Friday, November 9, 2007

International Travels ...

I'm sitting here in the 'mall' at Kuwait City International Airport. My flight for home doesn't leave for five hours, so I have some time to kill. I guess I'll do some people watching. See you all soon! Until tomorrow ... literally.

-Grease out

Monday, November 5, 2007

The definition of irony ...

A man has a vehicle for a year. He makes fun of it endlessly and the truck never lets him down. He doesn't care very much whether it works or not, because he's not in a huge rush to get anywhere.

On the final day, the man has a truck. He sings it's praises and needs it VERY MUCH to get him to the airport so he can fly home. He IS in a rush and has somewhere to be. The truck responds by having a dead battery.....

More to follow ....

-Grease out

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Congrats Navy!!

After 43 years, you guys got one! Due to the lack of coverage on AFN, I can't speak with any knowledge on the ND program this year. That being said, one would have to wonder if this team has quit on the coach. Either way, I really hate losing. It's not that I expect us to win every game, far from it; it's just that so many folks HATE ND, the comments are a bit much (especially from the mainstream media).

All that aside, HUGE props to the Midshipmen of Navy. They played their hearts out today and deserved the win. I feel compelled to send congrats to my brother-in-law Pat, a Naval Academy grad. I owe you a bottle of scotch! Ugh, you knew it would happen someday (like death and taxes), but you hope it wouldn't. Oh well, next year 12-0 (hey, a boy can dream, right?). Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Lame-Duck Times ...

That's it! I've finished my turnover, attended my last meeting and shipped all my stuff home. All I need now is a plane flight out of here, and that will happen in just over a week. It's been an odd week - ever since I announced my pending departure, (in the way so many do these days ... an Outlook 'Out-of-Office' message) I have found my inbox frighteningly quiet. As described in a previous post, the war must go on, and there is no reason to continue E-mailing a guy who isn't in the job anymore. At the high point, I was averaging over one hundred E-mails a day (many of them were 'informational copies' not requiring action - but the majority required some response on my part) ... over the last four days ... six. Not six a day, mind you, but ... six. I am Jack's inner boredom. I still had to attend the last few meetings with Aaron, but the job is his now. I just sit in the back to provide historical reference if needed. I'd love to say that I'm saddened by my new found apparent lack of value, but I understand the need to move forward. I'm just happy that my relief has the same drive and excitement for the job I did, so many months ago. To him, there's no reason to accept 'no' for an answer. He doesn't have the history of running into the bureaucracy of a large occupying force, so he's able to dream big.

I really believe that reason is justification for the 280 day tour (the Army does 12-15 months - 15 for deploying units, 12 for Individual Augmentees, the Air Force does 6 or 12 months, and the Navy does 6 month, 12 month and 280 day (just under 10 months)). Folks here for 6 months never really have time to 'get into' their jobs before they start preparing to leave. 12 month folks get burned out after about 9 months. The 280 day IA has allowed me to understand the job and make some positive impact, without getting to the point where I'm so burnt out that I don't care anymore (not saying that all folks here for 12 months get to that point, but I have seen it more than a few times). Some of the Navy folks like the idea of 6 month tours (standard for our shipboard deployments), but my problem with that is: when you go on a six month Navy deployment, we are doing the job we have trained for our entire career - the 'spin-up' process is much smaller. When you come to a job such as this, you have to learn an entirely new way of looking at the battlespace. It takes several months before you are a fully functional member of the team. If you're here for only six months, you may be more than halfway through your tour before you can start to contribute at your full potential. The folks over here don't have time to wait for you to 'get it.' If you're not part of the team ... they'll find someone who is. It gets frustrating to find someone who can really help your efforts, only to have them tell you that they are on the way out the door in a few weeks. Either way, I'm glad it's over.

Over the next few days, I'll be killing time in my trailer waiting for my flight to Kuwait. The Navy rapidly realized the need for a 'transition program' to help Sailors re-acclimatize to life at home. When we're on shipboard deployments, we do some of this on the long journey home from our forward deployed station. Here, the answer is the Warrior Transition Program. It allows us to return all of the gear the Army so graciously lent us, and sit through some briefings to help us transition to home (read: Death by Powerpoint). The original version of WTP was reported to be a pain in the butt on your way home. The Navy responded by actually LISTENING to the critiques and adjusting the course. The feedback we get now is that WTP has some hassles, but is mostly free-time to allow one to 'de-compress.' I'm looking forward to that. I have some friends from my early training that will be travelling with me, so I'll have some folks to hang out with (Hee-Haw has already decided that we should spend most of our free-time playing Halo 2 - I know Halo 3 is on the market, but we're creatures of habit). I'll probably write a bit more before I get home, but this is probably the last 'large post' of The Landlocked Sailor. I want to take a moment to thank each of you for following along with me for the last ten months. It may seem crazy, but in some ways I feel like it's been a conversation (albeit a long, one-sided one) with folks who, although you may not totally understand whats going on over here, are willing to listen. I started this a way to keep the family in the loop about my adventures, but it turned into a way to keep some sanity in an insane place. Anyway, thanks for listening. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Thought for the day

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go
I'm standin' here outside your door
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye

But the dawn is breakin', it's early morn
The taxi's waitin', he's blowin' his horn
Already I'm so lonesome I could die

So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you'll wait for me
Hold me like you'll never let me go'

Cause I'm leaving on a jet plane
I don't know when I'll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go

John Denver - 1967

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turnover ...

It's official, I've begun turning my duties over to Aaron, my relief. He's watching me go through a typical week this week, and next week I'll observe him. After we're done with that ... I'm gone. To say that Aaron was a bit overwhelmed at the scope of the job is an understatement. It's not that the job is that tough, it's more learning about how we do business over here. I had forgotten how bizarre this world can be. Like any military job, we have our own language here. Aaron has spent the last few days listening and giving me that telling look that means, "uhhh, what does that acronym mean?" Thankfully, he comes from good stock (in previous jobs) and doesn't need too much coaching when it comes to staff work. I saw some lightbulbs come on this afternoon when he started to realize our role in the war. Turnovers like this are easier because there is a light at the end of the tunnel for me, thus making me energetic about the passdown. It's a ton easier to take your time with a guy who's learning when you have a positive outlook. That, and he has what we all did when we arrived - energy. I'd love to think that the IAG can't do without me, but many years of Naval service have taught me one thing - the show will go on, even if you're not there. The constant risk of a person not being there in the morning makes us keep our jobs ready to turnover at a moments notice. You have to have all your tiny parts organized and ready to go, in the event that you're not there to teach the new guy. Morbid? .. yes, but reality.

I took Aaron on the usual tour of our home here in Baghdad, stopping at all the scenic spots that Kenny showed me all those months ago. I even stopped to take the exact same picture of a man and his Humvee that I posted in the early days of The Landlocked Sailor. It doesn't seem like it's been ten months since I started this journey. My life has changed in countless ways in the time that I've been gone: My father is no longer with us, but I'm blessed with two wonderful new babies and countless new friends along the way. I've also witnessed history over here: this place was a nightmare when I arrived - each day seemed a bit scarier than the last. Over time, however, things seemed to get more sane. At first I thought I was just getting used to the insanity, but I looked back at the data over the months - there has been real change here. It's something the mainstream media won't tell you. The work is far from over, but it IS WORKING. I wasn't sure about General Petraeus' plan for the surge when I arrived, but over time I've come to see how brilliant it was. It's not just taking back Baghdad, it's showing the people what can happen if they unite behind the flag instead of secular causes. We jokingly use the phrase, "strike another blow for Democracy," but that's more truth than fiction. Every time I read about a unit of the Iraqi Security Forces taking control of an area, it does my heart good. These men are PROUD of what they're doing, and they try daily to emulate the Coalition forces (specifically the U.S.). They see the pride these kids have in our flag, and realize they can have that too. I really hope we stay the course here, we owe it to these folks - we challenged them, and they answered. Let's help them the rest of the way. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

P.S. I have to include this picture because a buddy of mine back home was making fun of me when I told him that I could actually shoot a weapon pretty well. We had a weapons shoot the other day, and I decided to try to get my "Expert" qual on the M-16. I'm no Marine ... but I can hold my own. This is the modified target - instead of a 300 meter range with human size targets, you get a 25 meter range with targets accurately sized to simulate shots up to and including 300 m. Four shots per target, 40 in all - 36 gets you Expert ... I shot 38. The ball is in your court now, "Blondie!"

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wow ...

