Sunday, April 29, 2007

Home Improvement ...

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy the process of making a house (my trailer-half in this case) a ‘home,’ so to speak. Its one of the many gifts my father gave me in his lifetime. Projects around the house are rarely a chore, especially when it involves me creating something from scratch. Shortly after I was married, my wife decided she wanted shelves in the closet of the home-office in our condo on Whidbey Island. I remember her measuring the opening and planning to go out and buy some pre-fab shelves from Target or Fred Meyer. I looked at her and said, “Don’t bother, I’ll make some.” This statement was greeted with a look of worry (and some disbelief). You have to understand, we had been married for all of four months, and she’d never seen my creative side around the house. She watched me intently as I took my own measurements, drew out a plan (another gift from my Dad, he was an amateur draftsman as a young man, and believed in making somewhat precise drawings of the projects we did together), and installed the shelves. Needless to say, she was impressed. This led to quite a few projects for me over the years, some more complicated than others; but each with its own identity. She knows that at the outset of a project, she’s going to lose me in the garage for the duration (she also loses her parking spot, as the garage is my workspace).

This leads to today. Earlier this month, I sent home a request for some supplies not available here, specifically wood-grain contact paper. My mother bought and sent the contact paper (not before wondering what in the heck I was going to do with it) along with some cool Notre Dame stuff to brighten up the room (that's from my sister - and yes, I do hit the sign on the way out the door every day). I received it in my birthday package earlier this week.

I had been bothered for some time by my bed and makeshift coffee table. My bed had a wood support in the middle that looked out of place. When I removed it to see if it was needed, I found out why it was there. Apparently, my bed has ZERO support in the middle, and would leave me sleeping on the floor at some sort of weird angle. My immediate idea was to cover the support with the wood paper (to make it look like it belonged there). After realizing how easy that job would be, I looked at the table. A few weeks ago, my wife’s cousin gave me a bit of a hard time about the flowers on the table. I tried to explain to her that supplies were limited, and that this was a bed sheet that was in the room when I arrived. The more I thought about it, the more I realized she was probably right – it was a bit effeminate to have the flowery sheet on my table. Well, I have contact paper … why can’t I give that thing a manly touch? (after all this talk about decorating, it’s the ONLY manly touch this post has) So I spent this evening making my table more acceptable for a guy’s room. It still has the flowers, but not as bad as before. That and the TV is showing NASCAR right now … that’s manly right? What the heck, I’ll resign myself to be a desert-decorator, and be proud of my ‘chick’ side. Don’t worry Karen, the table is staying behind when I come home … I’m not as dumb as that.

Before I check out for tonight, I wanted to direct you to a post on one of my friend’s blogs. Many of you have asked throughout the years, “What would make a guy get so excited about going to sea for months at a time?” Well, my pal Barbie (the F/A-18 pilot) expressed the thoughts of many a sailor quite eloquently in his post. Its not the ports, or the ship, or the people … it’s all of that and a lot more. I personally find his thoughts on the mornings to be right on the mark:

The most peaceful times were before flight ops began daily. With the midmorning sun hitting your face and the smell of sea was almost therapeutic after the previous night's landing that scared you so bad...your legs shook for an hour after the fact. Looking over the deck's edge at the rush of blue ocean passing brought many a Sailor serenity from the realization that he was miles away from a family that he missed and loved.

Well, there’s no sea spray here (and most of the smells come from the porto-potties), but that doesn’t keep me from loving my family. You just find other things to put you in that frame of mind where you’re at peace with your world … maybe that’s why I continue ‘projects for Karen’ even though she is thousands of miles away … it reminds me of why I’m here and why I can’t wait to get home. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fun on a Saturday ...

Saturdays around here can be hit or miss. Almost everyone works seven days a week, but there are those who take the weekend off (I'm not that lucky). That leaves me here, on a Saturday afternoon, waiting for the sky to fall. There's really very little going on, but that can all change at any minute.

That being said, I've spent a good bit of this Saturday playing with the layout of the blog, and trying to make it more user-friendly. Apparently, I had it set up where only registered Google Mail users could leave comments - that's been fixed. I also added one of my favorite pictures of me shooting a baby Hornet off of the USS Carl Vinson back in March of 2005 (how I wish I was back doing that job again). I also added a homemade news feed at the bottom of the page. If you're not a fan of the Irish, Red Wings, Tigers, Braves or Bulldogs, you probably won't like it. If that's the case ... start your own blog, this one's mine. I'm trying to add the Fox News RSS feed to the page (and maybe ESPN), but I'm still trying to work out the technical details on that one. Hopefully, you'll find the site more useful, and if not ... refer to my comment above.

-Grease out

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Showing my age ...

