30 March 2008


I’ve been a little restless. It could be the anticipation of going home or the mosquito in my trailer that has kicked my ass for the past 3 nights. Whichever it is, I’m up before they call everyone outside the wire to morning prayer and I’m sitting in the TV trailer listening for tell-tale signs that I should be someplace containing more concrete. Thank God I don’t have much more of this to go.

I’m what you’d call a short timer. I have completed 336 days in Iraq and only have a few more to go before they ship me home just days shy of a year. As I’ve noted in previous blogs, I’ve spent the last few days packing things up, throwing things out, out-processing and generally trying to stay focused on the things I need to do (like not getting blown up). I have a lot of thoughts about my deployment, most of which I’ve already written about, but as my days here number in the single digits, I’ve oddly spent a large portion of this week looking back on my last year instead of looking forward to my trip home. I would love to say that this experience here has been a positive one, that I was called up when I was needed to do a job that was very necessary to support the mission. I would like to think that some other soldier with multiple deployments under their belt didn’t have to come over here because Uncle Sam called me up instead. I want to believe that my efforts contributed or mattered. Only time will tell if I’ll ever accept any of these things as true.

Even though I’m out of here soon, I still have some more hoops to jump through before I arrive in my home state of Texas. There’s a stop-over in Kuwait and then back to Fort Riley where I’ll most likely freeze by rear off. Only after I do all that will I be released. I call Dallas home because both my civilian job and my stuff are there, but technically I’m homeless since I sold my place before I deployed. I have some wonderful people who are going to put me up until I can find a place of my own so I won’t be living out of an abandoned refrigerator box in the bottom of the Trinity River valley.

On top of figuring out my living arrangements, I’m looking forward to returning to my life outside of uniform. I’m going to try and do some traveling to visit friends and family, especially those who supported me and kept in touch with me, my parents and my girlfriend during this tour. I’d love to take just a month off to travel the states, slowly letting myself get readjusted to the common liberties I’ve missed by being away from the US for so long, but there are many factors that will prevent that, the biggest of them being the cost of gas. I guess I’ll just chalk up paying the $75 to fill the tank on my truck as one of those freedoms I’ve missed out on.

I wonder if they sell monkey butt scented car fresheners back home?

27 March 2008


We get sent all kinds of crazy things here, from 5 gallon buckets of hand sanitizer, to crates of Slinkies, to bullet proof vests (seriously, somebody sent one of the captains here body armor!). Despite the absurdity of the contents of the countless care packages, they are all great gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness meant to make you smile or brighten your day (or stop a bullet). In light of the current situation here, I figure I’d share this one obscure item that was stuffed away in a box.

What you are looking at is an air freshener in the shape of a cute and cuddly monkey. What a great idea, because we need all the help we can get to battle the stench from the burning trash, the heated porta potties, and room mates with stinky feet. He’s dressed in a nifty blue shirt and even comes with a suction cup to hang it on the window or other flat surface.

What makes this otherwise ingenious knick-knack less than normal is where the sent emits from.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll take smelly room mate over monkey butt any day.

26 March 2008

Daylight Savings

Just the other day a command decision was made by the Government of Iraq NOT to observe daylight savings time on 30 March. This is significant for three reasons:

1.) Since the coalition works closely with Iraqis, we in turn will not adjust our clocks forward so that we may operate on common time with our Iraqi counterparts.

2.) It also means that we don’t get to go home an hour early since they made the important decision not to “spring forward” like other countries in the area.

3.) And finally, it's proof that the Government of Iraq (GoI) can take charge of their country (so all you skeptics out there who thought otherwise are proven wrong!).

Okay, I jest, but I do so for good reason as we are trying to find some levity in all the crap that is happing here. I'm feeling a little nostalgic for the quiet time of last May 2007 (and since it is difficult to convey sarcasm in text format, I will say that the happenings of late are not quiet nor were they quiet back in May of last year).

25 March 2008

Counting down

For most of the northern hemisphere, March 20th marked the first day of spring (or vernal equinox which means equal parts daylight and darkness).  It seems that in the last week the country of Iraq enjoyed only 5 days of spring-like weather, with temps in the 80’s and a nice breeze to move the haze of burning trash.  Yesterday and today the mercury climbed to almost 100 marking the early arrival of summer.  What the heck happened?  Why did they skip right over the 90 degree range?  Again, I hate commenting on the weather as I feel like it is a cop out from actually writing something of significance.  Sure, if we were suddenly buried under 6 inches of snow due to some freak blizzard in the middle of April, then that would be something to write about.  But normally it is sunny, it is hot, and it is not pleasant so it doesn’t warrant a full blog to talk about it.