Never have I seen an ND team stink this bad. Get your gameface on Navy, this is your year. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My new best friend ...

I met my new best friend today. I can't tell you his name, for security reasons, but we'll call him Aaron. I forgot what it's like to be brand new in this theater. His group arrived this morning and we stopped by to visit this afternoon. I spent about an hour with them answering some basic questions - basic to us, we've been here for ten months - quite important to them. "How do I plug in my laptop?" "Where can I call home?" "What do you people do here, anyway?" I'm looking forward to giving Aaron the grand tour - he seems eager to learn about our job and some of the other specifics about the war effort. This is a good thing - some folks show up here without any desire to further the effort - they just want to do their time and go home. For many of the jobs here, that's enough. But for ours - you need to go the extra mile to get the job done. I think this is why the JCCS job is so rewarding to many; by putting in the extra effort, you will see real progress during your time here. Either way, I'm just glad the guy showed up.

Today was one of those days where I felt like I was able to tie up many of the loose ends needed before I turn my job over. I finally found someone who would fix my "war machine" humvee and I saw one of my larger projects meet my goal for my time here (I wanted my biggest project to reach the 30% complete point before I left here - It's a project that will take well over a year, but all of the major groundwork has been completed - now I just have to wait for the the wheels of this large machine to turn - hence the 30% complete point). I'm starting to feel like I have reached a point where I will give Aaron a turnover that is as good as could be expected. I recieved a wonderful turnover from my predecessor Kenny, and I wanted to make sure that I returned the favor.

Today was also one of those days where you realize that this place is still dangerous, despite the conditions we find ourselves in. I'm sure many of you heard of the attacks we've had on the base in the past few weeks. I've found myself closer to both major attacks than I would care to be - mostly through sheer, dumb luck. Today was no different. After we left the truck with the repair guys, we returned to the office to find a crowd discussing an incident that happened in our compound - no one was hurt, or even in that much danger - but it was still startling. Obviously I can't give you any particulars, but lets just say we proved the laws of Gravity with a small touch of Newton's Third Law of Motion tonight. Things tend to get crazy around the end of Ramadan, and this year was no exception. The three day holiday (Eid al Fitr) that marks the end of Ramadan was held over this weekend, and tensions were a bit high. This being my third Ramadan in the Persian Gulf, I though I was prepared for it. But being on the ground in Baghdad is worlds different than being on a ship in the Gulf or on portcall in Bahrain or Dubai. I've never claimed to be a learned scholar of Islam, but I feel I have a better understanding after experiencing the month of Ramadan from ground zero. Oh well, It's time to start packing in earnest. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The sweetest victory ...

is the first one. Congrats to the Irish! I sat up on Saturday night until 7:00 AM Sunday morning listening to the game via web radio. I don't know if we'll win another game this year, but we at least avoided the goose egg.

Sorry I've been away for a few days, but immediately after I listened to my Irish beat UCLA, my internet went away. Apparently the local LAN on my pad (area where they have a group of trailers) has one chokepoint - it all starts from my next-door neighbor's trailer and branches out to all of us. Our best guess is, the guy next to me went home on his mid-tour leave and turned off all of the powered devices in the trailer upon his departure ... including his router. I don't blame the guy for killing the power - things in Iraq have a tendency to catch on fire due to faulty wiring. I can't tell you how many times I've either heard of or seen a wire melt and explode into small flames around here. It's happened in our office twice in the last month. We buy our extension cords from the Hajji mart, who gets them from China ... you do the math. Either way, our old LAN is kaput (at least until the guy gets back).

So how, do you ask, are you posting right now? Once again my friends at Magic Island came through. When hit with a rash of service complaints this morning, the powers that be at my local internet provider decided to install a new LAN that is located on the OUTSIDE of the trailers (much easier to maintain). My friend, the install guy, promised it would be as reliable and speedy as the old one (where my wireless router was in my trailer). So far, it's working like a charm - then again not everyone knows that we are on a new network yet ...

Okay, I'm going to hit some other sites to catch up on some reading I missed in the last three days. I'll try to come up with a more interesting topic for later this week. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Cubicles ...

I promised you a post on building a cubicle jungle in Iraq. Unfortunately, our contractor brought the wrong cubicles for the job (didn't fulfill what the contract asked for). So, we refused to accept the product and now have to go back into the bidding process (what makes this even more thrilling is that we effectively lose the funds since they were allocated in Fiscal Year '07). When we asked why they didn't look in the boxes BEFORE they made delivery (you know ... to see if they were delivering the right stuff), the response was ... Inshallah. Wow ... I am beside myself.
Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My uncensored Id ...

During every deployment, there comes a time when you find yourself less bound by the conventional rules of behavior. I guess I have to clarify that, it's not that you go out and start shooting up the town, it's more along the lines of not being afraid to speak your mind - even if the subject/conclusion isn't popular. I find myself careening headlong into this period of the deployment. I realized it today, during the weekly staff meeting. After listening to briefer after briefer talk endlessly about programs that seem to have no point, I threw out a side comment about how pointless some of our tasks are (We had a heated discussion about the necessity of pull-up bars for the Iraqi military). Most of the others looked at me with shock (being one of the senior guys in the department, I'm expected to be a "kool-aid drinker"). My boss just laughed and quietly remarked, "the uncensored Id." We talked about it later and he understood that I didn't mean to belittle our work, but that it does get frustrating dealing with folks who don't always seem to want to move forward. I've overheard him say, "Rebuilding Iraq would be so much easier, if it weren't for the Iraqis." You know what ... some days he's right. It's a difference in culture over here. When faced with a difficult task, the Iraqi response is often "Inshallah" - if Allah wills it. Where we would ask what is needed, what can we do, they say "Inshallah." I'm not kidding on this one ... you sign a contract to have 200 widgets delivered and the guy shows up with 100 - Inshallah; you plan the meeting for 10:00 AM and no one shows until 11:30 - Inshallah. I'm going to take it home with me ... Honey, did you take out the garbage ... Inshallah! My boss looks at it as another one of those signs that it's time for me to go home. He doesn't want to see me go (I'm one of the one who has really "bought in" to his vision for our staff), but he realizes that a person cannot do this job non-stop without needing some down time. I may wind up back here someday, and when I return I will be full of the vigor and drive needed to get the job done; but as I approach the end of a VERY long year ... Inshallah, it's time for Grease to head for the homestead and spend some time with a wife and four kids who need him as much as the Coalition does. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

P.S. Tomorrow, we will examine how many folks are required to assemble office furniture and how long it should take (I'll give you a hint: the number is greater than what we had and the time is more than we expected)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Honors and benefits at such a young age! ...

Okay, a dollar for the first person who can identify the movie quote that has given me today's title. I'll give you a hint: This movie is a TBS/TNT staple, but only during a certain part of the year.

In all seriousness, I feel honored as a baby blogger today. If you look at the first comment on yesterday's blog (the one about the bizarre Iraqi time change), you'll see that I was picked up to be on the daily blogroll of The Thunder Run today. It's nice to see others finding enjoyment in the silliness of my daily life. If you haven't ever checked out Thunder Run, you may like it (it's more along the lines of a political blog, but they dedicate a large portion of their space to supporting military bloggers - pretty darn cool if you ask me). I'll have to remember this in job interviews - I'm a published author - ha, ha. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

P.S. I found another video from the E-2C guys who were such a YouTube hit last year with their "Hey Ya" and "Pump It" videos. These guys are a riot, and they have some creative minds in that squadron. Enjoy!

VAW-113 presents "Move Along"

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Spring ahead, fall back ... sort of ...

Okay, I promised to tell you how the Government of Iraq (GOI) is trying to drive us insane through confusion. It all concerns the seasonal time change that so many of you will go through in about three weeks. You all probably remember that the U.S. used to change time this weekend during the year, but moved the spring and fall time changes, for some strange reason, by three weeks. This is no big deal if you live in the U.S. and you know the new time change date. In Iraq, however ... it's a nightmare of biblical proportions.

When I went to college in South Bend, IN we were used to strange issues related to the seasonal time change. Back in those days, Indiana did not participate in Daylight Savings Time with the rest of the country. So, for six months out of the year, we were in a different time zone than Michigan. This would not be a big deal, unless you factor in that the state of Michigan BORDERS South Bend, IN. Invariably, this lead to confusion when you had anything to do in Michigan. It also led to confusion when you realized that you weren't sure what time it was at home anymore. I can't tell you how many times I called my house at the "wrong" time (according to my parents ... apparently phone calls at 10 PM are a no-no in my house). We would blame our mistakes on the time zone thing. They don't have this excuse anymore since Indiana has moved into the 20th century and subscribed to Daylight Savings Time.

