Sunday, September 30, 2007

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

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wilford Brimley ...

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

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

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

-Grease out

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stupidity ...

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

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

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

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

-break, break-

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

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

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

-break, break-

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

Saturday, September 15, 2007

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

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Fight on ...

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

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

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

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

First stop home, next stop ...