An odd thing happened today on the way to lunch. As we walked in, we noticed that they had a small band playing (about a seven-piece horn section, and not much else). They broke into a new tune as we entered, and I immediately recognized it (but I couldn’t believe that they were actually playing it - I had to walk over and look at the music to confirm). It was the theme song to the cartoon ‘Star Blazers.’ Now for those of you who aren’t familiar (I’m guessing almost all of you), Star Blazers was Japanese Anime’ that came to America before any of us knew anything about anime’. It was a story about a group of folks who had to travel through space to save the earth, and they did it in a WWII battleship that they converted into a spacecraft (I see some of you DO remember it). When I was eight, it was the coolest thing on TV. I raced home from school, and would watch it with my grandmother. I’ve often thought of buying it on DVD, but I don’t know if it would be the same (maybe I’ll see if the Haji shop has a bootleg).

I think the thing I found most bizarre about this scene (other than the fact I remembered a cartoon from my youth based on two bars of music) was the fact that NO ONE in this room had any idea what it was that they were playing. I realized that the kids in the dining facility weren’t even born when I was watching this show. I wondered who made the choice of songs … and why? For a second, I WAS the oldest guy in the room. There really aren’t any words to describe how odd the entire experience was. I did walk away with a good feeling, like I was the only one to get the joke. Not bad for a Thursday. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Bill Gates is the devil ...

Well, not really, but I’m sure he knows him. After I finished posting to you good people last night, the mighty laptop decided to develop a case of amnesia. First it forgot how a Windows XP desktop should look (it reverted to the OLD windows), then it forgot how to make sounds (decided that I had no audio card installed). It became painfully obvious that the trusty laptop was rapidly spiraling into oblivion. This concerned me … greatly. After several hours of frustration (ask my wife how much I like computer problems), I discovered that the folks at Microsoft did this to me. During one of their never-ending updates (that go on whenever you’re online), the update was interrupted (most likely due to the fact that my internet connection speed is slightly above ‘snail’). Somehow, this damaged some Windows files, and it was only going to get worse. It was a bad night.

Thankfully, every time Microsoft comes up with a way to screw the consumer, our friends at the computer companies come up with a fix. I have been an HP guy for a bunch of years now, and they have a service called System Recovery. Microsoft has a service called System Restore. Microsoft’s system is supposed to allow you to revert back to a previous time in your computer’s life when all was right with the world (Imagine those few seconds after you put your foot in your mouth … gone). It’s a great idea, but I’ve never seen it actually work. Apparently, the first files to be corrupted on any computer are the System Restore files. I tried about ten restores, to no avail, and switched over to the recovery mode. Since Microsoft doesn’t give you the Windows disc anymore (anti-piracy Nazi’s), you don’t have that nice feature called “repair a broken installation.” HP’s answer to this was to put all of your necessary files in a hidden part of your hard drive (it costs you about 10 GB worth of space, but it’s well worth it). After spending several hours backing my data up to my external hard drive (Karen, it paid for itself today), I tried out the recovery. When you open this thing, it has two options: first, in giant bold letters it says, ‘DESTRUCTIVE RECOVERY’ - in other words, this thing is going to rip through your computer like a Roman legion - kind of scary when you think about it. Below that, in tiny letters, it says, “repair and replace” - the old Windows repair utility. Needless to say, I chose option two (hoping to save some data), and I’m back online. The first thing I did was to change the Windows Update option to ‘ask before loading.’ It’s been a long day.

-Grease out.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

White noise ...

It’s amazing how attached we get to the white noise in our lives. I used to explain to my wife that, while onboard ship, the only time you would get nervous was when it got quiet. There was so much background noise, that silence was a signal of something wrong (usually nothing, but there were times when the silence meant there was a real problem onboard). This could be compared to a parent’s ‘sixth sense’ about their kids. When the children are quiet, they’re usually up to no good.

Well, I’ve lived in a house devoid of white noise for quite some time now, but that all changed this evening. My haji friends finally got it right … sort of. My routine has been to come home, turn on the TV, run the auto-program, shake my head in disgust and turn it off. Well, tonight I actually heard English voices come out of my TV. I have been graced with six whole channels of AFN (Armed Forces Network) goodness. They don’t come in clear yet, but it’s a start. It definitely completes the room. Now I have a reason to sit in the family room area. I was just able to enjoy the Simpsons for the first time in months. It’s amazing what small things will do to brighten your mood (not that it wasn’t pretty bright as it is – it’s been a good day).

I heard a great comment today, “Constant change creates the illusion of progress". I feel that way sometimes here. We are constantly changing how we do things here, and I wonder what effect it’s having on the local populous. Recently, you all heard in the paper about the brouhaha regarding the wall being constructed to separate the Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods in southern Baghdad. The comments we heard from the Prime Minister included, “The U.S. did this without consulting us” and “This wall must come down.” That’s funny, I seem to remember the wall being the PRIME MINISTER’S IDEA. It’s odd what politicians need to do to remain popular with the people (something tells me the PM needs to be doing a bit more … maybe spending more time working on the situation in Iraq, and less time entertaining Middle Eastern leaders in Egypt). I found Gen. Odierno's comments on the matter interesting:

It is only when different groups are convinced that their legitimate objectives can be achieved through a political process that violence in this country will substantially abate.