Onto happier and arguably more interesting things...I’m closer to leaving.  Although I am looking forward to getting the heck out of here, I think the clock is conspiring against me.  And if it isn’t the dragging minutes keeping me from my date with freedom, it’s the chain of command throwing in some interesting pre-redeployment antics.  They moved me out of my trailer yesterday to make room for some newcomers (because they couldn't wait the whole week before I leave to move new folks in).  Since my room mate left with the first wave of departures a few days back, I found myself alone in the confines of the same four paper-thin steel walls I’ve stared at for most of the past year.  I celebrated this new found freedom from living in close proximity to someone by turning down the air conditioning and getting a good night’s sleep (in the absence of my chainsaw snoring buddy).  Actually, Ryan, a fellow IRR officer, was a pretty good room mate for the past year, even if he only had 9.5 fingers.  He started this whole process with me and Chris at Benning over 437 days ago and it was good to see he was fortunate to get on the early flight out of here to see his wife and kid in Alaska.  I thought highly of him and his efforts here, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think about knocking him out and stealing his ID card for the early bird home.  And with Velcro nametapes, how could my diabolical plan fail?  I might have actually got away with it, but I believe that I lack the necessary physical qualities to pass for a 6 foot something round-eye.  Oh well. 


Since we had folks living in tents while they waited for trailers to empty out, I moved in with another captain in order to free up a full wet trailer for two female NCOs thereby ending my short time sans room mate.  I wasn’t too excited about packing up my stuff only to repack it when I leave in about a week, but I moved as instructed which gave me a good opportunity to take stock of all the gear I have.  Let me say that I’ve accumulated a lot of “stuff” since I’ve been here and if all goes well, it might be back in the states before I am.  Again I ask, why didn’t I just mail myself home?  

23 March 2008

Happy Easter

I received my deployment award yesterday in what one would call a marathon ceremony. Being the eleventh out of twelve people recognized, it lasted over an hour and was full of your typical banter by folks with inflated awards, punctuated by the occasional moments of sincere gratitude. As I sat there listening to the awardees thank everyone and talk about their experiences, it made me a little more reflective than usual about what I've done in my last year here. But, just like my short speech, I will save everyone from my babblings until I have time to make them coherent.

In the meantime, Happy Easter everyone. I hope that his will be the last holiday I spend in Iraq, although I'm not quite sure if one considers April Fool's Day as an official holiday.

I'm not positive, but I think the insurgents either hate the Easter Bunny, or they don't want us hunting for colored eggs this morning. I best go.

19 March 2008


Everywhere I look, I see the doe-like eyes of the new arrivals to our unit looking back at me, eagerly taking in the sights and wondering what in the heck they've gotten themselves into.  There is part of me that wants to heckle them and say cruel things like, "Bet your recruiter didn't tell you about this place," but I refrain.  All of them will soon find out that no amount of training or homework would prepare them for the journey they are embarking on in this world of transition commands, and that is insult enough.  Besides, most of them will be home by Christmas of this year as the new requirement for reservists called up to augment the OIF/OEF slots is only a one year of total activation (which includes their train up).  Does it make those of us who are on their 15th month away from home a little bitter?  Yes, but life is not fair, and neither is the military.  So in the meantime, those of us who are fast approaching month 12 of boots on ground will console ourselves by making fun of the newbies every chance we get.  


For the most part our replacements have it pretty easy.  Our jobs in this unit aren't that difficult.  We don't make a habit of kicking down doors nor do we conduct dangerous pre-dawn patrols through IED-land, but we have our own set of unique situations that makes the job complicated.  Some of us do a lot of traveling by air or ground movement, others pour hours of their time analyzing information for General Officer level briefings, and others have to deal with Iraqis on a daily basis.  The stress level is brought on by having so many General Officers asking for crazy pieces of information (how many left handed Kurds who wear size 8 shoes live in the Sulaymaniyah province?) or trying to read the minds of the field grades that scurry about.  Throw in some close calls with the friendly neighborhood insurgent rocket man or a pop shot at your convoy now and then and it brings about the harsh reality that although we primarily work in the confines of a protected base, that base is in the middle of a war zone.  There is a monotony that exists with the day in and day out routine, but the repetition is punctuated by new challenges, new experiences, and new ways to creatively brief a general officer on how his idea is ludicrous without making him realize that you just called him an idiot to his face.


The new folks are just that; new.  It's something that they wear like a timid coat but will soon shed as their experiences grow in number and the weather heats up (I don't recommend wearing anything more than you have to in the summer time).  They are eager to perform and I won't belittle them for wanting to do a good job because I think everyone has a desire to perform well, although I would argue that some lack the ability to.  In the meantime, us "old timers" will entertain ourselves and chide the replacements when they freak out at a power outage or the sound of the incoming mortar alarm, but it wasn't that long ago that we were in their shoes.  Well, actually it WAS a long time ago, and we are ready to get out of here.  


For those of you who are counting at home, today marks the 431st day of being re-activated into the Army (326 days of boots on ground in country).  Do you know that cliché that says, "Time flies when you are having fun"?  Well, it doesn't apply. 

