vague as possible.


The old adage that goes, “Screw up, move up” applies in this situation.  Show that you are incompetent and the leadership will just push you off to an easier task so that you don’t screw anything up.  They’ll turn a blind eye to your abuse of privileges and they’ll even reward you with an above average evaluation, an award that you don’t deserve and they will send you home early from a combat zone to boot.  That should teach you a lesson!  Show that you are a hard worker and you’ll just get more work (most likely the work that the incompetent person couldn’t do).  You’ll get roped into areas outside of your lane and be held responsible for the mess made by other people.  Did I mention that you’ll get the same award and rating as the bungling person incapable of doing their job?  Plus, the duds will get sent home early while you stay a warzone and fix the problems caused by said duds.  What’s the point of working hard or showing that you care?  Is it the satisfaction you get by gloating how you do more than someone else does?   Is it to show that you enjoy being treated like crap?  Is it pride?  I’m not sure.  I do know that my leadership seems to reward incompetence and punish people who care enough to work hard.   


I’m not arguing for fairness because I know all too well that life is not fair.  I’m not looking for favor either as I know better than to work hard and expect something out of it besides the knowledge that I’m not a lazy piece of crap.  I guess part of me is looking for justice, equality, and for my leadership to make the hard decisions of holding people accountable instead of shirking their responsibilities to take the easy way out so they don’t have to deal with the weak.  Maybe I’m also looking for a little explanation of why they can’t explain to me the reasoning behind their decisions to screw the folks who work hard.  Is that too much to ask?  I understand that in the military that there are incidences where it is impractical to sit down with a subordinate and explain the reasoning behind important decisions.  If you are pinned down by enemy fire and yell at a maneuver team to charge an enemy machine gun position, the last thing you have time to do is sit down and explain why this task is important to the mission.  You just want them to do it, and do it well, and pray to God that it works without them questioning your orders.  To give a dissertation for every decision you make would be impractical.  But in situations where there is ample time and the lives of soldiers aren’t hanging in the balance, I think a good leader would take the time to explain the mission and the importance of a task.  I believe that a leader worth his/her salt would attempt to explain the reasoning behind a decision, especially if that decision is unpopular, so that the people who look to them for guidance understand what needs to be done.  A good leader would also treat all of his subordinates equally, rewarding good performance and addressing failures in the same manner.  People might not always like a good leader, but they will respect them if they have some insight to rationale of his/her decision. 


I think my problem is that this organization is lacking in the good leaders department.  I’m not saying that all of the leadership here is bad, but I continually see more examples of poor leadership rather than examples of good.  The belief that the leadership doesn’t care about their underlings is tearing down morale in this team.  All the work done by so many hard working individuals will be undone by the lack of strong leaders and this is a hard reality to swallow after giving up so much time to what I once believed was a good cause.  


It’s hard to keep a positive attitude on a day like today.  I ride that fine line between trying to understand that the hard decisions that are made by my leadership and feeling like they are force feeding me a line of crap to prevent them from having to do their job or hold others accountable for failing to do their job.


21 February 2008

Is this the dark side of the moon?

So I'm sitting here in Iraq, shaking off the chill of the morning, watching a lunar eclipse, when I say to myself, "Self, you're pretty fortunate to be in the middle of a warzone watching this natural phenomenon.” That’s when I realize that I’m talking to myself and stop to make sure no one is looking at me acting crazy.

A lunar eclipse is when the earth casts a shadow on the moon from the sun (there's your useless fact for the day). It doesn't completely block out the moon like a solar eclipse does, but it does turn it a crazy hue of orange. This event won’t happen again until 2010, and I got to watch this less than frequent event on the other side of the world. It feels good to have something positive to see when things aren't so positive lately. Yes, things suck, but at least I didn't have to pull parking attendant duty for a bunch of generals like some other captains did.

I feel like I've let my heritage down since I didn't have a better camera handy to capture this event, but you can just make out the moon's light being swallowed up on the horizon with the palm trees and T-walls of the FOB in the foreground.

Lunar eclipse over Baghdad

20 February 2008


I awoke this morning with a hacking cough, a dusty pillow and an ear full of dirt.  This isn’t because I’m a stinky kid and didn’t bother to shower before I hit the rack last night.  It’s a result of the dust storm that engulfed Baghdad yesterday and somehow found its way into the trailer I sleep in, although this should not be a surprise as a junkyard shanty has more structural integrity than my living quarters.  I know I’ve mentioned the dust storms before and today is just another example of the type of environment that stings your eyes all day long and makes you avoid looking at the contents of the tissue you just blew your nose in (not that I would do that on a normal day without a dust storm).  