Essentially, if we can get them to stop killing each other (and us) for just a second, maybe they’ll realize that they can accomplish more through dialogue than through I.E.D.’s, suicide vests and car bombs. It’s a grand plan (we hear ‘Fahrd al-Qanoon’ on a daily basis working around the headquarters), but all grand plans require one tiny little part … the people have to believe in the plan, or you’re just spinning your wheels. The soldiers, sailors and airmen on the ground believe in the plan, it’s the other guys I’m worried about. Well, I’m going to explore my six channels. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Confessions ...

I can’t hold it any longer, I must confess, after being confronted with the evidence by my sister-in-law … I am a …plagiarist. Yes that’s right, the last blog came directly from the Shakespeare Country historic site. My attempt to honor the Bard (who happens to share a birthday with yours truly) has ended in disaster (Gimme a break, it’s tough coming up with new stuff every day. I don’t know how these guys who do it full time pull it off … I guess it has to be a combination of extreme boredom and loads of free time … I have some of the former, not much of the latter). I will now (as is the trend in Hollywood these days) enter a rehab program designed for those who take the word of others and use it for personal profit … what, you mean I’m not getting paid for this? I’ll be back ……… ok, my stint in plagiarist’s rehab is complete. I will never plagiarize again ... tomorrow I will be presently my newest post, entitled 'The Sun Also Rises' ... it's a scorcher! (Seriously kids, don't plagiarize - my sister-in-law (the teacher) and my sister (the teacher turned county administrator) will find out and will blame me - holidays are tough enough without giving them free ammo)

-Grease out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy Birthday, William Shakespeare!

William Shakespeare was born on 23 April 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was the third child and eldest son of John and Mary Shakespeare. His father was a glove maker and tanner and an important figure in the town.Shakespeare attended King Edward VI School, Stratford-upon-Avon. The classical writers he studied in the classroom had a big influence on his plays and poetry.At the age of 18 in November 1582 he married Anne Hathaway, the daughter of a local landowner. Her family home, now known as Anne Hathaway's Cottage, still stands in the village of Shottery, a mile from Stratford. Together they had 3 children, Susanna, Hamnet and Judith. William’s family lived at his father’s house in Henley Street, now known as Shakespeare's Birthplace. Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet died aged 11 in 1596. In 1607 Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna married John Hall a successful doctor, and lived together in Hall's Croft. His younger daughter, Judith, married Thomas Quiney in 1616.Little is known about his early married life but when he moved to London in 1592 he began to make his name. Shakespeare spent 25 years of his 52 years living and working as a dramatist and actor in London, whilst maintaining his home and family in Stratford. His early career in London coincided with the outbreak of the plague, which killed thousands of people and closed all the theatres in order to stop the disease spreading. During this time Shakespeare wrote some of his most popular poems, including his 154 sonnets.In 1611 Shakespeare returned to Stratford to live with his family at New Place, said at the time to be the second finest house in Stratford.He died on his birthday, 23 April 1616, aged 52. He is buried at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon. His widow Anne died in 1623 and was buried beside him. Shakespeare’s family line came to an end with the death of his grand-daughter Elizabeth in 1670.

And we are all better off for having known him.
-Grease out.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Joseph Heller ...

Do you ever get the feeling that fate is having some fun with you? Let’s recap: I should have been in a room with a roommate and no bathroom. By sheer luck of the draw in who I met along the way, I was blessed with a single-man wet room. This of course comes with no hot water, thus defeating the purpose of having the bathroom in the first place. I’ll move on to yesterday: Kenny finally approaches me and says, “Hey, lets go get my stuff so you can have it for your room.” The most important item I purchased from a rapidly departing Kenny was a TV. The rest of the items are nice, but I can live without them. I place this beautiful Haji TV in my now well furnished room only to discover: There’s no TV signal, thus defeating the purpose of having a TV. Apparently, the perfect signal we received from on top of … get this … Signal Hill, wasn’t perfect enough for the viewing audience. This resulted in the powers-that-be deciding to move the satellite dish several miles south to … you guessed it … Signal Hill (We know them as Signal Hill on Liberty and Signal Hill on Slayer). Unfortunately, these powers-that-be are better at making random decisions than actually performing the tasks. Apparently, there have been some unexpected delays in moving the dish … like no one had actually planned the move, and they were leaving it up to Haji maintenance to accomplish this task. The next kicker is: all of the dishes around Victory/Liberty/BIAP/Slayer/ Striker/Brooklyn were pointed towards Signal Hill to get the TV feed. Well, all of the dishes are now pointed at the wrong Signal Hill, and the process for moving them is like a scene out of the Beverly Hillbillies. Just today, I saw a man standing on top of a T-wall (big cement wall) turning a dish and yelling in Arabic to a man in a trailer watching a TV. Now, I don’t speak Arabic, but I think the conversation went something like this: “Can you see anything?” “Nope” “Damn” ~tweak, tweak~ “How about now?” “Nope” “Damn” and so on. At this rate, I’ll get a signal sometime as I’m packing up to re-deploy to the states. I know it seems trivial, but the ability to turn on the news, or a hockey game, or anything other than static, is one of those things that keeps us a bit closer to home. Most of the troops over here do not have regular access to the internet, so the little TV they watch is their only taste of home … that and cookies. The Armed Forces Network does an excellent job of broadcasting reruns of most of the shows that caused the WB to go out of business. That and they show obscure sporting events paired up with movies that should have gone direct to VHS (Notice I’m not saying DVD … most of them we pre-DVD era movies).