Back to Iraq - the GOI (with some prodding from the U.S.) decided to implement DST since the U.S. presence here. They, however, keep the change weekends the same as the original weekends in the U.S. Since the U.S. changed weekends, this has led to mass confusion in the GOI. This week, we didn't know when the change date would be until the DAY prior. This creates some issues when trying to schedule things for the following week. If that wasn't bad enough, at 7:45 PM on the night that we were scheduled to change over, we received an E-mail telling us that the GOI decided to change the date by 24 hours. Only problem with that is: probably half of the folks who needed to know about it were at their computers at 7:45 PM. Needless to say, most folks went through today not knowing what time it is. I'm sitting here in the "Golden Hour" of time where I have just reset my clock and am back in the month of September ... after spending approximately 15 seconds in October. It's enough to give you headache from having to think about it. So I'm going to bed ... hopefully I will wake up at the right time and hopefully this is the last time I have to deal with idiocy from the GOI while I'm here ... but I'm not holding my breath on that one. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wilford Brimley ...

That's all I have to say about Purdue. Although we looked good in the second half (either that or they looked bad). Thanks to all of you who sent E-mails agreeing with me about the Service Banner post (It's nice to know that I'm not a) insane or b) overly critical). I talked with the exchange manager the next day and explained my concerns about the flags. She told me something about it being on the standard list of items the exchange carries, then she quietly mentioned that we probably received them in the front because they didn't sell in the rear (back in the States). This makes sense, but it doesn't excuse them from the lunacy of the display. She immediately took them away and we haven't seen them back since. Score one for the good guys (or should I say score one for tact).

I told you before that I had some big news ... my homecoming is in sight! I was farewelled today from the IAG and should be home before Thanksgiving! Some of you knew this already, but we kept the info kind of close aboard, so as not to raise false hopes. They farewelled me today because I may be gone before they do another one. I'm really not a big fan of farewells, you always walk away wishing you had said more or thanked more folks. I did get some nice parting gifts. The coin the IAG has is one of the better ones I've seen and the prayer rug is a neat memento. Either way, the light at the end of the tunnel is growing, and this time it's not a train. They may still toy with my emotions and tell me that my trip home is on hold, but I'm pretty sure I'm good. I even know my replacement's name! We'll call him Doug, for now (cause that's his name - as always, no last names - don't want to get in trouble for my blog ... again).

Well, I'll sign off for tonight. I'll keep you posted on my potential homecoming. I just had a wave of sadness come over me ... my homecoming means the end (for now) of the Landlocked Sailor ... okay, that passed. Have a great Sunday! Tomorrow, I'll tell you a bit about how the Government of Iraq is determined to drive us insane ... much like the state of Indiana did for many years. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stupidity ...

I'm going to take a moment away from lamenting the current Notre Dame Football season (we stink, I know ... but in two years we are going to be AMAZING!), and concentrate all of my ranting ability on an enemy of servicemen and women everywhere - The military exchange system.

For those of you who are not familiar with military exchanges, they are government run stores that sell items at or below cost (at least that's what they tell us - to be honest, I've never found their prices competitive with the Walmarts/Sam's Clubs of the world - Apparently, they are a deal if you are stationed overseas, but in the states ... not so much). They carry a wide selection of brands that you won't find in other stores because ... no one wants to buy those brands. They advertise endlessly (I get more junk mail from them than anywhere else), but that's like the power company putting ads on your local TV - Do I have a choice in where I get my power? No matter how hard they try, they always seem to screw it up somehow.

I've given them a lot of slack over here, because it is a war zone, after all. They are not going to get all of the things we ask for, but they make do pretty well. The biggest problem I have is some of the things that they DO get, things we would never need in a million years. Last week, I saw two PALLETS full of dry dog food ... hmmm. Against my better judgement, I asked why. The nice assistant manager lady told me that the food could be for the military working dogs. Really ... good thing they thought of that, because I'm sure the Army sent dog teams over here with no thought of how to feed them. Needless to say, the food remained untouched until it was removed en masse earlier this week by a stockboy. Sometimes it seems like the exchange service sends items over to us that did not sell in the states. They have an entire display wall of 56 inch plasma TV's ... you know, for those soldiers living in 1/3 of a trailer. That, and we spent most of the summer looking at racks of Under Armour t-shirts that were either green (not an approved color for wear with the uniforms) or extra-small (for all those 4'5" soldiers in the crowd).

Now, all of those issues I could overlook - back to the war zone thing. But the lunacy I saw today made my stomach turn. I walked by the flag display (and end-cap full of U.S. and Iraqi flags for use on your trailer, etc.), and I saw that they were now stocking Service Banners.

-break, break-

Some of you know what Service Banners are, for those who don't:

A Service Flag in the United States is an official banner that family members of service members in harm's way can display. The flag or banner is defined as a white field with a red border, with a blue star for each family member in active duty

They were first used in World War I, but truly became popular in World War II and Vietnam. Quite a few soldiers' families have them today (I know that my wife, Mom, sister and my in-laws have been flying them since I departed for Iraq). There are two types of banners: ones with blue stars, indicating a family member serving overseas, and ones with gold stars, indicating that a family member has died in wartime service to our country (If you've ever heard of the group, the Gold Star Mothers, now you know why they have that name). It's a show of pride in a family's sacrifice in a time of war.

-break, break-

Okay, so back to our helpful exchange service. I saw the display of Service Banners and thought, "That's nice, now Soldiers can send a banner home to Mom and Dad." That is, until I looked again and realized that they ordered an entire display (more than one hundred in all) of GOLD STAR FLAGS. The packaging even clearly states that they are used for service members killed in combat. I actually stopped a Soldier in line who had three of them to send home to his family. After explaining what the flags signified, the soldier looked at what was in his hand with what appeared to be disgust and quietly placed them on the nearest display. I know that he immediately thought of what thoughts would go through his family's minds when they opened that "package from the front." I couldn't find a store manager to ask about the tastefulness of the display, so I'm left to wonder: Do these people want to negatively impact morale? Are they that incompetent? Or do they just not care? It's hard enough some days to keep morale up, without the exchange sabotaging the effort. My fear is that these people just don't care - to them it's just a job, nothing more. They don't realize the impact they have on the attitudes of Soldiers in theater. I've mentioned before that I'm not a big fan of the "contractor's war," but at least the government contractors have a clue about what our service here means to us. I guarantee that this would never happen if the store was run by Soldiers (or Sailors as is the case in the Ship's Stores underway). Someone in the approval chain would question the choice to place flags designed for families of fallen Soldiers in a place used by the ones who face that challenge every day. I'm frustrated by the lack of personal integrity and pride in your work that seems to pervade so much of our society.
Okay, I'll get off the soapbox (actually, I'll get off the soapbox tomorrow when I find a store manager and ask why they are selling Gold Star Flags in the exchange). Please know that we are keeping morale high and believe in our work, despite the efforts (or lack of any effort) of others. Stay tuned sports fans, I may have some BIG NEWS in the weeks to come. Until tomorrow.
-Grease out.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

If Football were Golf, Notre Dame would be unbeaten ...

Football being football however, ... that means we stink this year. I just sat through a 38-0 nightmare loss to Michigan. The only high point of the game was the Cuban cigar I enjoyed before kickoff. I know, in my heart of hearts, that we will improve ... eventually, but this is not the year. Our offensive line is ... offensive. Once again, I'm glad that of all the years to be overseas, this is the one when it comes to football. All I can say is: get your game faces on Navy fans ... this will be your year.

Other than that, life is good here. The temperatures are beginning to fall and the days are getting shorter. Ramadan began this week, which brings some new challenges for our guys. This is my second Ramadan in the Middle East, and I'm still trying to learn as much as possible about this Islamic Holy Month. I'll pass on tidbits as I get them.

The ND game has kind of taken the wind out of me, so I'll sign off. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fight on ...

Penn State! Congrats to my PSU friends on a good win over my Irish. Like I said, my guys weren't as bad as last week ... but they were close. I'm glad to be over here for this season while we rebuild (I know Coach Weis said that this isn't a rebuilding year, but c'mon ... who are we kidding here - we went from an offense that regularly put up 40 on the scoreboard to one that has yet to earn a rushing yard this year ... rebuilding is a nice term for it).

