Sunday, December 30, 2007

Corruption: Standard Issue?

Of course, I don’t mean to imply that all Iraqi’s are corrupt – it’s just the one’s I work with (and not even all of them, either). Applying a broad generalization like that is no fairer than saying all state department Foreign Service Officers are pansies. I know that there are alot more courageous, patriotic FSOs than there are sniveling cowards, just as I know there is a lot of honest, loyal, hard working Iraqis. By this point you have to be wondering what happened to bring on this rambling rant, and you’d be right to assume there is a story behind it.

As I mentioned before, construction is really starting to ramp up in our area. What used to be a few trucks a day hauling in materials is now dozens, and if you were to look out over the vast area we are in, you’d get a lot of dust in your eyes. It’s annoying. We really need to pave the place. In addition to all of the construction in our area, a massive new construction project has started in the area just beyond ours. To get to this project, though, you need to cross through our area of operations, thus increasing our traffic even more.

Now, our Iraqi commander stonewalls me whenever I tell him we need to allow trucks in for our own projects. So, you can imagine my complete shock when I am called into his office to find both Iraqi commanders and the contractor sitting there, smiling like they all just found out they were long lost brothers. Hint #1 that something was amiss – both Iraqi Colonel’s together in the same room at the same time. It’s kind of like seeing the sun and moon together at the same time – when it happens, it kind of freaks you out. Hint #2 was the enthusiastic manner in which both Colonels insisted we allow these trucks through our area of operations. It went something like this (after I walked into the room, shook everyone’s hand 3 times, spun in a circle and touched my nose):

Colonel #1: “Captain, we must allow these trucks to use our roads.”

Me: “Sir, I agree, we cant just allow these guy to come in here and . . .wait, what? Did you just say we must allow them to?”

Colonel#2: “Yes, yes, it is very important.”

Ok, that was the third thing that tipped me off. The details for the construction project in question are given out on a need to know basis. Meaning, these two have no idea what’s being built. Therefore, they certainly aren’t enthusiastic about letting the trucks through for the good of the project. So, our Aussie Major pulled the contractor outside and gave him the standard “You don’t have to bribe them, we’ll let you through anyway, yadda yadda.” He shook his head and that was that – the deal was done.

So in the passing week’s I haven’t thought much about this meeting until recently. I was driving through our area with the liason from the task force involved in the big project. We were discussing progress and other boring details when he laughed at one of our Iraqi guards with a clipboard.

“Why are you laughing”, I asked him.

He responded “Because, I find it humorous (not so much haha, more so like wtf) that your Iraqi commander charges by the truck. That Soldier there? He’s counting trucks. Reports it to Colonel.”

So I immediately thought back to the meeting and asked “So you think our guys are taking bribes?”

“No”, he answered, “I know they are. One day, none of the trucks were allowed in. The Iraqi in charge pulls all of the drivers into his office and starts in on how all these trucks were making his job hard, and yet he has no benzene, no food. So, they all gave some food or money or gas, and they haven’t had any problems since.”

I thought for a moment, then asked him “How do you think we stop it? We’re out here, but we can’t be everywhere, and damn if these guys aren’t slick.”

His answer was that he doesn’t think we can stop it, not without proof and not so long as the contractor is willing to pay the bribes to make things run smoother. And so it goes, I guess. It’s frustrating, because we’ve tried to collect proof. I’ve personally ridden with the Inspector General in an unmarked, almost unarmed convoy when they were tracking money from Baghdad to here, and we still couldn’t collect any proof. Short of telling my contractors they don’t have to pay the bribes, I don’t see an easy solution. I just hate to think that we represent a microcosm of what happens in the high levels of government, because if that’s the case, this country is off to a troubled start. Ok, you can file that last one away in the “Thanks CPT Obvious department”, because I know there is corruption everywhere in the world. I just think that a country with a fledging government should be working to more honest solutions, not turning a blind eye to corruption.

My camera is MIA, so no more pictures for the time being. Hope everyone has a happy new year, and I’ll sign out with a big good riddance to 2007!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A new report on Iraq

Michael Yon has published the report from retired Army General Barry R McCaffrey here. In my always humble opinion (ha), the General gives a very honest assessment of the situation here in Iraq. It goes from the good ("VIOLENCE DOWN DRAMATICALLY"), to the not-so-good ("CENTRAL GOVERNMENT DOES NOT WORK"). I really encourage everyone to read the entire report.

There are some great no-kidding quotes in there. Here are some of my personal favorites (with my thoughts in italics. Yes, I felt the need to point that out, just in case someone misread it and thought the general was as sarcastic as me):


- "We are losing our combat experienced mid-career NCOs’ and Captains at an excessive rate." (cough cough) What - who, me? Gee, I wonder why . . .