Oh well, I am very happy to have all of Kenny’s stuff. I now have wall to wall carpet (It’s really like some sort of strange macabre of color – a patchwork of sorts). It’s not perfect, but it keeps the dust down and my feet don’t get dirty on the way to the bathroom. I also have a small dorm-room fridge that is stocked with stolen Diet-Coke and water (I miss the old days when fridges of this size were used for beer). I have a shelving unit that is on it’s last legs. And finally, I have a large leather chair that used to belong to a General (Every so often over here, they make units (such as mine) move – It’s easier to buy new stuff than to move the old, so … let the thievery begin). My room looks like some sort of college dorm nightmare, but it’s mine and I have the necessary amenities to keep me sane for a few months (that is, if they get the TV fixed).
With no televised entertainment, I’ve taken to reading books over here (perish the thought). Folks around the states are nice enough to send us old paperbacks that they were going to throw away. Sometimes we get some strange stuff in the boxes, though. Looking through a box of books while at FOB Warhorse, I came across a manual for a GE Toaster Oven. I was pretty bored at the time, so I gave it a look. I might still have it if any of you need a good read.

I’ve also spent a bunch of time figuring out how to communicate with home more effectively. When I say that, I’m not talking psycho-analyst mumbo-jumbo. I just mean that getting a quality signal home can be tough at times … and expensive. I think, however, I’ve found the answer. I’ve been an AOL user for years and love the ‘intranet’ that AOL offers, but their video-chat leaves something to be desired. After talking with some of the folks here, I found that the wave of the future is Skype ( It’s one of those services that allow you to use your computer like a phone (VOIP) or use their video-chat feature. The best part is – it’s free! The download is about 20 MB (Which meant Karen did it at home in under a minute … mine took all night), and if both parties are Skype users, the calls are free (from computer to computer). Apparently, they have a lot of other options that allow you to call from your phone to regular phones, but that’s where the cost comes in. So, loyal readers (mom), if you want to video chat with the author, get a webcam and get Skype. Thus ends the paid commercial message. I’m going to try to call (Skype) the wife now, so I have to be going. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Addendum ...

Normally one post a day is all I’m good for, but I had to update my loyal readers (hi Mom) on my never-ending struggle with my water-heater. The day before I left on the last leg of the grand journey, I received a phonecall on my cellphone (actually Tim received it on his cellphone, because I wrote the wrong number down on the trouble call sheet – thankfully, I was standing next to Tim at the time). I had been by KBR earlier in the day to lodge yet another complaint about the lack of consistent hot water. I talked to a NEW KBR lady (she might have been here for years, but this is the first time I’ve seen here, so she’s new, OK?) and explained my dilemma. She was shocked that the problem hadn’t been fixed, and promised to call the plumbing supervisor right away. This leads to the phone call. The plumbing sup told me he had personally looked at my heater and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He did, however, offer a solution – he told me that he had just received a shipment of BRAND NEW 80 gallon water heaters (mine was a 40 gallon – should have been more than enough for one person), and that he would have one installed while I was gone. At this I was ecstatic, I would have so much hot water, I could put a hot tub in the rec-room (kidding). I left on my trip and forgot about the issue until I arrived home last night. I could tell by the dirt on my freshly mopped floor that the workers had done their magic. There in my hooch, was a beautiful large new water heater. I turned on the shower for a minute and, much to my amazement, hot water. I quickly turned it off as it was bedtime, and turned on the faucet to wash my face … hmmm, that’s funny … no water. I chock this one up to the, ”you can’t win ‘em all” school of thought (or perhaps it’s the, “you can’t win at all”). I decided to deal with it in the morning. When I awoke, I jumped in my shower for some hot refreshment … hmmm, that’s funny, it’s not staying hot – just like the old one. When I explained to the KBR folks that I had traded a 40 gallon non-working water heater for an 80 gallon non-working water heater AND no water in the faucet, they found it quite amusing. To their credit, two gentlemen just left my hooch after fixing the faucet, and one of them thinks he knows what the water problem is (he said something about a faulty check valve outside the trailer). As I said in the beginning, “Que, sera, sera.” By the time they get this fixed, it’ll be so hot here that hot water won’t be the problem. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out