I know the turret gunners spend their days being continuously exposed to the elements, so ears full of dirt and gritty smiles are just accepted as part of the work day.  I just didn’t think I’d get the same level of grime on me from sleeping.  I’m sure this can’t be healthy and I guess that whether I like it or not, I’ll be taking a piece of Iraq home with me...in my lungs.  


One good thing about the sandstorm is that it keeps the air traffic down.  The absence of roaring jets and rumbling helos makes for a quiet night’s worth of sleep.  




18 February 2008

Stick 'em up!

No, it's not a rocket launcher or an expended piece of ordinance. It's a barrier they use to stop vehicles from traveling down this area. I just thought the choice of barrier design they used on a military compound, in a war zone, in Iraq was interesting.

* Note: No round-eyes were hurt in the making of this picture.

Fan down! Fan down! I’ve got a fan down!

One of the first packages I got while I was in country contained a small fan. It came in useful when our A/C would crap out on us and I used it almost every night as “white noise” to drown out the sounds of sputtering generators, Iraqi police sirens and gunfire which helped me get some semblance of a good night’s sleep. Imagine my dismay when I returned to the trailer one night and found that it had ceased to work. I did the usual thumping and banging of it to see if that would make it go, but the casing was warm and the blades were motionless. Disgruntled, I took it down off the perch on the bed and chucked it in the garbage. I convinced myself that I could do without a fan for the next 40 something days. That night I would find that I was very wrong. With the absence of fan’s droning, everything from my snoring trailer mate, the howling of dogs and the call to prayer were exceptionally loud. Needless to say, it was a restless night of sleep.

The next day I dragged it out of the trash and got all MacGyver on it. Armed with my multi-tool, a tooth brush and a bottle of weapon lube, I spent the better part of my half day off ripping it apart in an attempt to revive my trusty friend. After I cleaned about 4 lbs of crap out of the plastic casing and lubricating the funk-filled bearings, I reassembled her and crossed my fingers as I plugged her in. Success! I have a functioning fan again to get me through the rest of the deployment. I felt pretty satisfied to fix this little piece of modern convenience. Sadly enough, along with the paper shredder I fixed a few months back, I am beginning to believe these two feats might be the only real tangible tasks I’ve accomplished during my time in Iraq.

Okay. Back to pouring effort into briefings that the generals won’t make decisions on and the Iraqis won't take action on.

16 February 2008

400 Meters

Anyone who has ran track can tell you that the 400 meter race is a brutal event. One time around the track in under a minute at full speed is considered a sprint, although most sprinters reason that it is a middle distance race (so they don’t have to run it). There is very little strategy involved in running a 400 meter like there is in say, an 800 meter. A true middle distance race, the 800M is a full two laps, just long enough for you to assemble a strategy of which areas to sprint and what curves to stride. Some of the better runners learn critical moves like how to draft off their opponent and when to pick up the pace to sap their opponent's energy and pull ahead. As much as it is a test of one’s physical speed, it’s also a mental game that needs experience to excel at. This isn’t the case in the 400M. There is not enough track to plan a complex attack giving you little choice as to when and where you will kick it in. You simply run your guts out from beginning to end.

If you’ve ever seen a 400M being run, at the sound of the gun the sprinters launch out of the blocks and hit the first curve of the track fairly quickly. You’ll see them pump their legs around the back straightaway and push their way into that last curve. It’s out of this final curve that you begin to see the pain the last 300 meters have inflicted on them. The full out sprinting they’ve done catches them and the last 100 meters appears to be run in slow motion. These runners, fast as thoroughbreds at the start of the race, now resemble something more like a draft horse trying to gallop with a heavy load. The “monkey is on their back,” sapping them of the grace and stride that enabled them to cover the distance they’ve already traveled. It’s ugly. For the person running the race, it is sheer agony. That last 100 meters, only a quarter of the total race to go, might as well be a thousand miles. You try and force your body to push for the finish line but nothing seems to respond. It’s not like a distance race where you can call on your last inner reserves to dash to the end. You have no reserves at this point because you’ve given it all you got, coming to the cruel and sudden realization that there is still more track to run. Your lungs burn, your legs ache, you feel very heavy and your fuel tank is pegged on empty, yet you muscle forward, praying that your momentum will somehow get you past the screaming teammates and occasional spectator to cross that line. It’s hard to hear the cheering because you are so focused on pulling that imaginary sled towards the finish. The blood pumping in your years drowns out the words of encouragement. You focus on finishing the race, completing the struggle, with the ultimate goal of ending the pain you’ve endured to get to this point.

