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 ...