Turnover ... complete

Well, that’s it folks, my turnover with Kenny is finally complete. It got to the point near the end where I didn’t know which FOB I was on, or where I had recently come from. The travel arrangements became pretty painful near the end, so Kenny and I decided to Space-A most of the final legs (this is where you go to the terminal and hope that there’s an empty seat on a flight where you need to go). It worked out pretty well, but it led to some confusion by the folks we were going to meet. When you say you’ll be there on Sunday, and you show up on Friday, it usually means you will be scrambling for a ride or a place to sleep. It didn’t help that one of the flights dropped us off in the wrong spot (right FOB, wrong side of the airfield), we eventually made our way to the other side. This was mostly due to pure dumb luck (a guy who works with us who weren’t going to meet bumped into us and gave us a ride in his spiffy Humvee ambulance). We made it home at 11 PM last night and were surprised that there wasn’t a welcoming party to greet us (I’m kidding, they didn’t expect us home for two more days). We tried to call the guy who had my truck, but his phone didn’t work, so we jumped on the KBR bus back to the office. The bus stopped at the exchange, and the driver notified us that he wouldn’t be departing until midnight for the next run (it was 11:15). When we finally did arrive at the office (after just over an hour on the bus) we discovered that the guy with the truck, had left it for us at the helicopter terminal … where we were an hour ago. Needless to say, the trip ended on a painful note. Between that, and all the E-mail I had to catch up on all morning, I don’t think I’ll be traveling anywhere soon (our travel coordinator informed me that my license to travel has been revoked for an indefinite period – we owe her a great deal of thanks, she got us to almost ten different FOBs in just over a weeks time). With that I’ll sign off with some pictures from my travels. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out
Where'd you get that suit? London ... Hong Kong ...Noooo, you got it from a Conex box at Warhorse!

Endless terminal waiting.

Finally a day helo ride.

I'm not the only one stuck here.
Greetings from scenic Kirkuk!
Even on the nicest day, there's always a reminder.
All the comforts of home ... compete with sandbags!
Fair winds and following seas, Kenny ...
Your time here is complete, we have the watch.
P.S. I received my first non-solicited care package today. Was it from my wife and kids ... nope. Family ... nope. It was from Tom and Becky, and the cookies are delicious. Thanks guys.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Catfish Air ...

Well, I’ve finally returned home after another round of flights around Iraq. Only one more round to go, and then the turnover with Kenny will be complete. I have to ask one question before I start today: Why is it that civilian folks in a war zone turn into morons as soon as they get off the plane. I’m not saying they all do, a lot of the ex-military folks still have a clue. I was lucky enough to get on an Embassy flight yesterday to Mosul (Northern Iraq). The reason we like the Embassy flights is: they tend not to get cancelled. Most flights are hit or miss until you are actually in the air (and even then there’s no guarantee that you will get to your destination – sometimes other missions take priority). The Embassy flights have a few lucky soldiers and some Iraqi Army guys being moved around the country; but mostly, they have civilian types: State department workers, contractors, and all those touchy feely types (Save the whales, Save Iraq, Save Darfur, other random socialist organizations, etc.). These flights are still run by the Air Force, so there’s some sense of military bearing.

Now my question to you is: when you know your flight is about to board (they tell you over and over when it’s coming up), do you: a) Make a quick head call (restroom break), b) Organize your things, c) Take one last smoke break (for you smokers out there), or d) none of the above? Apparently, if you are a civilian (such as the ones listed above) you choose d) every day and twice on Sunday. We board the plane and, within five minutes, half of the civilians have asked to get off and go to the bathroom, six have left to smoke and three haven’t made it yet because they are still trying to get their enormous amounts of crap together to load on the plane. I had my toes stepped on by four people getting off after we were seated and buckled in (If you’ve ever flown in a C-130 you’ll know that foot room is not a dealer supplied option). Needless to say, we spent an extra 15-20 minutes on the ground waiting for these fools to do what all of the military folks did during the hours we had before we boarded (Embassy flights require you to show up three hours early). Then, to top it off, when we arrive in Mosul, the civilians decide that the landing rollout is a good time to get up and gather their things. When the Air Force aircrew guy yelled at them to sit down until he told them to get up, they looked at him like he was speaking in a dead language (that’s not a good metaphor – these folks are the only ones still alive who get degrees in dead languages – they’d understand him – let’s just say they looked at him like he had three heads). I swear this Airman was about two seconds away from ‘capping’ one of these morons with his 9mm.

When you disembark (get off) these planes, you walk in a straight line off of the flight line to someone who checks you in – if you’re military. If you’re a civilian, you rush to the front of the line like a herd of buffalo, because your time and mission are more important than anyone elses. One of the KBR guys who was leading the line ‘accidentally’ tripped the State department weenie, as he was rushing to get to the terminal first. This elicited some well needed laughter from those of us trapped with these idiots.

