Friday, March 30, 2007

Every silver lining has a dark cloud ...

Well, it looks as if my post yesterday about the perfect home may have been a bit pre-mature. Don’t get me wrong, the place is great – it just has one tiny flaw. I woke up this morning after a refreshing night in a very soft bed, and readied myself to take the perfect shower. The water was hot and plentiful (seriously, the shower head puts out enough water to wash horses … or really small elephants). I stepped in and began my day…… After about five minutes, the water began to cool slightly. No big deal, right? I just adjusted the hot cold mixture a bit and continued on. Ten seconds later, the heat went away. Now when I say away, I don’t mean that it gradually died down or the pressure began to drop – the water got cold – fast. Finding myself in this predicament a thousand times onboard aircraft carriers, I did what all good aviators do – I finished the shower in approximately 15 seconds. Shivering and very, very cold, I turned up the heat in my trailer to the max and tried to get the ice water off of me. Oh wait, did I mention that as the water got cold, it also changed colors to a nice burnt umber sort of color. I took a look at the water heater and discovered that I know absolutely nothing about water heaters (ask my sister about Thanksgiving, 2001 and she will confirm this fact). Needless to say, I was quite dismayed at the hot water situation, so I took my case to the Mayor. This is what they call the Army guy who owns all of the housing. He took one look at me and sent me to the KBR trailer. Not only does KBR control our food and bussing, they also own maintenance on the trailers. I filled out the required forms in triplicate, and expected to hear when a crew would be dispatched to the once perfect trailer. Once again, I was dismayed to see the nice lady (probably on her own IA from the DMV) half-smile at me and place my form on top of what looked like a New York City phonebooks worth of other forms. Beaten and still cold, I trudged off to work, with the knowledge that someday I may get hot water again – just not today. My friends at work told me not to worry about it, because it’s starting to get hot. They explained to me that the water was stored in above ground tanks that will begin to heat up soon, and a hot shower will be the least of my concerns. I reminded them that someday (this fall and winter) I WILL need some hot water again. They did not seem to care, mostly for two reasons. One, they did not get the Gucci one-man ‘wet’ trailers and were quite jealous, and two, they are both leaving within a month, so my trivial water issues are of little concern to them.

The day was not a total loss however. ‘Kenny’ and I had some good turnover, and he offered to sell me his TV and refrigerator upon his departure in three weeks. He’s also throwing in some folding chairs for good measure. So I will be able to sit, enjoy a cool beverage and watch TV as I try to thaw out after each morning’s shower. I believe I will place the TV in the den with a nice arrangement of chairs around it. The fridge will stay in the kitchen area.

All kidding aside, it was a very productive day. I learned a ton about my job, and realized the amazing scope of what the Coalition is undertaking here. I will be supporting the IAG, which is short for Iraqi Assistance Group. This command is a collection of teams that is spread throughout the country integrated with Iraqi forces. The teams are there as advisors to help the Iraqi units get up to speed on how business should be done. When it comes time to turn over the protection of the populous back to the Iraqis, the IAG will have played a major role in making that happen. Needless to say, the task is daunting. I have a responsibility to support literally hundreds of these small units all over the country. They may win the war by being with the people, but I will win my part by E-mailing and calling the people who are with the people. The good news is that these guys are onboard with the idea that I am their conduit to assistance, but that one of my brother EWO’s around the country may be the person who is actually hands-on with their problems. I have a lot to learn in the next three weeks, but I’m pretty confident that I can get it done (mostly because I get a three-week turnover, vice the four-day one most of the guys get). Okay, enough for tonight. Until tomorrow.
-Grease out.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

New house, new car, what more could a boy want?

It’s finally happened … I have a home! I am the proud owner of a 24’ x 18’ foot room, complete with inside plumbing! My friend came through as promised and got us into the nice trailers. I spent most of the afternoon and evening putting things away, thus ensuring that someone will come by soon to tell me to move. It’s not much, but it’s better than a tent. Plus I have internet in the room, so I’m actually writing this from my desk (although, I’m having problems sending pictures right now, so Karen and the kids will have to wait to see all the photos I took today – I’ll try to load some to the blog). The room is surprisingly quiet. I’ve been used to being in a 50-man tent for so long, I don’t know what to do with the silence – okay that’s better, I put some music on). Either way, I’m pretty darn happy to have a place of my own … now I just need to find a TV.