- "Their morale is high, they are proud of their service, they have enormous personal courage—however, they see a nation of 300 million people with only an under resourced Armed Forces at war. The US Army at 400,000 troops is too small to carry out the current military strategy." Yes, its called family time. We get none of it when we are deploying every other year.

- "The National Guard and Reserves are too small, are inadequately resourced, their equipment is broken or deployed, they are beginning their second involuntary combat deployments, and they did not sign up to be a regular war-fighting force." This one brought tears to my eyes. Well, not really, but it is so eloquent and . . .TRUE!

and finally, a personal shot at the man I hold responsible for my call-up:

- "Mr. Rumsfeld was an American patriot, of great personal talent, energy, experience, bureaucratic cleverness, and charisma—who operated with personal arrogance, intimidation and disrespect for the military, lack of forthright candor, avoidance of personal responsibility, and fundamental bad judgment." Well said, sir, well said indeed!

That's my summary, but like I said, its a great report, so go read it for yourself!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Your probably thinking to yourself - wow, Christmas in Iraq must suck. But actually . .. . yea it does, your right, its terrible. It's really just another day for most of us, albeit there isn't much work going on and with the Iraqi's away finishing their own celebration, we have no one to train, either. So we'll spend the day just kind of messing around, and maybe later we'll smoke a nice cigar and talk about what we'd being doing if we were home. Then tomorrow we'll wake up and it will be business as usual. So ya see, its not really too hard for us. I think it must be much harder on our families, though. They are still doing everything like normal, except without us.

Christmas Eve is easily my favorite day of the year, as I think it is for most of my family. Christmas is a close runner up, but Christmas Eve has always been special. It's three events that really set it apart. The day is usually spent doing last minute shopping or helping to get ready for that night. The 1st thing is going to Church as a family. It's a tradition that we used to do with alot more regularity (like, every Sunday), but with all of us growing up, Christmas is our family mass now.

After mass, I am usually scrambling to get back home so I can be my usual 10 minutes late for Rachael's families annual Christmas Eve dinner. We have been going to the same restaurant now every year for the last 10 years and its always great - Filet Mignon, Sam Adams, and garlic mashed potatoes. Not that I'm predictable. After dinner we return the Becker's and exchange gifts, although since Rache and I are married now, we wait for the morning.

After the Becker's dinner is the Worley family Christmas party. This tradition is older than I am, and was started by my late grandfather, Richard. If there was ever a person who loved Christmas more than him, I'd like to meet them. Now, both my parents come from huge families, so there is typically around 30 or more people there every year. All my aunts and uncles, cousins, and close family friends (must be over 18 - family rule!). There is always shrimp, good beer, Christmas music, and happy faces all night. The best part is just hanging out with everyone and the overall festive atmosphere. Gifts are exchanged toward the end of the night and everyone trickles out after helping to clean up; on their way home to set up the presents for the next morning.

So, its not quite the same here in Iraq, but thats ok. I got to talk to my family on the phone at the party (even though I'm pretty sure I was still asleep and don't remember much of it) and I'll be home in no time. Just like everything else, my appreciation for this night, and for my family, is made stronger by missing them.

If you are at home, enjoy the company of your family and friends today, and Merry Christmas to everyone!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A New Rant

I feel a new rant slowly starting to build, but I don't have all the ammo I need for it just yet. I'll give you hint - it's going to involve military awards, especially the one's given out for a "combat" deployment. It will also involve who gets what award, and how an LT that works in an office near the general is much more likely to get a high award then the same LT leading his platoon on daily combat patrols. Its utter and complete BS, and its one of the many reasons I tried to get out of the Army 3 years ago. I didn't say it was THE reason - there are alot of them that tie together and make for one BIG reason. This is just the one that is sitting on top of my pile today. Stay tuned for more . . .

NOTE: this has nothing to do with any award I may or may not get from this deployment. I just heard some talk about the high levels of awards being given out and it got me thinking back to Afghanistan. Hence the rant. That could be coming . . .

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Letter to my Wife on her Birthday

Dear Rachael,

As you know, I am pretty bad when it comes to being an emotional person. In fact, I suck at it. Every year, I try to write something nice and sensitive in a card for you, and every year you smile and lie and tell me how nice it was. In fact, I vaguely remember trying to write poetry about 8 years ago - HAHA - what a joke that turned out to be. So we both know where my strength is not. This year, however, I am not home for your birthday or Christmas, so my lame attempt at telling you how I feel in a Hallmark card will have to wait another 365 days (wait, 366 - stupid leap year!) Instead, this year, I've decided to lay it all out to bare for anyone on the internet to read. I figure 8 years from now, this could pass the poetry as the lamest thing I've ever done.