Well, we toured around Mosul with our contact up there. It’s a strange place. The FOB has this country town feel to it. There are awnings on all the shops to give them that General Store look, and they actually have hills and grass (the smell of fresh cut grass was a pleasant surprise). You can still tell you’re in the land of not quite right, though. Pop’s and Omar’s general store just didn’t have the right ring to it, nor did Elvis’ house of leather. The 7/11 signs going up took me as a bit of a shock – seeing as how 7/11 doesn’t exist in Iraq (we’re pretty sure they got some old signs from a junkyard). Anyway, the time spent in Mosul was productive. We jumped on another flight late that night to get to Camp Speicher. We rode on a CH-47 helicopter, which is like a C-130 when it comes to the seats (sling seats with a bar in the middle of your butt). As is always the case for me, I got the ‘half seat’ where one section of seats end. No bar in my butt, but no way to stay on the seat either. They fly with the back door open for the gunner, so I was able to witness a really cool thunderstorm (It’s rained for the last two days – mud, mud, mud). When we arrived, our contact met us and dropped us off at our room. Search as we may, there was no bathroom to be found. Needless to say, Speicher is not on my list of vacation spots (I still need a shower).

Now, on to the best part of the trip – Catfish Air. We were scheduled to leave Speicher this morning at around 9 AM. Weather delayed that until about noon, but it was worth the wait. Catfish Air is the name of a group of Army helicopters who do nothing but ferry passengers around the country. These guys define the word ‘cowboy.’ They fly day or night, and they seem to have a blast doing it. Our crew chief carries a Shrek doll with him on every flight. He also carries little baggies full of candy to throw out to kids as we pass them by. Now, you might be saying, ‘How can he tell that they’re kids he’s throwing the bags of candy to?’ He can because; we’re flying at 100-200 feet off the ground. This ride made me think back to EA-6B low-level days in Western Washington. We’re zipping over the countryside, and you can see the faces of the folks you’re flying over. They also don’t have any windows in the helicopter, so that just adds to the thrill. If you haven’t guessed, I’m starting to get over my fear of helicopters. If I can see out the front, it’s actually not too bad. Only two more days until I depart on my final leg of this turnover-a-rama. One more Embassy Flight, and hopefully some more Catfish Air, and I’ll be done. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Oh the places you'll go

I always appreciated that poem (given to so many people on the occasion of a graduation from High School, College, etc.), but I never thought it would involve me going to Taji, Iraq. Once again, Kenny and I had another bright and early morning (1:00 AM this time) to catch a helicopter to Taji. The flight only lasts a few minutes, but it’s amazing the transformation along the way. Baghdad is a large metropolitan city, that shines kind of like a beacon in the desert (even though power is spotty at best, there’s usually a ton of ambient light). Taji on the other hand, not so much. When you leave Baghdad, you pass into an area devoid of any light (or life as far as I could tell). Taji is a city, just nowhere as large and well lit as Baghdad. The base we use was previously a Republican Guard secret base (the only people who thought it was a secret was the Republican guard – people around the world just don’t seem to understand that we have these things called satellites, and they see everything). The Iraqi army uses part of the base, and the rest is used by the Coalition forces. Brandon (the guy who works for me in Taji), picked us up in an up-armored Humvee (the doors on these things literally weigh 500lbs.), and drove us to the Iraqi side, where he works. As has become the ritual, Kenny and I laid down for a quick three hour nap before breakfast, and got to work. Brandon works at a type of school that’s training the guys who work as advisors to the Iraqi army. It was a bit disconcerting to be away from the friendly confines of a U.S. secured base. I couldn’t tell if these Iraqi soldiers wanted us there, or if they were just looking at us as invaders who needed to go. I don’t envy Brandon’s job, it’s a bit closer to the ‘front’ than I would care to live. He’s an interesting character, his job in the real world is that of a English professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. That being said, his blog has more of a literary flavor to it than mine. He did introduce me to quite the amazing mouse. Apparently, they have a terrarium where they kept several live scorpions they found in the desert. They placed the mouse in the terrarium (I’m guessing as a food source for the scorpions) and observed that, after several days of looking scared of the scorpions, the mouse actually killed and ate one … then another … then another. The mouse gets my vote for tough guy of the week. The mouse is supposed to lose, but animals do amazing things when cornered. I guess the same could be said about humans placed in high stress situations … some cave, some overcome. Let’s hope I’m the latter and not the former. I’m on the road again tomorrow for heaven knows where (someday this turnover will end … I hope) Until tomorrow (or later depending on my trip).

-Grease out.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Blackhawks over Baghdad ...

Another first for me today, I flew via Blackhawk helicopter to Fallujah for some more meetings in my never-ending turnover. I’d love to show you some pictures of my helicopter ride, but seeing as it all happened at 4:15 AM, it was kind of dark. The Sikorsky file photo will have to do.