18 March 2008


For a few minutes this morning I was sitting on the warm concrete outside the makeshift gym enjoying the mild temps and the gentle breeze.  I had just finished a run on the treadmill during my “yard time” and took my stretching out of the building where I could cool off sans Arab-MTV playing on the monitors.  I had plopped down on the ground to start stretching my hamstrings when I noticed some white stuff falling on my sweaty legs and arms.  Snow?  Nope.  It was 90 something degrees this morning and unless the Lions won the Superbowl and hell had actually frozen over, I didn’t think that snow in Iraq was possible this far into spring.  After I touched and smeared the gray/white flakes on my skin I realized it was ash from some distant perpetual fire.  I thought about how many days I’ve smelled burning garbage and it reminded me of the Springfield Tire Fire (burning since 1966) from “The Simpsons”.  Here in Baghdad, there is always a plume of dark smoke rising in the distance horizon.  Sometimes it’s the result of a car bomb or some kinetic action involving soldiers in armored vehicles and insurgents on foot, but most of the time its from the burning trash (which is the Iraqi approved way of getting rid of unwanted refuse).  Although this incinerator mentality of disposing of trash would have Al Gore throwing a hissy fit, it is norm here and it is one more thing that I will not miss about Iraq.  


Lately, when I’m not sucking in pollution or wiping my eyes of hazy smoke, I am busy training my replacement.  He is yet another IRR soldier, a Major this time 10 years my senior, and he has been out of the Army even longer than me.  In fact, the new batch of replacements draws heavily on the IRR, but some of this group has not donned the uniform in over a decade.  My reign of having the longest break in service was over!  I don’t think that most of the my group were prepared to do the mission that we trained 3 months for at Ft. Riley, but this new batch of unlucky souls had even less time to prepare (around a month) for what they will be doing for the next year.  I feel for them as I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this ordeal, but there is a selfish part of me that is just happy that there is a warm body here that will assume my job thus allowing me to go home.  Does that make me a bad person?  If it does, then I apologize, but I won't feel bad about packing my stuff and getting out of here most ricky-tick.  

17 March 2008

Happy St. Pats

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  Take one good look at me you'll realize that I don't exactly have a plethora of Irish in my blood coursing through my veins, but I must have the luck of the Irish as I am going home earlier than expected.  In a little under two weeks from today I will be boarding the first leg of my long journey home.  It’s hard to believe, and there’s part of me that doesn’t believe it as they have screwed with my date before.   As with anything here, we’ll wait and see what happens. 

06 March 2008

Bizzaroland: Part Deux!

I think it is only fair to caveat this blog with the fact that I’ve only had one or two hours of sleep in the last two days, and of those brief cat naps, none were near the R.E.M. quality that a body needs to replenish it’s stores. No matter, as I’m not in Iraq, and any time away from Iraq can be considered a good thing.

I almost did not get here. On the eve of my transportation out of the IZ, a smoldering helmet fire burst into an inferno (compliments of the two star) requiring briefs and updates on a topic that was unfortunately in my lane. I scurried around to get the information to the people who needed it and thanks to a boss that was understanding of my plight, he cut me loose at the last second so I could go on my last pass. I can only hope that my absense doesn't lose the war for us.

It’s kind of silly to take a pass this late in the game, especially since I’ll be leaving country so soon (although not soon enough). I originally planned on just chilling in my trailer for a few days, giving me time to pack up the mountains of items that are stuffed in my locker and under my bed. With the many care packages and the occasional access to Amazon.com, you’d be surprised at the amount of stuff you accumulate during a deployment. Most of it is comfort items that I intend to pass onto the next lucky soul who takes my place (if such a person exists) while some of the more sentimental stuff will get carefully put in boxes and sent back ahead of me via the US Postal Service. Now if I could only find a way to pack myself into a box...

Anyway, I was convinced that the lack of a convenient chow facility at the FOB I reside on and the prospect of getting out of the IZ was reason enough to take the second and final four day pass to the same location that the Captain Mafia flew to almost 6 months ago. While our numbers are severely impacted by the multiple tasks related to the pending re-deployment , we do have three captains and a master sergeant in our ranks for a few days. Not too shabby. The trip was an adventure (as always), but the weather this time is much more hospitable than it was back in September. Instead of humidity making your clothes stick to your body or the air sticking to your lungs, it was a little chilly when we touched down early this morning. The day is warm enough to don shorts and t-shirts but not hot enough to make you spontaneously burst into flames if you don’t seek shaded cover.

I think I needed this break to get me away from the IZ and all of the things that have given me a pretty negative attitude lately. Most of the downbeat feelings are derived from the soul crushing office bureaucracy that has put a damper on morale as of late, which is why it was so important to actually get as far away as Uncle Sam would allow me. The other contributors to the distressing posture I’ve carried lately have followed me here, but they are not unnecessarily complicated by the stresses of daily work life in the IZ. Hopefully a little rest, a change in food options, and a maybe some time to reflect will allow me to shake some of these blues so I can return ready to complete the last few weeks of this here deployment.

Wish me luck.

Now, it’s off to find some food and a soft horizontal surface to lay my head.

01 March 2008


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