One thing that has me mildly amused, I don't think we've ever had a day in our house where all three of our teams lost on the same day (ND, Michigan, Georgia). I was sad to see UGA lose ... I don't know of anyone who actually likes Spurrier (except folks from FL or SC ... maybe the folks from Duke), and I hate to see him win almost as much as I hate to see UGA lose. Oh well, congrats, Blondie and all you other Nittany Lions out there (what the hell is a "Nittany Lion," anyway ... and what's up with the "White Out" - It didn't seem very intimidating, more like a gentle snowfall ... the noise, yes (that worked), but 110,000 folks in wife-beaters? Not so much). Good luck the rest of your season! I get to look forward to Michigan next week - at least one of us will have a win at the end of the day ... unless we're both so inept they decide to call the game and award points to teams that have beaten us previously. I was amused at Michigan running back Mike Hart who guaranteed a win over the Irish next Saturday. The follow-up question to his statement was, "Even without quarterback Chad Henne?" Hart, (apparently not aware that Henne's injury would keep him out of the ND game - I guess they forgot to include him on that E-mail) came back with a surpised, "Oh, well then that's a different story." - Nice - We can win, we can kick your butts!! What? The QB is out? Oh then, all bets are off.

Thankfully football keeps me somewhat sane over here. My time is winding down quickly, and the temps are finally dropping to acceptable levels (topped out at 107 today ... felt like a cold snap ... seriously, it felt like sweatshirt weather). But the job goes on. This week should be interesting with Gen. Petraeus' testimony, the beginnning of Ramadan and the Sep 11th anniversary all in one week. I'm interested to see what the reaction is over here. I'll keep you posted. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

It's still the most wonderful time of the year ...

Despite the difficulties my Irish faced last week. At this point in life I have realized that there is more in life than college football (much to the relief of my wife ... I used to be unbearable after a loss). I do enjoy the pageantry and competition of the college game. I think it's good from time to time to have "traditional powerhouses" stumble during the season - it makes the game more interesting. I'm sitting here watching the Michigan-Oregon game (rooting for the Ducks and their goofy uniforms, of course). I can't help it, I'm just not a Michigan fan. Four years of schooling in South Bend, IN makes you a Michigan hater ... later in life as you mature, you go from being a hater to just a non-fan. Well, an in-game update: Michigan threw a HORRIBLE interception on their first drive, and Oregon has the ball on the UM 6 yard line - Go Ducks!

One thing I have noticed about college football: There is no rhyme or reason to who you root for. I've seen kids grow up in a Georgia household, where everything is about the Bulldogs, become lifelong Georgia Tech fans. Nuts, Oregon is going to have to settle for the field goal ... good! Oregon 3 - Michigan 0. The other thing I've noticed about college football is one of the bad parts: It tends to bring out the worst in people. Some of the stories you hear about folks visiting their rivals stadium or some of the vitrolic hatred you see spewed on the internet is evidence of this. I just don't see how you can lose your humanity over a football game. My Dad an I always hated the phone call after the ND-UM game, one of us would get to gloat a bit, the other wouldn't say much. The difference with us was: by the end of the call, the joy/pain of an outcome was forgotten and we were talking about the relative strengths/weaknesses of each other's team. Oh well, only two hours until the Irish take on Penn State. I really don't know what the outcome will be. I know that ND can't be as bad as they looked last week, but I also know that Penn State looked great playing a patsy. We'll see. Good luck to all of your teams today (unless you're a wolverine, ha, ha). Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

It's the most wonderful time of the year ...

No, not Christmas ... the beginning of the college football season. Specifically, the first Notre Dame game of the year. If you check out the countdown timer on the left side of the blog, it will tell you the time remaining until the next ND game. That being said, it's a good day. The ND game is on at 2330 (11:30 PM for you non-military types) and the Georgia game is on at 0245 tomorrow morning (yes, I will be watching).

I talked to my sister earlier today, and we both agreed - today, of all days, we miss our Dad. College football was something that the three of us shared for so many years. He was, and is, a Michigan fan. I obviously am an ND man, and my sister is a UGA grad (twice over). We have always rooted for the other's schools, except of course, when playing each other (I secretly root against Michigan, but that's okay, my Dad secretly rooted against the Irish many days ... BTW, Michigan is down 28-14 at the half to APPALACHIAN STATE ... they deserve to lose for scheduling a 1-AA team). I always looked forward to Saturday when my Dad and I would call each other following "game-changing" moments. We would talk an average of ten times through the course of a Saturday. College football Saturdays are one of my favorite parts of the year, but there is definitely something missing this year. I hope as I grow older, I can share the same joy for sport with my kids. Oh well, back to the games. Go Irish, Go Dawgs, and (for the love of pete!) C'mon Michigan, it's App St. for crying out loud. Until tomorrow. -Grease out.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

I guess I spoke too soon ...

My new roommate moved out today. It turns out he was a transient ... not a psycho killer, though, so we've got that going for us ... which is nice. I guess it's all for the best, with the first Notre Dame game coming on this Saturday night, I'd hate to disturb him as I watch (whether the night is good or bad for the Irish, it looks to be exciting - I'd hate to wake him up with my cheering). Oh well, back to the single life ... I didn't even learn his name. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I arrived home today to a HUGE surprise. In month seven of my "Iraqi vacation," after more than five months of living in my cushy, wet trailer ... I have a roommate! I have no idea who this guy is, or what he does, but I did see him for about three seconds tonight as he closed the door to the bathroom when he got ready for bed. I came home today and did my usual check of the next room to see if there had been any change, and found a pile of KBR issued linens on the empty bed. Now, before we get our hopes up, he could be a transient, only here for a few days ... come to think of it, he could also be a psycho-killer ... hmmm, note to self: lock the door to the bathroom on the way to bed. The fact that he didn't say "hi" or introduce himself leads me to believe that living next to this guy could be much like not living next to anyone at all, but the juries still out on that one. We'll just have to see. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

P.S. Darling sister, I did NOT hold up a Notre Dame flag as I threatened during the UGA shout out. They asked me after if I wanted to do a personal shout-out for broadcast at Notre Dame, and I reminded them that REAL football schools don't need Jumbotrons to entertain the fans ... we do it on the field. Just under eight days until the kickoff of the 2007 Irish campaign for a title (what title that is remains to be seen).

P.P.S. Okay, this is funny. When I ran the spellcheck on my post before shooting it to the internet, it didn't like the word Jumbotron. The suggested substitute: Cambodians ... go figure.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My contribution to the war effort ...

... Apparently is my blog ... no, seriously. I was teaching the new class of JCCS-1 guys this morning and received comments on my blog! Kind of shocked me, to tell the truth. Let's rewind...

I taught the JCCS-1 students early this morning. The class is normally held at our headquarters, but due to the size of the group, we moved to Al Faw Palace (the Coalition HQ - same place you get your picture in Saadam's throne). It was actually an enjoyable class, the students were eager (they have only been here for a few days, so they still enjoy that unbridled enthusiasm - always easier to teach folks who truly want to learn), and the facilities at the palace make the JCCS-1 classroom look like a trailer ... which it is. I have to admit, teaching in a quiet space with good accoustics and a 60 inch plasma screen display made the day easier.

My class usually runs about 45 minutes (more if they ask a lot of questions), today ran almost an hour. When we finished, we put the students on a break and I went into the hall to chat with some of them. One of the students, an ex-A-6 Intruder BN, callsign: Pearl, walked up to me and asked a few questions about life on Camp Victory. We chatted for a few minutes, and he stopped me saying, "By the way, great blog!" I was shocked that he knew who "The Landlocked Sailor's" secret identity was - he reminded me that my callsign is on the title slide of my class, and asked, "How many dudes named "Grease" are in Iraq?" ... Good point. He went on to say that the class agreed that one of the best sources of information for folks coming over here on IA's are the blogs! I guess I never thought of it that way, I thought of this venture as a way to share some of my life's daily experiences with family and friends back home. Then I thought about how many folks have visited T.L.S. during my time here (approaching 5,000 - many of those are repeat hits, but the sheer number of hits indicates a ton of new guests. Also, in the past few weeks I've fielded several E-mails from soon to be JCCS-1 folks looking for more info about the command - to those out there who are coming in the next few months, send me an E-mail, and I'll try to answer your questions). It felt nice to make the transition from sailor in the states to IA sailor a bit easier for some (in all honesty, it's not just me - we have a bunch of quality blogs by the JCCS-1 crew - The One Wire, Stimp in Iraq, Spook in the Box, and a bunch of others ... and now we have one more as I have linked Pearl's blog (Pearl in the Desert) to the page). As always, thanks for being part of our readership - tough days seem easier when you know you can share your thoughts with others ... even if you never know who those others are!