The Army has taken to flying these flights at night to ‘cover their tracks’ – ie. if they can’t see you, they can’t shoot at you. Those of you who know me know my love/hate relationship with helos. I love that they are the folks who are coming to pick me up from a downed aircraft, but I HATE riding in them. Thankfully, I got a seat near the front, so I could see where we were going. It’s kind of a bizarre ride, they only stay on deck long enough to offload and onload passengers. As soon as I was buckled in, we were gone. The flight was relatively uneventful, and we arrived in Fallujah a few minutes later. Kenny knew our contact, ‘Jim’ from a previous ship, and I knew him from going through training with him, so the introductions weren’t new.

I do have to send thanks out to Jim for waking up at 4:00 AM to pick us up. He asked what we wanted to do first, and Kenny replied, ’A nap would be pretty good.’ So that was my experience of the day. There isn’t much to do in Fallujah, so we slept for a few hours, met with all the people we wanted to, slept a few more hours and jumped on an available helo to get us home in time for bed. Kenny made an observation that quite a few Aviators will agree with – ‘Sleep ‘till you’re hungry, eat ‘till you’re tired, repeat.’ I’d love to have more pictures to show you, but I honestly saw very little that was picture worthy, just a bed and a trailer. With that said, it’s time for more sleep. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Ain't technology great?

Don’t you hate it when you get to work and realize you’ve left things at home? Today was one of those days. I had just finished my very first teleconference with some of my colleagues – that was kind of a cool thing, we were anywhere from ten miles apart to one hundred, and we were able to have a somewhat effective meeting … ok, ok, I know that most of you non-military types have done this tons of times, but the ability to do it in a combat zone where some of the guys might be talking to you from a tent was neat – and I realized stuff I needed to reference for follow up with these guys was in my ‘hooch.’ I had even laid it out so I wouldn’t forget it. Grrrrr (a favorite saying of my wife). So, I jumped in the mighty War Hummer and rolled for my trailer.

When you look on Google Maps, my office and trailer are just over two miles apart. The reality is, it’s a twenty minute drive. I, of course, chose the road behind the flatbed truck who was either lost or eating a sandwich. If the speed limit is 30, I can deal with 20 – you’re just being safe, but 10 … now that ticks me off. Normally, I would have passed, but this clown was driving down … you guessed it … the middle. Needless to say, I wasn’t too happy about using half of my lunch to get home. With no other options, I idled along behind my trucker friend and enjoyed the day. I was, however, met with quite the surprise upon my arrival at Casa Grease. It seems at least one of my ‘trouble calls’ was answered!

When I talked to the guys who got me the trailer, they said that they were using the wireless internet like champs in their trailer. Now I’m a HUGE fan of wireless internet, and reduction of wires in general (Ask my wife, she’s convinced that I want to replace all of the electronics in the family room (TV, Surround Receiver, etc) just to upgrade to HDMI capable (single wire does all audio/video) man-toys – and she’s right). When I arrived at my trailer, I tried to use my computer wirelessly, but could not get any type of signal. It would ‘see’ wireless hubs nearby, but alas no reception. I’m pretty sure I live in the only lead-lined trailer in Iraq. This would be good if I was a superhero who needed protection from Kryptonite, but when it comes to receiving wireless signals … not so much. The only way I could get internet in the beginning was to run a Cat-5 cable from the internet hub in the adjoining room, through the bathroom, across the floor to the laptop … not very efficient. On top of that, I know that the adjoining room won’t stay empty forever, and the new inhabitant might not appreciate me keeping the bathroom doors open all the time to surf when I’m home. The first night, I decided to go over to the internet folks the next morning and complain. Then the whole cold shower thing happened. My priorities rapidly changed. Eventually, I made it to Magic Island Tech. (our internet provider in the desert – I wonder if they outsource their customer service to the states – that would only seem fair). I asked the lady at Magic Island for some help with my problem, and she gave me a blank stare, thus indicating her limited conversational English did not extend to technical questions. She thrust a piece of paper at me and indicated that I should write my problem down. This was five days ago. After my experience with the water heater (still not fixed – getting old), I fully expected to never hear from the Magic Island again. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised to see a note on my desk when I returned today.

Not only had they been by, but they did exactly as I asked! I had requested that they swap out the wired hub in my trailer with a wireless one, and that’s exactly what I received. Now I have one less thing to stumble on as I make my way to the cold shower in the morning (the KBR guy did say that a team had been by and ‘cleaned out the water heater.’ I explained to him that the cleanliness of the water heater was not my big issue, the lack of HEAT was. Go figure, I’m still taking world-record speed showers in the morning. I’ve timed it; I have approximately three minutes fifteen seconds of warm water, then all cold). Maybe I’ll get lucky and they will come during the next two days (I’m traveling to Fallujah tomorrow morning for some meetings). We’ll see.