But before you think that that’s all that happened today, I got a car too! I went to start my turnover with ‘Kenny,’ and he decided I should have his car. He lives across the street from the office, and I’m pretty far away, so I appreciated the gesture (he told me that it was nothing, since I’m the guy whose arrival means he can go home). He gave me the keys to my very own battle tested Humvee (That’s kind of a joke, the war models don’t have keys … or locks … or a real roof in my case). This beautiful piece of Mishawaka, Indiana engineering (the AMC plant) has a new engine (last one blew up), new tires, and a roof that’s made of plywood … yes plywood. Kenny had me take it out for a test ride to get used to it. The Army has some bizarre rules about driving these things. I have to wear my battle helmet to ride in it. Eventually, I might get it replaced with a leased SUV (The military has decided it’s cheaper to lease new SUV’s than to continually repair these old Hummers), but for now it’s mine. My car is a Fobbit, which means I can’t take it off the FOB (Forward Operating Base), not that I would want to. It has some rudimentary armor, but not enough to drive around this town. The Fobbit part comes from the Lord of the Rings … Hobbits were people who never left the Shire. So, while I’m in Camp Liberty/Victory, this is my ride (thus making me the envy of my friends).

While we were zipping around the FOB, Kenny took me by some sights. First was the Perfume Palace, named that because Saadam kept his concubines there. When the Coalition troops took it, it was the nicest smelling building in Baghdad. Next was the Flintstone Palace across the lake from the Perfume Palace. This is a strange type of palace, as it is designed for kids (Saadam’s grandkids, I assume) and it looks like it was a set from the Flintstones (It kind of looks like the entry to a ride at a Six Flags or Disney).

Behind the Flintstone Palace is a palace that was never completed, and still has the cranes sitting idle next to it. He was building this palace to commemorate the victory over the Americans in 1991 … hmmm, kind of ironic, don’t you think. They have a lot of memorials to events in this country that never happened, go figure. If he were alive today, I’m sure he’d be designing a palace to commemorate his victory in 2003. Well, it’s late, and I have a new bed to break in. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who says Intel guys aren't cool ...

That's kind of a jab at my friend, Stoli. I feel that I have to give him a hard time, as he is an Intelligence Officer ... and worse yet, Air Force (Insert Air Power joke here ... lol). I can't give Stoli too much of a hard time, he was the first person to link to my blog (back in early March, it took me until yesterday to link to his) and because he has arranged the impossible ... he got me a room! Not just any room mind you, but a TRAILER HALF. Yes, tomorrow I will be the proud owner of my very own half of a single-wide trailer (complete with shared bathroom, and NO roommate!). For those of you who were interested, I did pass my test. I'll start turnover with the guy I'm relieving tomorrow. This means I could have a mailing address as early as tomorrow. I'll keep you posted. That's it for today, I have to go pack.

-Grease out

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Phase II: Warm liquid goo phase ... complete

Sorry for the obscure Austin Powers reference, but it’s kind of an exciting day. We finished our classes today and will take the final exam tomorrow. It’s nice to be making progress towards the goal of getting out there and starting our jobs. We finished the day by going to a hands-on laboratory of sorts at Camp Slayer (finally an Army camp with a name we can be proud of). With all the camps I’ve been to in my time here, I’ve never really strayed outside the large stone/cement walls that encircle the western Baghdad area. All of the camps in this area are connected, so you can travel freely between them. I had wondered for some time whether we built the wall structure, or if it was already here when the Allies took Baghdad. After asking a few folks, I got an answer. The area we’re in was the Baghdad Zoological Park, complete with a bunch of palaces in the middle for Sadaam and his cronies/sons. Now when I say it was the Baghdad Zoo, that’s kind of tongue in cheek. It was actually a large hunting preserve for Sadaam and the boys … now that’s sporting … the animals are raised inside the walls, and Sadaam and the gang hunt them down. At least in the wild, the animals might have a chance to get away, but not here. Meanwhile, his people are starving. All this just reinforces my belief that taking this guy out was the right thing to do. I wonder what happened to the animals when we showed up. Hopefully, some of those ‘rescue’ organizations were given opportunities to get some of the animals to REAL zoos where they could get care without the fear that some spoiled tyrant was going to pop them in the head with an elephant gun. I’m guessing that, since they were raised in a preserve, releasing them into the wild would just make them some wild animal’s dinner.

