Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Lame-Duck Times ...

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 I just sit in the back to provide historical reference if needed.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

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

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

-Grease out.

Thought for the day

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

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

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

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

John Denver - 1967

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Turnover ...

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

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

-Grease out.

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wow ...

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

-Grease out.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My new best friend ...

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The sweetest victory ...

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

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

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

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

-Grease out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Cubicles ...

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

-Grease out.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

My uncensored Id ...

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

-Grease out.

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

Monday, October 1, 2007

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

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

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

-Grease out

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

VAW-113 presents "Move Along"

First stop home, next stop ...