Today I feel like I’m in the final stretch of that 400 meter race. The distance left to cover is not long relative to the entire time I’ve been here, but I feel very ugly and slow. The energy levels that got me to this point are fading and the weight on my back feels more like a gorilla instead of a monkey. I don’t have the ability to call upon my emotional energy reserves because as far as this deployment has gone, I’ve been at a dead sprint the entire time. I know it’s not long to go. I know it’s the encouragement of my teammates and the occasional observer who will tell me that I can do it and root me on until I come home. I know that I’ve come a long way, but today it feels like there is so much more track to cover than I thought there was.

I'll get to that finish line, one way or another and when I do, I'll wipe the sweat from my brow, catch my breath, and smile to be finally done with this race.

15 February 2008


This is a fast post to highlight the fact that I’m in the 50 day window of getting out of here! Part of me is afraid to be happy about this because the Army is notorious for changing things at the last minute, but the other optimistic part of me is pleasantly ecstatic at the prospect that I’ll be stateside in 50 more days.

Now excuse me while I go dance my happy dance, albeit a cautious happy dance.

10 February 2008

Nice weather?

I haven’t talked much about the weather here lately, but today is the kind of day that I feel like I need to.  The reason for this compelling desire is that it’s actually nice outside.  It’s not sweltering hot to where your body armor absorbs the radiant heat and slowly cooks you to death and it’s not windy-rainy-cold either.  It’s actually quite pleasant, which is surprisingly new to me since my normal MO is just to complain about the weather.  


When we first arrived here back in April of 2007 (wow, has it been that long?), we got off the armored transports and stepped into 110 degree temps with unyielding sunlight blasting us from above.  It sucked then, but the lieutenant colonel in charge of the section at the time told me to remember what it felt like at that moment as I stood there baking in my own juices.  He said that as the weather would change from hotter (could it get any hotter?) and then cooler (is that possible?).  He said that I might not believe him, but in the not so far future I would think back to that moment and how the weather felt and be happy for it would be the signal that it was time to return home.  Frankly I thought he was suffering from a heat stroke as I couldn't imagine myself ever looking forward to 110 degrees...ever!  However, as the days get longer, the weather gets warmer and the countdown gets closer to zero, there might be some sense in what he said and I might have to change my assessment of that lieutenant colonel. 


So, as I enjoy the sunny weather today (sans sweat), I will look forward to the blistering heat in the months to come.  


Come on heat stroke!


09 February 2008

If I only had a tactical nuke...



I try not to pay much attention to the news.  Here in the information vacuum of Iraq, it’s nice to catch up on sport scores every once in a while and I’ve tried to stay on top of the debates for the primaries when I can.  The news we do get, for the most part, is comparable to a bad tabloid full of sensationalism and grim accounts of a world that has seemingly gone crazy than a recount of facts that pertain to the public.  The title of this article is a prime example:


Berkeley to Marines: You're 'not welcome in our city'




For those of you who can’t follow the link, here is an excerpt that sums it up:  


The Berkeley City Counsel decided that approved a measure last week urging the Marine recruiters to leave their downtown office.


"If recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders," the item says.


It goes on to say the council applauds residents and organizations that "volunteer to impede, passively or actively, by nonviolent means, the work of any military recruiting office located in the City of Berkeley."


Now I don’t want to make this a forum for a debate over the war.  Nobody likes war, especially those who actually get the bullets and rockets thrown at them.  You’ll find no bigger supporter of peace than you will in a soldier, because they actually have to fight for it.  If you want to be a proponent for peace, ditch the hippie slogans, take a shower and bring your issue up with the folks who make the decisions on whether or not we go to war (lawmakers, congressmen, senators, etc).  American servicemen and women don’t make the policy to act on the training they’ve received, and neither do the recruiters.  What good does it do to block a recruiter from giving information about opportunities to young Americans who actually have an interest in serving their country in a constructive way?  Would you go down to the police academy and protest them enlisting more officers because you don’t agree with the speed limit on your street?  