Despite all of the negative things about this place, there are some amazing sights. The architecture in the buildings is breathtaking. I would expect it from the mosques and palaces (I expect them to look pretty amazing everywhere – they usually do), but the everyday homes in this area are cool too. Now, you must understand, the homes I’m looking at are FOS homes (Friends of Sadaam), so they are pretty close to palaces themselves. The ones that don’t have 2,000 lb. bomb holes in them would probably make any dream home list (heck, even the bombed out ones are cool). It’s just funny to see what we’ve done with them. All of our individual units need buildings to work out of, so you’ll see Army Legal Services, MP Brigade, etc. signs on all of the usable buildings. There’s even an Army Retention office in one of the buildings (I find that ironic, if they’re here – they’re already retained, so to speak). I guess if I have to be here, I should enjoy the sights while I have time. Wish me luck on my test tomorrow (…it’s a Navy test … luck has little to do with it). Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Changes and harsh realities ...

This was a new sight for me today. I’ve heard explosions nearby during my time here (mostly mortars and rockets), but never actually seen one. I have no way of knowing, but my assumption has to be that this was an IED of some sort (or maybe not, it might just be a house fire for all I know). The size of the blast and general direction (downtown Baghdad) lead me to that conclusion, but as I said, I really don’t know. Either way, it tends to bring things home a bit. During my time here, I’ve been somewhat secluded behind the walls of the camps here. You know stuff is happening in the world around you, but most of the time you don’t see it. This can be a scary place, but it makes my job all the more important. I truly believe the people I work with (and for) are making a difference. People at home just see the CNN end result, the number of IED attacks remains at a high constant. This is what you see when all you see is the mainstream media. When you’re over here, you realize that, despite the fact that the numbers remain high, we’re making it more and more difficult every day for the enemy. Every time we ratchet up our pressure, they have to become more daring in how they carry out these attacks. Eventually, they have to expose themselves in the face of the pressure, and this is when we get them. Kind of makes me proud of the folks I work around.

As is the way with things over here, change is a constant. Just yesterday, I was telling you that I was going to get the job and location that I had been gearing for … not so fast. It turns out that I am getting the job, but the location has changed slightly. I will be staying here for the duration, and not moving to the ‘Green Zone’ as I had originally thought. Oh well, say goodbye to the pool and all of the nice lady reporters, and say hello to a trailer here in Camp Victory. As it stands, it’s probably a good thing – I know the area here well, so I won’t have to start over. Well, I’m off to the gym. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Start of a new day ...

Some of the best advice I ever received came from my sister many years ago. After a particularly rough period in my life, she told me not to attack all my problems at once. She told me to focus on one area at a time, fix it, and move on to the next one. After time, you’ll forget what you were so down about in the first place. It seems simple, but I’ve used this many times in my life and it continues to work until this day. When I left off last night, I was definitely in quite the funk. I decided at about two in the morning (darn that jet-lag) to put her ideas to work. I decided to wake up in the morning and take a nice hot shower and attack today with as positive an attitude as I could muster. After that, I would set out to start over here in Baghdad with a new group of classmates. Amazingly enough, life one-upped me.

The first two people I ran into in the shower (… the shower TRAILER, not the actual shower … get your mind out of the gutter), were two guys I knew from my previous class who had fallen behind in the training for one reason or another. This was quite the relief, as I would not have to head to class without knowing anyone (also I had people to eat breakfast with … one of the other great tidbits of advice I received in college was to never eat alone unless you really want to). As I surveyed the class, I realized that I knew quite a few of the folks in the class from previous Navy days. The rest of the folks in the class were as enjoyable to be around as the last class. This came as a huge relief, as the last thing I wanted was to sit in a room for the next week with no one to talk to. Long story short, today turned out to be significantly better than I had ever hoped for. I’m not saying all of the things in my life are perfect yet, but it’s a darn good start.