Before I sign off tonight, I want to make some shout-outs to some pretty cool people. A lot of you reading this have offered help with Karen, the kids and the impending twins. Please know that we appreciate every offer, and she will undoubtedly take you up on some. On a more selfish note, many of you out there have offered to send care packages out to me. This I really appreciate. Just last night, Karen’s cousin Helen E-mailed me. Now you have to understand, I met Helen at my wedding, and that’s about it. Karen keeps up with her, but I never expected to get her E-mails last night. It seems Helen works for a company that makes sunscreen and bug repellent (in some cases sunscreen that has bug repellent in it – cool), these are things that are in short supply in the desert. Helen gets free samples, and offered to send me a case! Now I love the typical care package stuff (cookies, brownies, etc) because they are made by the folks sending them, but Helen’s offer was pretty special – she looked on some of the blogs I have linked and noticed that one mentioned the bug problems and lack of sunscreen, and decided that this would be her niche – really thoughtful. Anyway, thank you again Helen for the generous offer and thank you all for all you do for Karen and I. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

P.S. For those of you who have requested, here is my address:

LCDR (Fill in my name here – OPSEC you know)
APO AE 09342

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The International Zone ...

Well, I finally went outside the comfy confines of the base today. Kenny and I had an appointment with two Colonels we support in the International Zone. Baghdad is divided up into parts where the war still rages and areas where the coalition has some control. Camp Victory is on the west side of the city near the airport, and the IZ is smack dab in the center. Many of you will remember the IZ from the ‘Shock and Awe’ campaign. This is where most of the first few nights of the war were fought with Tomahawk missiles and bombs dropped from aircraft. Now it is the part of the city where everyone is setting up embassies. It’s only about ten miles from Victory to the IZ, but it’s ten miles on one of the more dangerous roads in Baghdad, historically (it’s relatively safe now).

The trip is made several times a day by ‘Rhino,’ an armored bus that travels with a convoy of armored humvees for more protection. Despite the massive amounts of armor on the Rhino, you still feel very vulnerable. I spent the trip looking out the front window at everything on the road, half expecting it to be an IED or suicide bomber. The great thing about traveling in a convoy is, we OWN the road. The humvees make it VERY clear to other traffic that they need to stop and let us pass. The kids riding in these things are rarely older than 20, but they are battle hard veterans. I was impressed with how professional the convoy group was. Needless to say, we made it to the IZ without a scratch, and met our contact there who drove us around. We had plenty of time before the scheduled meeting, so we did some sightseeing.

The IZ has all of the landmarks you see on TV (because most of the reporters base themselves out of there). Tim (our contact) took us by the infamous ‘crossed swords’ and parade grounds. This is the place where the famous picture of Sadaam was standing there dressed like a military clown holding the shotgun in the air. I couldn’t help myself, I had to have this photo.

We couldn’t decide if this place reminded us more of the Nazi parade grounds during the 30’s-40’s or the famous pictures of the Soviets during the May Day parades. I just wonder why one needs to have your whole military parade by you for a photo-op. I’m guessing it’s an inferiority thing. The other amazing thing was, these parades were held in the summer in Baghdad … it’s HOT in the summer in Baghdad … but that doesn’t matter when you have your very own seat air conditioner. Nothing was too good for the Baathists, who cares that your people are starving and poor, more perks for the ruling party!! Wow, I sound like a Democrat.

Tim then took us to FOB Prosperity in the IZ, where he works. On the way, we stopped by the ‘heads of Sadaam.’ These giant heads were placed on top of one of his palaces, convienently the same palace where Tim’s office is. Apparently the story is: At the end of the ground campaign in 2003, each Battalion/Brigade was allowed to take home one war trophy for the command museum. One of the Brigades got the bright idea to take Sadaam’s head home. As much as they tried, they could not fit it in anything to ship. So, they did the next best thing, they took the crown off of one of the heads and brought it home. So now, we have two giant Sadaam heads on Prosperity, one’s just missing it’s big crown.

I did find it quite funny that not everyone thinks the Sadaam heads are such a bad thing, the birds seem to enjoy having Sadaam's head as a roomy, if not twisted, home.

We went up to the palace where Tim’s office is, and discovered why the U.S. wins wars. Our soldiers are great, but our technology is AMAZING, specifically, our smart bombs and cruise missiles. We wandered around the palace and looked at some of the rubble. The floor where Tim worked had several tiny bomb holes in it, but other than that, it was fine. The lower floors however … wow.

These bombs and missiles will make a small hole for as long as they are programmed until they explode. This being said, the building was damaged from the inside out, and not the other way around. All in all it was quite the exciting trip. I’m exhausted. I know I’m leaving out some amazing stuff, but hopefully I’ll remember for a later edition. Sleep calls me, and I’m going to answer. Until tomorrow.

-Grease out.

First stop home, next stop ...