Well, as is the case with most of my posts, the day doesn't end there. I left work about 3:30 (1530 for you military folks) to run some errands before our big event this afternoon. One of our Marines is an ex-Georgia Bulldog football player who still keeps in touch with the coaches. He asked if we would do a "shout-out" for their upcoming game against Oklahoma State (A shout out is one of those 15-30 second military spots they play on the Jumbotron or on the TV broadcast - basically giving the team support from Iraq). Well our General has a daughter at UGA, so it became a command-wide event (I'm pretty happy about it, seeing as how my sister is a UGA alum and will be at the game to see it). If you go to the game or watch on TV, I'm sitting on the Humvee on the left, just to the left of the large, black pipe that sticks up from the front bumper. The shout-out was fun, but that's not the point of the story ...

As I left my trailer to head back to work for the shout-out, everything seemed normal. This all changed as I drove down the road and realized my power-steering and brakes went from normal to non-existent as I was approaching a corner. Well ... this is new ... hmmmm. For a split second, I considered abandoning the mighty war-humvee in mid-flight, since the corner overlooked a canal. I decided to ride it out (usually the first line of data in a mishap report - Mishap Aviator #1 decided to ride the plane into the mountain rather than ejecting at an earlier time). I was able to muscle the hummer around the corner and allowed it to slow to a more reasonable speed ... thus making steering even more difficult. After a few near disasters, I careened my broken truck back into the IAG parking lot (try taking a turn-circle without brakes or power-steering - all I can say is it's a good thing the roads weren't too crowded), and parked it in the gravel. After we finished the shout-out, I recruited my assistant and our command's resident humvee mechanic to take a look at my sick truck. Apparently, several hoses had torn themselves away from the power-steering pump (spewing fluid EVERYWHERE) and there was something wrong with the brakes ... oh, and the bolt that holds the left-front shock absorber was gone ... not broken, just gone. Our mechanic thought he could resurrect the beast, so we set off for the motor-pool for some parts and fluid. After an hour of work, we hadn't made much progress. Our mechanic filled me with as much fluid as he could and wished me luck in my drive to the motor-pool ... great.

I limped over to the motor-pool, with my assistant in tow, in his humvee. I truly expected to be shot down by the guys there, since this truck isn't theirs, but they suprised me by taking the truck in and performing open-heart surgery on the beast for the better part of 2.5 hours. As always, the contractors over here amaze me - they get a bad rap in the press, but most of them are really here to help. They reattached the hoses and explained to me that, in my model humvee, the power-steering pump also controls whether or not the brakes work (now I'm not a car guy, but that seems like a design flaw - I always thought the brake master cylinder was controlled by vacuum pressure from the motor - but then again, like I said, I'm not a car guy). We actually fixed the power-steering and brakes in about 20 minutes, the shock took the rest of the time. These guys spent basically their entire evening fixing my truck (they even fixed some things I didn't even think of, like the A/C filter - that was a mess).

So once again, I'm in debt to some folks who went out of their way to help a brother in need. They (our humvee mechanic, my assistant, and those great guys at the motor-pool) reminded me why the bad guys hate us: Everyone has a part, and everyone can make a difference. The difference in America is: people get to that decision point in their life, whether or not to help a brother in need, and time and time again, they step up to the plate. There's my lesson for the day: remember ... someday, that guy on the side of the road with the hood up might be you. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crazy days ...

My apologies lately for my lack of posts, but I truly have been swamped with work. In addition to my day to day job, I also teach the guys who are coming in theater to replace folks from my group (there are about ten of us who volunteer our time to go back to the headquarters building to give the view from the front). It also helps that I teach the new guys about my soldiers, as my guys are kind of "special." When I say special, I mean that they are not your average Battalion or Brigade. My guys operate in small teams, on their own. Making sure that the new JCCS-1 guys understand this ensures that they will look out for my guys when they need help far from home.

I've been teaching the whole time I've been here, but recently we've changed the way we go about it. This has led to more of my time being required for not just classes, but roundtable events where students can ask questions relating to the jobs they will be doing. Needless to say, I love the chance to pass on what I've learned while over here. Every time I can pass on a mistake I've made in my dealings with the Army means that the next guy doesn't have to fall into the same pit.

I've also been traveling again. I know I said that I thought I was done traveling after I finished my turnover back in April, but certain opportunities have come up lately to get out of Baghdad - if only for a day or so. I know it make folks on the homefront nervous, but sometimes you have to be face to face with a person to get your point across.

Well, excuses aside, I will try to post a bit more often, especially as we get closer to the "report card" that Gen. Petraeus is due to give in the next few weeks. I'm interested to see what he has to say. As I've said before, you folks are not getting the "real story" from the media. The changes I've seen here in the last seven months have been dramatic. I truly think that we're making real progress in the war/peace effort, but I'll wait (just like the rest of us) to see what the view is "from the top."

Before I go, I do want to recognize a couple of special women on the occasion of their birthdays. My Mom's birthday was this past Friday. If there was ever a woman you wanted by you in tough times, she's the one. I could devote a separate blog to the things shes dealt with in her life. Happy Birthday Mom, I hope that I attack adversity in my life with the same class and strength that you've shown all these years.

Second is my wife, Karen. Her birthday was Saturday (makes it pretty easy, if I remember one, I remember them both ... If I forget one however ... Iraq may be a safer place for me than the states). I can't even begin to tell the tales of the strength my wife shows. Let's see, a short list: Dealt with multiple deployments in our nine-plus years of marriage, raised two, then four kids on her own while I was away, single-handedly survived Hurricane Ivan in 2004 while I was deployed, helped me through the death of my father back in March, gave birth to twins while I was here ... the list goes on and on (that doesn't even cover the fact that she puts up with me). I've never had anything but support from her, no matter what the situation. Psychoanalysts will say that men marry women like their mothers and women marry men like their fathers. I don't know if that's completely accurate, but I do know one thing: One of the things I most admire about my mother is her strength. I was lucky enough to find a woman who shares that trait. Although my mom and wife are totally different women in many regards, they do share a strength that is beyond admirable. A person would be lucky to come across one such person in his life ... I have two (actually more, but they didn't have birthdays this week, so they'll have to wait). I love you Karen, thank you for being my "rock," and for being all that you are. It really does make "trip-work" easier. You'll never know how important you are to me.

Okay, enough sappy stuff ... back to the war. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Appreciation ...

It amazes me how the course of a day can shift from one minute to the next. I woke up in a wonderful mood (and actually stayed in it for most of the day … that’s a refreshing change). One of the things I like to try to do during the day is chat via Instant Message to the family at home. I was in the midst of a wonderful conversation with my wife when my daughter, Megan walked up to Karen and informed her that, “Daddy was saving the world in Iraq.” … Wow ... six year olds sometimes know exactly what needs to be said. Now, you and I both know that I am not “saving the world” in Iraq (If the battle plan relies on me to win the fight single-handedly, you need to look into classes on Farsi). The battle over here is 180,000 strong, brave American (and Coalition) men and women working together, but that doesn’t matter to a six year old. She knows one thing, and one thing only: Daddy’s not home, because he’s needed in the fight in Baghdad. Karen gave me a bit of a hard time for my reaction (rightfully so), but the hero-worship of a six year old girl is enough to make anyone’s spirits soar (The amazing thing is: I was in a pretty good mood to begin with, it’s been a good couple of weeks, and the clock for my homecoming is rapidly winding down!). Needless to say, I left the trailer to head back to work feeling pretty special.

At that point I was pretty sure I had peaked in the day (it was a good peak), and I was ok with that. I was wrong. I drove to the post office to mail a package to Karen for her upcoming 29th birthday (it’s really more than that, but I’m not an idiot). The package system here in Iraq is kind of strange: You have to have all packages searched before you can send them to the states, to make sure you’re not sending contraband (war trophies, illegal goods, etc.). So as I’m standing in the line to get my box searched, I start up a conversation with a Sgt 1st Class in front of me. He immediately noticed my JCCS-1 patch (the command my group of Navy brethren work for) and started asking me about some of my colleagues. He explained that JCCS-1 guys had done some amazing things for his command, and he was glad that we were here to help. Well, this will make almost anyone feel good. It’s nice to be recognized for your work.