It infuriates me when I see stuff like this.  What are the residents of Berkeley going to do if something bad happens in their town?  What will they do when someone comes and tries to take away their precious rights they hold so dear, like free speech, wearing Birkenstocks and optional bathing?  Maybe then they will wish that they didn’t stop the recruitment of individuals to defend those freedoms on a daily basis, on foreign or domestic soil.  I’d like to see them beg for a Marine to protect them then.


Okay.  Deep breaths.     


On a good note, the article explains that the law makers are trying to take $2M in federal funds away from the city, which goes to show you that one can affect more change through the law than by holding up a pink handmade sign and chanting anti-war slogans.  Folks of Berkeley, take your fight to Sacramento or Washington DC and let the Marine recruiters in your town do their job of making the blanket of freedom you ungratefully enjoy stronger.  


“People sleep peaceable in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” – George Orwell



08 February 2008

Helmet on fire!

Things have picked up from a “back from leave blues” crawl to a full out sprint as the higher ups work diligently to get the last bits of work in before they “pop smoke” and re-deploy in a few months (they have to put something in their evaluation, don't they?).  It’s a frenzy of activity which we commonly refer to as a “Helmet Fire”.  


Wow, that’s a lot of quotation marks, isn’t it?


Anyway, this is more of an observation than an actual complaint about life here.  It is normal for the operation tempo to fluctuate from one extreme to the other and it just so happens that within the last week we’ve started the portion of the cycle where we run around as if our helmets were in fact, on fire.  This current blaze is a result of many factors.  For one thing, our commanding general just came back from his R&R.  After spending 15 days away from the fight he is on a quest to get updated on all the usual reports, plus he desires additional reports on a bevy of crazy statistics that will help him make that one critical decision that will win the war.  Mind you that none of us think that the number of socks issued to Babil province police force (paid for with American money) in 2006 will be the decisive factor in winning the war, but hey, none of us can say that we’ve attended General School to even begin to understand the complexities that socks play in the rebuilding of a nation.  Another reason that I’ve already alluded to is the fact most of us have returned from our own vacations away from Iraq.  With thoughts of loved ones and memories of times not in body armor fresh on our minds, we are moving forward with the speed of a reluctant dragon (if you happen to know the Disney cartoon, you know that the song has been known to stick in one’s head for months...even years).  


All of us know that it is not smart to let our minds wander too far off the tasks at hand.  We are still doing a dangerous job here and the environment is not the friendliest to the pre-occupied day dreamer who roams around with their head in the clouds.  But as we get closer and closer to the end of our mission, thoughts that were so distant back when we first hit the sand in Kuwait, like what foods one will eat that isn’t made in a mess hall, what vacations to take to exotic places or what absent luxury item to spend deployment funds on, are now creeping and crawling into the forefront of the deployed mind.  It’s normal to think of home, especially when the distance left to run is so short.  The trick is to not let it preoccupy you. 


I’m in the two month window of when I’m suppose to leave.  Of course this time can change on a whim and the date on my countdown timer will always be in a state of flux.  Imagine your frustration if your boss came in and told you that you had to stay late at work this Friday night but didn’t give you a time of when you would be released except that it would be some time tonight.  That could mean 5:30pm or 11:59pm, which is not very conducive to making solid happy hour plans.  So, we are leaving in April, sometime, and whether it is the beginning or the end of the month will be up to the mission requirements.  One could get aggravated at this wishy-washy timeline, but I’ve been in the army long enough to know that this is just part of being an employee of Uncle Sam.  So, while we continue to play the perpetual waiting game, I’ll stay focused on my job and my environment while secretly sneaking in thoughts of home when I can.    


Oh, just for the record, my thoughts in the forefront include Papa John pizza, a Northeast Extravaganza with Alissa and a new house.  Of course those aren’t the ONLY things I’m thinking of. 


05 February 2008


For those of you who didn't believe me about the name of the internet cable company I posted a few days ago...

"SeaMeWe" stands for South East Asia, Middle East, West Europe. 

03 February 2008

Mr. Tom

As I’ve said before, mail plays a big part in the condition of morale here. You can always tell the individuals who don't get a lot of packages or snail mail by the frowns that hang on their faces and the overall gloom that follows them into a room. I, for the most part, have been blessed with getting regular packages from my girlfriend and a smattering of boxes from family, friends and the occasional church group. Containers of cookies and snacks are always great to open, but sometimes just a letter from a familiar face is enough to brighten an otherwise uneventful day.