The best part of the day was discovering that the new class started last Wednesday, so I was able to pick up right where I left off. I also found out that the job I had been looking forward to before I left is still mine (at this point … all things are subject to change in the ‘Navy of One’). All this made today’s classes somewhat enjoyable (even though I’d had this day of instruction before).

In what shouldn’t be a surprise to me at this point in my career; even though you change the personnel, the antics remain the same. I just watched two of my tentmates participate in the time honored ritual of the poor man’s haircut. Mind you, haircuts here in the desert run a mind-numbing three dollars. These two decided to do it the old fashioned way. Unfortunately, shortly after this photo was taken, the two were overtaken by clouds of white smoke. Apparently, they forgot that small appliances designed to work in America don’t do as well when used in 220 volt foreign outlets. Once again, I’m home. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

A return to normalcy, sort of ...

Well, my three weeks of emergency leave are over, and I returned to my familiar tent city this evening. Unfortunately, it’s a different tent, a new class and a whole new group of people. It’s a mixed blessing. The old tent and group were familiar, but this new group gives me the opportunity to meet more folks in my command. Besides, the new tent is much nicer than the old one … all of the amenities we stole to help build the last tent are already here! I did go stop by the old tent for nostalgia’s sake. I think the guys who inhabit it now think I was some kind of stalker, as I peered in and looked at my old home of two weeks, then left without a word. I should have known it was too good to be true when I said farewell to tent city and hello to a new job. As it stands now, I’m pretty sure the job that was lined up for me is long gone, and the new search begins. Oh well, Que Sera Sera.

Saying goodbye the second time was definitely harder than before. My kids didn’t know what the separation was all about when I left in January, but they sure as heck knew now. It’s a big thing for a six-year old girl to say goodbye to her Grandfather and two weeks later say goodbye to Daddy (albeit different circumstances). I’m pretty sure my son knew that there was something to be sad about, but he just couldn’t figure out what (the joys of being four). I was glad that I was able to spend some more time with my wife as the babies were moving quite a bit more and were able to hear my voice (she also had a ‘Honey-Do’ list as long as your arm!) Hopefully things will settle back into some sort of rhythm here again. Until they do, I’ll just have to keep working on getting out of this ‘funk’ I’m in. Until later.

-Grease out.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Friends in Strange Places ...

It’s amazing how much can change in 84 hours … 84 hours ago, I was in Camp Liberty in Baghdad getting ready to walk to the gym for a well deserved workout … all things were somewhat normal in my life. 84 hours later, my father has passed, I’m in Atlanta helping my sister and mother deal with it, and I’ve eaten enough chicken to kill a horse (more later). The whole thing is kind of surreal … I’m not going to talk about my dad today, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I want to focus on the friends you find along the way.

I was getting ready to walk to the workout when I was summoned to the JCCS-1 building. The CDR who came to get me was great, he knew that I was going to get bad news, but he kept the conversation light. He told me that there had been an emergency and I needed to call home. My first thoughts were of my VERY pregnant wife or my kids. I worried on this for a short time, then my common sense took hold and reminded me that if it was them, I wouldn’t be calling HOME … they wouldn’t be there. At that point, I knew it was my dad. He’s struggled with some medical issues for about six years, and I wasn’t completely surprised (Like said, I’ll pass on thoughts of him later, I just don’t think I’m ready to put them down on paper yet … go figure). When I was informed of my dad’s passing, the folks at JCCS-1 rolled into action. I can’t thank them enough, they had me set to get home before I was even off the phone with my wife. To make a long story short (too late), three plane rides, three bus rides and 46 hours later, I was in Atlanta with my mother and sister (my wife and kids will arrive tomorrow). This is where it gets interesting.