It was at this point that I looked up at the sign over the counter … the one that said, “Cash Only.” Ugh, I hadn’t cashed a check in a few weeks and only had a handful of singles on me. I explained to the Sgt that I needed to go and get cash, and that I would have to mail the package later. This is when the day got even more amazing. The Sgt looked at me, reached into his wallet, pulled out a $20 and said, “Sir, you’re a JCCS-1 guy, I know you’re good for it.” Wow (again) … I was truly shocked. I started to refuse, but he wouldn’t have it. He told me to find him at his command and pay him back when I got the chance. I was floored at this. Here’s a man, who doesn’t know me or anything about me, who’s willing to lend me money based on the patch I wear on my sleeve. All I could think is, “We must be doing some great work over here, to elicit this kind of trust among the soldiers.” I took the 20, walked up to the counter and set my package down with a smile on my face. Then I found out I had enough cash on me after all, and returned the 20 to the soldier with a handshake and my sincere thanks. I truly feel like I was honored to be in that place at that time. I’m going to store that one away for one of the days when I’m not feeling like we’re accomplishing anything, and I’m going to remember a Sgt 1st Class who thought that highly of his JCCS-1 brothers. It’s memories like these that I want to take away from this tour. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave some of the memories behind. Some of them need to stay here, but ones like that need to come home. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Friday, July 27, 2007

You Get What You Pay For ...

I apologize for my lack of posting lately, but I’ve been dealing with some technical issues as of late (and I’ve been doing some extra reading – good for my melon). When I arrived back at my trailer after the leave, the first thing I did was to turn on the TV to check up on any news for the previous day that I had been traveling. Much to my chagrin, the cable was out (I think I mentioned that earlier). On top of that, my internet was running quite slow (to slow to post much). Well, I did what anyone would do, I deferred to the “experts” at Magic Island Technologies (my TV and Internet provider).

It took them a few days to get out here (the 24th to be exact), but I returned to my ‘hooch’ one afternoon to find a note on my TV that said, “Your AFN (Armed Forces Network) is now working!” Well this was excellent news, I turned on the TV and found a PERFECT picture! Needless to say I was excited (Notre Dame Football starts in 35 days and I need the TV to be functional). I actually didn’t watch too much TV that night, but did catch an episode of Emeril! the next morning. I left for work with the intention of calling my beloved sister on her birthday, and went about my day.

When I returned that evening, I turned on the TV and … Nothing … just static. Soooo, I had a picture for less than a day. The fact that ALL of the channels were out led me to believe that maybe it was a system-wide outage, so I went back to my book for the night. The next evening I fully expected the system to be back up again. When I arrived at the house … you guessed it … no TV. Oh but wait, now the internet was down too! Joy! So, in my zeal to get one fixed, I lost the other one. I took a deep breath and went back to the book (almost done at this point).

When I came home today, I decided to do some investigating. The internet had come back on it’s own (it has it’s bad days, so this wasn’t a shock), so that problem was fixed. I took a look at the back of my trailer and followed the cable lines to look for a break or cut. The lines aren’t buried or strung, they’re just kind of thrown on the ground between the trailers. On top of that, when a line goes bad, they don’t remove it, they just string a new one and tie them all together with zip ties. After 20 minutes of research, I found about ten lines on my side of the trailers that were ‘dead-ends’ (ones that had been abandoned from previous maintenance). When I came back to the rear of my trailer, I noticed that there were scraps of cable from maintenance lying by the box (hmmmm, a clue). I also noticed a fresh connection lying on the ground. It can’t be that simple … can it? Apparently, my intrepid team of cable maintainers ‘fixed’ the line by adding a new connector, and then just pushed it on the cable box … you know, the type that requires you to SCREW THE CONNECTOR ON! Well, I screwed the connector back on and went inside to find … my perfect picture back.

You would think that’s the end of it … nope. An hour later my neighbor stopped by to ask about the cable. It seems that he too had problems and received a note from the cable guys on the 24th saying it was all better. After he relayed the story to me, we went to the back of his trailer to find … the exact same thing. I will never complain about American repairmen again … unless they REALLY deserve it! Until tomorrow.
-Grease out.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jet lag, Travel and Babies ...

We’ll I’m finally over the jet lag from my return trip to Baghdad. It was surprisingly harder this time to overcome than on other trips (I was rarin’ to go after a day when I went home). I found myself falling asleep at 8 PM, waking up at Midnight, and staring at the ceiling until my alarm went off at 6 AM for about 3 days. I finally slept through the night last night … I bet my wife wishes the same about the twins (Yesterday was the two month checkup, complete with immunizations … grumpy babies last night).

The trip home was somewhat surreal. I was in a large group (seemed to be 500+) and we traveled for about 45-50 hours straight to get home. At that point, most people don’t seem to mind (You’re headed home, right?). I found it amusing how excited we were to get to Shannon, Ireland (fuel stop) – they have a duty free store with lots of souvenirs! There isn’t much to shop for in Baghdad, so most folks walked out of Ireland with a few gifts for the loved ones back home. I can’t imagine what those folks thought when they were sitting in a nice quiet air terminal, and 250 folks in uniform “storm the castle.” We received more than a few strange looks. The same was true in Atlanta, I’v never had so many folks come up to me and either thank me for serving or ask me what the war is really like (Hint: Folks, most military personnel are deathly afraid of “speaking on behalf of the Department of Defense” so the answers you get will not be as in depth as you are hoping).

Well, after 45+ hours of travel, I was given a hero’s welcome by one beautiful lady and four awesome kids (to them I’m Superman – especially in the uniform). My vacation was exactly as I planned. For the first five days, I didn’t even leave the neighborhood! The grocery store and pool are in our neighborhood, so I felt no need to venture farther than the road. I spent countless hours remembering what little babies are like. Eventually, Karen told me we had to go out … something about baptizing the twins. I asked if we could just bring the priest to us … she said no. We had a nice private baptism (what we were hoping for), very low-key and informal. All of the other baptisms have been a massive affair, with a large party afterward … on this trip we decided that small was the name of the game.

Other than that, life was pretty boring. I spent time getting to know my kids and wife again (something folks just don’t get – people, especially kids, change when you’re gone for long periods of time). My wife is easy, I’ve seen what changes in her while I’m gone – she is usually a gentle soul, this changes when I’m gone – she becomes a hardened Navy wife (Big Hint: When you return after months of being away, don’t try to undo her changes – it will end poorly for you). The kids grew, as kids grow, and became more a part of the conversation. When I say that, I mean that they participate more in the life of the family, instead of the other way around. My daughter is crazy about the babies, and is quite the helper (she has the patience to get a baby to sleep in a bouncer unlike anyone I’ve ever met). My son is beginning to deal with the fact that he’s not the “baby” anymore. I’m not sure he likes it too much, but he does like that he gets to do more of the “grown-up stuff” as a 4 ½ year old.

I guess the only real “event” of the trip home was our yearly trip to Busch Gardens. Last year only Megan and I could ride anything (Brendan was too small for most things and Karen was trying to get pregnant). Brendan rode his first roller-coaster (The Big Bad Wolf) and liked it – to a point. He liked it, but didn’t want to ride again right away (much like his sister was at her age). Megan reveled in the excitement of “big people rides,” and the twins were given their first test on how they handle a day at the park. Much like our other kids, they passed with flying colors. Karen and I have always had the mindset that, while babies do change your life, they can’t END your life. As long as you plan for the unexpected, they handle days like that VERY well (lots of sleeping). Both our older kids were at Disney before they were one, and hopefully, the twins will be too!

As slowly as the first week of leave went, the second went just as fast. You start to look at your watch about halfway through, and begin to dread the return trip. Well, tears were shed, hugs were given, and here I am. I’ll fill you in on some of the particulars of some amusement of the trip later, but this should be good enough for now. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Back in the USSR ...

Oh wait, wrong era ... should say back in Baghdad! Sorry about the absence, folks, but I've just completed possibly the most wonderful two weeks ever! As my time here crept over the halfway point, I departed for home for two weeks of well deserved R & R. I can honestly say that I didn't think about this place once in an eighteen day period (well ... maybe once, but that's another story for another day). I was able to make a formal introduction to the two most beautiful babies in the world (and spend some time with their older siblings - pretty special kids in their own right). Lastly, I was able to lift some of the burden off of a lady who has done so much in the last few months ... years ... almost decade. With that said, I'm still so jetlagged I can't see straight ... I do promise to pass on some wonderful stories from the adventure that was my leave ... just, not tonight. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paging Mr. Murphy ...