Since I've been in this miserable place 6000 miles away from you, I've had alot of time to reflect on our relationship. 126 months ago (that's 10 1/2 years to the math impaired), you and I sat awkwardly in my parents basement watching Cheers, since my sister and John W. kindly left us alone (finally!) That was the start of it (sorry folks, PG content only here - haha just kidding Mr Becker nothing happened I swear!) And as we both know, it was a week later on the steps of your parents house that we both thought there might be something special, when we talked for 6 hours straight about nothing because someone else was in your basement (sorry Shana, your going down too). At least that's when I thought I had someone special; I don't think I EVER talked to someone for that long before, let alone a girl. The rest of the summer was great and we had alot of fun until it was almost time for school to start up again and for us to part ways. Sensing that we had to make some sort of verbal acknowledgment of this, we talked and agreed to "cross that bridge when we got to it", using the phrase that has dogged us ever since.

As the weeks turned into months, and the months gave way to years, we grew from just boyfriend/girlfriend to best friends, and the sacrifices we made for each other weren't that at all to us - they were invaluable opportunities for us to see each other. Whether it was me walking to the train station in Chester at 5am to see you in Princeton, or you riding the train from Princeton to Richmond, we would never pass up even the slightest chance to see each other. Eventually I was given a car that was a campus security favorite at Princeton and things got a little easier, since we were just a 45 minute car ride from each other. Well, they were easy until Sunday morning when I had to go beg for the boot to be removed. Then I graduated and the Army, in all its life-changing power, stationed me as close to you as they could. As many breaks that haven't gone our way, this might have been the one "break" that worked in our favor, because a 5 hour drive from Fort Drum to Princeton was always the highlight of my month. Not to mention all the concerts I was privy too as a result of that drive! (concert = me signing at the top of my lungs to stay awake)

The funny thing about the distance is that there isn't one time I can remember questioning why I was doing what i was doing, and not one second I wasn't wishing you were with me, and not one day I could let go by without recapping it with you. Even in Afghanistan, the one thing I could look forward to was pulling the note you wrote me for that day from the magic box you made me before I left. There, as I can here, I had alot of time to think, which is why before I left that country I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you. Not that there was ever any doubt before that but, rather, I knew I couldn't wait another second. No more bridges!

Ok, we both know that life is full of bridges now. Its inevitable. So we got married and I worked 3rd shift, but we were together. It wasn't so bad, with Chester waking me up every evening when you got home from work so we could eat dinner together. It was inconvenient, but we were together. Now I've been gone for the last year and its alot more inconvenient, and there are times when I just don't think I can last another second over here. Its those times that flip open my wallet to the faded and worn picture of you and I together and smile a little, because I know that soon, a decade of being apart will come to an end. And then we can let our happiness truly begin.

Happy Birthday, see you soon and I Love You!!


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

reality check

I've been avoiding my blog lately. Ahh, it feels good to admit it. I think part of the reason I was avoiding it is because that writing again would mean that yes, I am really back here in Iraq. This isn't a bad dream I'm having, and Chester isn't going to wake me up by licking my face. It took me a couple weeks to really come back into the mind-set that I need to be in, but, here I am!

This is going to come as a huge surprise to most people, so brace yourselves - but since I left, there has been almost NO change in any of the projects going on here. Shocker, I know. It's not my absence that fueled the complete and utter lack of progress, because let's be honest - there wasn't any forward progress when I was here! I guess I harbored some deep hope of returning to a plethora of construction projects underway, some nearing completion and others just beginning, and then I could hold hands with the Iraqi's and sing Koombya and we'd all be happy. Instead, the same set of warehouses being worked on when I left is still being worked on, and the two scheduled to begin, haven't yet begun. The Iraqi's aren't really to blame here, though. What's holding us back? We have the money allocated, we have the design plans approved, and we have bidders. Mostly what is holding us back is good old American bureaucracy. Paperwork. Miscommunication. Things that make me slap my forehead repeatedly like Homer Simpson with a big "D'Oh!"

One good sign is that we are starting the process for end-of-tour awards and evaluations. Yes, this is a process that will take up to 4 months, but just starting it at least signals the beginning of the end. Not that I am looking forward to going home or anything. I've already informed my chain of command that the only award I want is a DD214 (which is the document you get when you are discharged from the Army). They half believe me. I think there should be an IRR award. I continue to get reports from friends going through the process now who tell me about a 33% or less show rate for IRR recalls. I know we signed a contract and are obligated to report, but most of us who showed up when we got the call did so more as a sense of duty. As much as we deny that in our current state of bitterness, it was more of a moral obligation than anything. What happens to the 67% that don't show up? Nothing. Seriously. I have all but confirmed that there are more no shows than the Army can handle and so nothing of any consequence happens to those who don't report. Do I wish I didn't report? No. I am too much of moral nerd to have lived with myself for not showing. So here I am, again. It's almost over now anyway, so I better stop writing and start making an impact on this country. What - me, sarcastic? Never!

For slightly a slightly less sarcastic view of a current event in Iraq, read this post by Brendan B.