I’ve never had to deal with anything like this before. Both of my grandfathers died before I was born, and everyone else that was close to me (two grandmothers and two uncles) died while I was deployed. My mother was shocked to hear that this would be the first funeral I have ever attended. I’ve been to memorials for an uncle and quite a few fellow aviators who have lost their lives while in the line of duty, but never to an actual funeral. I was amazed at how our friends and family reacted to this. My sister has a group of friends that anyone would be proud to call their own. These girls were over at the house within minutes of being informed and stayed until they knew my mom and sister were going to be okay. My favorite is my sister’s friend Laura … the lawyer. Laura is the lawyer among us (and she's the type of lawyer NOT to be messed with). When the official type folks (EMT, medical examiner, funeral home personnel) came to my mom with paperwork to sign (release of the body, etc), Laura was in there like a hawk, reviewing the documents, making sure my mom wasn’t signing anything she shouldn’t. To this day, Laura is my favorite person to debate with about almost any issue (don’t mess with her on religion though … minister for a dad … she’s a tiger). These ladies who call themselves my sister’s friends (my sister likes to say, ”I got lucky in that department”) have earned themselves a special place in heaven. They are of the highest caliber, and deserve accolades. I hope someday that someone will look at me and say that I was that type of friend. If that is the case, then I’ve been a success in my life … that’s how great these girls are. I’m proud to say that they are my friends as well, just not to the level that they are my sisters.

Shortly after the word began to spread, our neighbors (I should say friends there as well) joined in the fray. I like to refer to this as the ‘time of the Jews.’ Some of you may find that offensive, but if you grew up in my neighborhood, you’d understand that it is the utmost reverence that I refer to these folks. I grew up in a neighborhood where I had, seemingly, as many Jewish neighbor as Catholic/Christian ones. I was well versed in the rites of the Jewish faith as a kid (to this day, I love matzoh bread and smile when I hear the horn blown on Rosh Hashanah). I really think that my exposure to multiple religions as a child made me a better person as an adult. Having some background in different faiths mad me understand how we are special, each in our own way. Our neighbor Debbie is the perfect example of this. I’ve known Mrs. L. for almost thirty years and she is a special today as she was in 1977. Debbie thrust herself into the forefront and let folks know that she would be coordinating all of the food for the next week. That may sound weird to some of y’all, but to us, it was a godsend. People call to ask what they can bring, and we give them her number. The amount of stress that she has taken on is amazing (thus lifting us of the stress). When I asked her about it, she said, “We’re Jews, this is what we do … we feed you during the time you need feeding.” That may seem trite and insensitive to some, but I really look at it as, they are feeding us during our time of need. The food isn’t always food you eat, sometimes it’s food for the soul. Sometimes the simple act of being there is enough. The Jews have had thousands of years of practice, and in my opinion, they’re pretty damn good. I will come away from this with a whole new respect for our neighbors. They truly buy into the concept of ‘giving forward.’ When you give this now, you will get it in return someday. I cannot thank them enough for the love they have shown us … it’s beyond anything I could have ever imagined. With that said, we have received meals enough to feed a small kingdom in a third-world nation (with a lot of chicken ... don't get me wrong, we love it ... when you're grieving ... it's all fat-free, lol).

Needless to say, it’s been a long two days. The list of thank’s is way too long for just my simple blog, but I’ll try. I want to send out thanks to a few special folks who have been here for us (not just today, but in the past as well). First to my sister’s friends: Laura, Susan, Allison (the really nice one … only Allison will understand that), Tom, Larry, Michelle, all the others, and all of Lisa’s friends at work … thanks, you people have been her rock for the last six years, and beyond that. God bless all of you. To our neighbors: Debbie, Rosalyn, Saul, Mike, Janet, and all the other residents of North Wellington, past and present who have been with us in the last few days … God bless you too. To my mom’s work friends: thank you for being her strength during the last few years. Finally to my friends: Dave, Tom, all the folks stuck in Iraq, and the rest who I can’t remember right now. Thank you for being there when we(I) needed it so much. To these and all the others who I forgot to mention … thank you from my mother, sister and I. The next few days will be hard for us, but your thoughts, efforts and presence make all of it easier. Know that you will all have a special place in our hearts. With that, I think I should cut it off here. I think I’ll leave you with my father’s favorite (and most important) prayer:

The Serenity Prayer

God, Grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change
the things I can,

And the wisdom
To know the difference

-Grease out.
R.I.P. - T.F.D. 31 Dec 1938 - 01 Mar 2007

Friday, March 2, 2007

Emergency Leave ...

I'm presently in Kuwait (again) returning home on emergency leave due to the unexpected death of my father on 01 March. I will be at my parent's home for the forseeable future, so the blog might get stale. I will try to post when I can.
-Grease out.

First stop home, next stop ...