Recently I got a letter that really made me stop and take stock of my situation here. It came from Mr. Tom, the father of my round eyed sister Kristine. Much like myself (and his daughter) he served as an engineer officer deployed with the mission of constructing (and probably a little destructing) in a war zone. His letter told me of his time spent in the Mekong Delta on Christmas day of 1968. He and his unit spent that holiday paving a road through some pretty dangerous areas in order to thwart the enemy's efforts to lay land minds on supply routes. There were no Christmas trees or barrels of eggnog for them, and with the exception of getting a hot meal trucked out to them, it was just another day away from home.

"Wars do not stop for holidays."

The letter caused me to pause in my pursuit of the perfect PowerPoint and think about what I’m doing here. I’m not performing construction in the sense of paving a road through a mined valley in Vietnam like Tom, or improving supply infrastructure in Kuwait and Iraq like Kristine, or constructing hospitals in Afghanistan like Alissa, but I am helping to build up a country to stand on its own. It is painfully slow and there are days when I question if the busy work they throw at me will affect anything at all in a positive way, but I’m here, along with a lot of other folks, and we’re trying our damnedest to make things right.

I also thought of the numerous service members who spend the countless important days away from the people that they love; not just the Thanksgivings and the Christmases, but the birthdays, anniversaries, baby’s first words and high school graduations. While I've sat back and watched a year of my life slip pass me during my time here, I am fortunate that there are people like Tom who came before me and sacrificed their special days protecting the freedoms we enjoy today back in the US.

So while I attend another meeting and wait patiently for the Iraqis to take charge of their so called “progress” and move forward, I will keep in mind that its my job not let the efforts of the folks who were here before me be wasted.

Thank you Tom, for your selfless service and for your continuing support.

02 February 2008

Still Groundhog's Day

Today is Groundhog’s Day! Say that to anyone deployed here in Baghdad for close to a year now and they’ll probably tell you that every day is Groundhog’s Day (in reference to the redundancy made famous by Bill Murry’s movie of the same name). The days tend to get pretty repetitive; the schedules are the same, the people you work with are the same, and for some strange reason the meals are becoming more and more similar (tacos today, fajitas tomorrow?). Every once in a while there will be a wrench thrown into the mix, usually tossed in by a star-clad officer smitten by the “good idea fairy” that, contrary to the moniker, does not bring good ideas. However, for the most part, it’s the same thing day in and day out while you struggle to find something different to punctuate the ennui of it all. Alas you must be careful, for in your hunt through the field of clover to find one of the four leaf variety, you may overlook the snake in the grass that is waiting to bite you in the ass. I once heard a saying that war is comprised of days upon days of utter boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. While the terror is not something I’m necessarily hunting for, I long to at least finish a project or achieve a feeling of accomplishment out of my current missions to break the monotony of it all. Let’s face it, while logistics is important to the fight, it isn’t exactly the most glamorous or exciting job. No matter though. With only a little over two months of time left in country, I’ll plod along until I’m able to hand the reins over to my replacement, whoever the unlucky soul may be.

Oh, before I forget, while I'd like to take credit for the creative picture below, I have to give credit to Kevin for thinking it up. He thought it would be funny, but that's because he thinks "Asians + Tunnels = Funny".

Groundhog's Day

If the IRR soldier sees his shadow, that means 6 more weeks of deployment!

01 February 2008

What? No internet?

So we got an email today telling us that due to an undersea fiber optic cable being cut, our internet access would be limited. Now while most folks just use the web to check their stock quotes or check their AOL mail accounts, we here in the log world actually do a lot of stuff official stuff on the internet. The lack of it doesn’t make us non-mission capable, but it does make it more of a pain without access to certain pieces of information that we use to readily get from the internet. The absence of internet does give a decisive blow to the morale department. With our limited access to things like TV, the internet was the only real way we could read the news pages to find out what was going on out in the “real world”. How are we going to update our MySpace sites?! It has caused a real stir here, especially to folks who use the web as their primary means to communicate with folks back home. There are still limited access points where satellite servers are accessible, but from our office it is shut down, kaput, no more. Maybe it’s a good thing as the only noteworthy items we are missing out on are news on the presidential debates (which aren’t the most exciting), our personal email accounts (which are just full of spam telling us of the latest sale on Viagra) and the failing stock market.

It’s crap.

Guess I’ll have to do work now.

On an interesting note, one of the companies who own the fiber optic line that was cut is called SeaMeWe.