Those of you who know me know that I believe in a higher power (call it what you like, my glass house is far too fragile to be making judgments on what name you have for it), and yesterday I believe my higher power was sitting in Heaven having quite the laugh at my expense (Hey, God has to have fun too!). I believe in free-will (we are placed here kind of like wind-up toys – once God releases us, it’s up to us where we go, whether we choose right or wrong, etc), so I don’t think God had any malicious part in the day’s events, but I’m sure he was watching and chuckling.

Let me set the scene: It had been a better than average day, the temperature was hovering around 115, but hadn’t gone up too much in a while. Work was pretty good, I was able to get a bunch accomplished in a short time, so I felt OK about taking off about 4:30 to go for a run (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are running days for me – the goal is 4 miles in 30 minutes by the time I’m done here – I’m up to a little over 3 in 30 min (3.2 to be exact)). I stopped by my trusty trailer to change quickly and head to the gym. Before I left, I took a quick look at the news on AOL, and saw an article on a new way of breaking into homes that leaves no trace of a picked lock (insert foreboding music here). The article seemed interesting and I made a mental note to read the whole thing when I was sitting in the trailer later.

On to the run! When I run, I work up a sweat … a BIG sweat. I’m talking soaked shirt, shorts and socks kind of sweat (the fact that it’s usually 90+ in the gym doesn’t help). I clocked about 4 miles total (with the first 3.2 in the 30 minute window), so I felt good about myself. Despite being soaked, there’s a great endorphin rush after a run like that – you feel pretty good for about an hour or more. I left the gym to run some errands on the way back to the trailer.

I had to go to the dining hall first before the laundry (you can’t carry bags into the dining facilities, so I have to plan the order of my trips). The nice thing about being covered in sweat in the dining hall is that folks tend to give you a wide berth (There are literally TONS of folks who do the gym to DFAC trip, so I’m not alone). I grabbed a sandwich to go from the sandwich bar (like Subway for free) and stopped off to grab my laundry (we have facilities that clean and fold our stuff for us – nice) on the way home.

So here I am, soaked from head to toe in sweat, carrying a bag of laundry, a carry out sandwich, an apple and a couple of skim milks. I slowly make my way to my door and insert the key (after carefully putting all that junk down). I give the key a turn and it turns a bit more freely than usual … hmmm, there’s no resistance at all … and no sound of the lock opening. Well … this is mildly upsetting. I pull the key out and the whole lock mechanism comes with it (except for the part that sheared off in the door). I give the knob a try and, of course, it’s still locked (Ha, you folks thought someone broke in didn’t you? It’s OK, you can admit it). Well, now I’m faced with a dilemma, I’m hungry, but I’m sweaty … which problem do we fix first?

I decide the lock is the most important thing in my life right now, so I grab all of my junk and head over to my trusty Humvee for the trip to the KBR office (they know me well there after the never ending water heater issues). The lady at KBR makes this one an emergency call, since I’m locked out, and she tells me to go wait by the trailer. So there I am, 30 minutes later, having eaten my sandwich on my front step, read the paper, and sweat some more (it’s still 115 out), when the KBR men come to my rescue. Their solution to the problem is to PRY THE DOOR OPEN WITH A SCREWDRIVER! I sat there thinking it was like watching professional golf – when you see Tiger Woods duff a shot into a sand trap, you say to yourself, “Hell, I could’ve done THAT!” You expect a bit more from these guys, but the obvious answer (while not the right one by any means) is usually the easiest one. It’s nice to know our doors are so secure (That’s why they put the little steel plate on the door – to prevent others from repeating this). So, I have a new lock, and an appreciation for eating in the great outdoors. Until tomorrow.
-Grease out.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to kill a Saturday ...

This is a 42 inch LCD TV. See how pretty it is.

This is a crack team of experts (the girl is in charge - she's the only one who seems to know what she's doing) who are going to mount this TV on the wall in our mini-JOC (Joint Operations Center). The photos are taken from my desk, so I'm right on the outskirts of the JOC.

This is our team of experts mounting the bracket for the TV ... upside down.

This is an upside down bracket (I'll give you a hint, the wood part is supposed to go over the top of the cubicle wall, so when you look at the bracket, the big part of the keyhole should be next to the wood - just like a picture).

This is the team mounting the TV to the false wall. Notice the team leader isn't in the frame - she left the room so she would have 'plausible deniability' when the TV hit the floor.

This is the finished product, done just in time for the weekly video tele-conference (We made sure the General didn't sit too close to the TV, lest it fall off the wall onto him). As of today, the TV is still firmly attached to the wall ... we'll see how the week goes.

And that's how you kill time on a lazy Saturday. Just think, we can all get jobs at Circuit City when we're done. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Where do we get such men ...

We had yet another Hail and Farewell today. With the temporary nature of these assignments, we rotate a bunch of folks through each month. Today was kind of special, though. We were saying goodbye to our PSD. The PSD is a Personal Security Detachment. They’re the guys who’s job it is to protect our Commanding General and Sergeant Major (the Army holds the senior enlisted man in the command almost equal to the Commanding Officer, kind of like a co-Executive Officer – the Navy does this as well with the Command Master Chief, but no where near the level that the Army does). The PSD also protects any of the command staff personnel who ride with the General (that basically means all of us on the Command Staff – on any given day, any of us might be riding with the CG (Commanding General). These kids in the PSD are all volunteers hand-picked from a large pool of applicants, needless to say, these kids are the cream of the crop from 1st Infantry Division (the Big Red One).

The CG made a point today of giving the history of each of the members of the PSD. To a man, they had all had multiple tours in Iraq and most had recently returned from a tour in Iraq when they volunteered for this assignment. Some may say they did it to work for the CG (He is a pretty amazing man, and a heck of a leader), but I’d like to think these kids did it for another reason – a sense of duty. Who in his right mind would volunteer for a deployment where you know that you will be traveling on convoy in the worst parts of Iraq on a daily basis, and that your job is not to kill the enemy, but to protect the members of the convoy. These men traveled outside the wires over 200 times in their tour in the PSD, logging over 8,000 miles of travel through Iraq (most of that was in Baghdad). Our CG and Sgt. Major’s job required them to travel to the teams around the country daily (the difficulty of this command is that the headquarters is here in Camp Victory, but the teams are spread all over the landscape), if a commander never visits his troops, he will never know what he can do to aid them in their efforts. So, when he goes, these kids take him there. They load up in the Humvees and trek out over the countryside, knowing that a casualty to their protectee would be used by the enemy as propaganda.

The title of this post was, “Where do we get such men.” This is originally from a poem about Naval Aviators who fly onboard ships, but I think it may be more applicable to kids like this. They could be home, enjoying their down-time after an arduous combat deployment, but they’re not – they’re here, doing the job, every day. Remember this as you read the headlines about young people like Paris Hilton or Lindsey Lohan and wonder if there is hope for the generation of young people we have today. There is hope, they’re right here, on the job, and they have been every day for the last year. God speed, PSD, you have left an impression that will be hard to match (at least until the next group of brave young Americans walk through the door next week to assume the watch). Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Unintended Consequences ...

Okay, time to stop the bleeding. Ever since the last two posts, I've been fielding E-mails from family and friends concerned about my 'state of mind.' Let me put this to rest - what I said yesterday is accurate, a lot of what folks feel over here can be described as 'self-pity' - the whole 'woe is me' attitude. I'm not saying that folks don't have real feelings of loss or depression, not at all, I'm just saying some of what you see is self-inflicted. That was my whole point behind creating the blog, it's my avenue to vent some of what I see and feel over here. Don't get worried when I sound a bit down in my posts, be worried when I stop posting alltogether. Trust me, I'm in a pretty good place (mentally, not physically - physically I'm still here in Iraq). The blog is serving it's purpose well, it gives me the outlet to let out some of the bizarre stuff we are exposed to (I've seen folks who walk around with it bottled up, and it's not a good thing). So I'll go back to venting the silliness and sadness I see. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Friday, June 8, 2007

Uncomfortable Conversations ...

My posts as of late have taken on a different tone. Obviously, there has been a lull with the birth of the twins, but that’s not all. Some of the topics haven’t been the exciting, amusing sort like in the first few months. A good friend of mine contacted me today and asked if I was feeling alright. I explained to her that this is the normal development of a deployment. The first third flies by as you are in a strange place doing amazing things. The last third flies by as you plan for your return home. The source of the excitement in these two phases is different, but the feeling as much the same. The middle third, however, is a strange slow time where the job has become somewhat routine and the prospects of a return home seem so far away. This often leads to mild self-induced depression, self-pity and often sickness brought on by the stress of the separation (ask anyone who has been on a Navy deployment – you tend to see many folks come down with what appears to be just a bad cold near the halfway point – it spreads like wildfire throughout the ship.) The sickness itself shouldn’t be enough to knock grown men in good shape down, but combine it with the malaise of the middle of a deployment and it can be a nightmare. The morale folks will try to come up with events to keep your mind off the time, but the ‘fun in the sun’ on the flight deck often reminds you of the fun you’re missing back home. I am smack dab in the middle of the middle of the deployment. The Army has done one thing right in their approach to deployments – the mid-tour leave program. If you are here longer than nine months you can take two weeks off at a point you choose near the middle. This helps to break you out of the mid-deployment doldrums. My break is just under two weeks away, and I am truly looking forward to it (as is my oldest daughter, Daddy coming home means she gets to go to Busch Gardens, Williamsburg – she is quite the roller-coaster buff).

As I said before, I’m in the part of the deployment where your job becomes routine. Its days like today where you realize that nothing over here is ever routine. I have to start this with some background information. We lost a guy a couple of days ago. One of our teams was hit, several guys were injured and one was killed. Today, I wound up face to face with one of the guys who was injured. Normally, I have no problems talking to … just about anyone. However, I felt extremely uncomfortable in this situation. This guy had a mix of feelings, he felt extreme loss over his teammate, but he also felt unbelievably lucky that he walked away with minor injuries. He came over to my desk to ask the difficult question … did he screw up? He was the truck commander, the man in charge, and one of his guys was killed. I can’t even imagine what was going through his mind. I could tell that part of him was blaming himself for his teammate, and he was looking to me to tell him that everything was alright, and that he did all he could to prevent this. This is where I became uncomfortable … do you tell him that all is right with the world just to make him sleep at night, or do you dig into the data and be brutally honest with him about the entire incident. The thing that got me the most was their ability to separate themselves from an event that was barely a couple days old. I’ve mentioned before that the Army has a different view on ‘acceptable losses’ than the Navy or Air Force. In the Navy, we would be back flying shortly after an incident that costs a life (you have to, if you shut down, you’ll never get back up there), but it does stay with you for a time. It usually lasts for a few weeks until we can truly go blow off steam in a non-flying related activity (this often involves a wake at a bar in a foreign port). The Army does not have time for this, they need to be ready to get back out there within minutes of a casualty. These guys before me had already been through all phases of grief and were looking for answers, all except the Truck Commander who needed to know whether he could have prevented it. In the end, training took over and I dug into the data (I had been doing this since the incident happened anyway), and I let him know (much to my relief) that he had done all that he could as a TC to prevent this. It really wasn’t a difficult decision, but the topic of the loss of his teammate hit kind of close to home for me for some reason (I’m sure a head-shrinker would say it has something to do with the loss of my father, and they’d probably be right). When all is said and done, I truly believe we are doing the right thing as a nation being over here, but the losses can be horrific.

Like I said, the middle phase of deployment is often associated with self-pity. Do me a favor and say a prayer for the kid we lost (and for all the other ones). Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Groundhog Day ...

I feel bad that my post have been few and far between as of late, but there really hasn’t been that much to post about. The days tend to run into each other when you do essentially the same thing seven days a week. Most of my weeks revolve around somewhat mundane management jobs that fall under me. This involves tons of E-mails back and forth every day (exciting, huh?) We spend a good deal of our time attached at the hip to our computers (I have three on my desk) waiting for answers to previous E-mails. It becomes a vicious cycle after a while.

Today, however, was a bit different. The power grid in Baghdad is weak compared to a U.S. city, and with the heat rising (and the air conditioners running 24/7) we are prone to blackouts. If I worked in almost any other building on Camp Victory, this would be no big deal (most of the buildings have backup generators, and continue the day’s work with or without city power). Our building grinds to a halt when the power goes away, which leads to ACTUAL CONVERSATIONS amongst my co-workers. We sat around for the better part of an hour today explaining to the new folks that power losses are a fact of life here, and telling ‘sea stories.’ I find it amazing that the Army and the Air Force, for the most part, do not get to ‘see the world’ during their time in uniform. They work at their home base and, when they deploy, they head to another base in some remote part of the world and stay there until it’s time to come home. They truly miss out on some of the gems that the Middle East has to offer. Some of the areas in this part of the world are truly breathtaking and provide Sailors with ‘life experiences’ that the U.S. just can’t offer. Until you’ve strolled the gold markets in Dubai and Bahrain or checked out the nightlife in Singapore, you just haven’t lived. I think that’s why I’ve stayed in so long, every time I leave home is a combination of feelings. On one side, I miss my family terribly and miss the events of life at home. One the other side, I know I’m going to see things that will amaze me for the next six months. The guy I replaced (some of you may remember Kenny) and I used to talk about the ‘Sailors love for the sea.’ Kenny is a true Sailor, brought up through the enlisted ranks, but I think the excitement of traveling the oceans can be shared by both officer and enlisted alike. It’s days like today, I’m happy I chose the Navy (sitting in a sandpit in 117 degree temperatures will make any man long for the sea … or anything else for that matter). The Navy guys know that we are just visitors here, our real place is on a ship (or sitting around the pool at the Jumeriah Beach Le Meridien in Dubai … both are pretty cool)

I talked before about the changes that occur when you’ve been here for a while. Some folks say we get ‘jaded’ once you’ve spent time here, and they’re probably right. Three days ago, I was running on the treadmill in the afternoon. Our gyms are pretty good by desert standards and we have approximately 25 cardio machines in one room with the weights in another. As I was running, I heard a loud boom nearby. This is not too uncommon, so I kept running (I was having a good run). Shortly thereafter, a bunch more booms came, all of them close enough to rattle the mirrors on the wall in front of me. There was a strange reaction in the crowded cardio room. Approximately half of the folks in there ran outside with VERY scared looks on their faces and crowded into the nearest bomb shelter, but half of us kept running. Experience had told us that booms of that nature, that close together were not incoming rounds … they were outgoing. If we get that many rounds coming at us, sirens would be going off, helicopters would be flying over to attack our attackers and the buildings would shake a WHOLE LOT MORE. I’m sure the folks who came back in after the barrage of outgoing ended thought we were either very jaded or very stupid (probably a combination). I honestly didn’t know at the time what the booms were at the time, but they didn’t seem too threatening. If you can hear it, it didn’t hit you.

Well, I’ll go back to surfing the internet, counting the days until my mid-tour leave (our countdown is under 15 days). I can’t wait to get home and see the wife and kids. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Morale Suppression Police ...

As I sit here on this late Saturday night, I feel compelled to write to my good readers of a grave injustice (I also feel compelled to write because the cable is out in my trailer, so there’s nothing to watch). Apparently, the Navy has sent over several Morale Suppression Teams to Baghdad (sailors should feel at home). These are small, elite teams whose sole purpose is to take a crew’s spirits and flush them right down the toilet. These are the men who coined the phrase, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” I agree, it makes no sense to have these folks in theatre, but they are here and hard at work. The MST’s have become smart in our age of net-centric warfare, they do most of they’re work in almost complete secrecy. I, however, have discovered one of their nefarious plots to keep us behaving like sheep.

It all started when I looked on the website several days ago to check the weather forecast for Baghdad. I know my site has a weather gadget, but it doesn’t always work in the military domain (remember, the man trying to keep me down, etc. – that is an example of OVERT MST actions). I glanced at the weather and saw that the 30th of May was going to be back in the mid-90’s again. I felt my heart leap as we have not had a sub-100 day in some time, the break would be welcomed. My excitement continued throughout the day and into the next. I glanced at the five-day forecast the next day and was shocked to find that the 30th had gone from a high of 95 degrees to a high of 106 degrees. The 31st, however was now listed as a high of 97. As I continued watching the forecast over the next week (it was a slow week), I realized that the fifth day of every forecast was always lower than it should be, just to get our hopes up for a day. On top of that, the forecast was accurately displayed until approximately 10 AM, then it was changed to add this sick joke to our lives. Do the MST’s have so little to do here (morale is pretty low in the desert anyway) that they resort to teasing us with promises of good weather? Or is it some young soldier who thinks the whole thing is funny … okay it’s some young soldier who thinks it’s funny – we found it quite amusing as well. So never fear Baghdad residents, good weather is only five days away.

-Grease out.

First stop home, next stop ...