Saturday, August 16, 2008

Learning to Fly

The temperature climbed above 107 degrees and the sun was throwing darts into my face. It was a dry, desert heat - which means it was still hot as hell. I leaned over and splashed my face, gasping as the 54-degree water presented a shocking opposite to the scorching sun. Realizing someone was approaching quickly, I picked up my weapon, loaded my ammo and fired - direct hit. My brother-in-law screeched as the freezing water hit him in the face and I laughed, putting the water pistol back into the kayak until our next encounter.

Without a doubt, I'll take the desert of Nevada and waters of the Colorado over Iraq and the Euphrates any day of the week. I've been home for over four months now, and life has pretty much picked up right where it left off. Upon returning from Iraq I took about 6 weeks off, spending 3 of them touring Italy and Paris with Rachael. I started work again in May, beginning as a team leader but just recently accepting a promotion into the process excellence group. 10 weeks ago I got the best news of my life - I am going to be a Dad.

Yep, life is good right now. It hasn't been all vacations and promotions, though (ok, there's been like 3 vacations in 4 months, all of them awesome - not the point). There has been, and still is, adjustment challenges. The first couple weeks I was back were the toughest Rache and I have had in our marriage. We both had become accustomed to a great deal of independence and not having to communicate decisions with a partner; now our decisions had to be mutual. It sounds trivial, but we both changed from this experience and needed to get to know each other again. Thankfully, the3 weeks we spent in Italy and Paris really gave us the chance to reconnect and fall in love all over again. Corny? Sure! One of the best experiences of my life? Absolutely.

There are still residual effects from the deployment. I think anyone who returns from a deployment has to deal with things they never thought would bother them. Don’t know what I mean? Let's just say the 4th of July has gone from 1st to worst in my holiday list.

This is going to be the last post I enter into this blog. I guess it’s like the happy ending I always hoped for during my deployment. I know I am lucky - there are many more who return without any support and struggle to cope with re-adjustment into society. There needs to be a better focus by the military on not only providing support networks for our returning vets but following through to ensure long-term reintegration is achieved. A plethora of organizations exist for you to show your support, but if you are reading my blog I’m sure you can give a dissertation on each of them.

Thank you, all of you, for your support, thoughts, prayers, and comments. I hope this blog provided some kind of insight or entertainment. Until my next one, Peace in the Middle East!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Anyone out there?

If so, there is an update coming . . . . soon!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


After a very short stay at Fort Riley, I have arrived back home to my family. I have to give some major credit to the folks doing the out-processing at Riley - they had us out of there in under 3 days. That includes turning in all of our equipment, processing all of our release from active duty paperwork, and giving all of the mandatory briefings. We didn't sleep much or get to go anywhere, but we were back to our families really quick - I'll take that trade any day of the week!

Rachael and my parents met me right off the plane in Philly, and it was great to see them. I don't think words can express the relief and happiness I had when i saw them. As we walked through the security checkpoint into the main terminal, I saw about 30 people gathered holding signs saying "Welcome Home Jason". All of my family from the area had come down to greet me at the airport. I was embarrassed at first but as I made my through everyone saying hi to everyone I was pretty overwhelmed at all of the support. It made me think of all the care packages and letters and well wishes I got in Iraq and my embarrassment quickly turned to gratitude.

So now Rachael, Chester and I will re-start our life together. Alot has changed (I will be an uncle soon!), but many things are the same and I am just excited to start again. Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this blog and otherwise - your comments and thoughts and support has meant so much to me. I might post a few other thoughts here and there or at other sites, so if you see my name be sure to leave a comment or just say hi. I also posted a few more pictures from the last of my shots in Iraq.

Thanks again to everyone, and a fond farewell!

Friday, March 28, 2008

There's no place like . . .Kansas?

I am back in the US.  Not quite home, but I am in the US and happier then I can describe.  We arrived at Fort Riley early in the morning a couple days ago, and haven't even really slept since then.  A combination of de-mobilization, equipment turn-in and jet-lag has prevented most of us from getting any sleep, but we really don't care.  Tomorrow I will be back in Philly and while it it will be sad to say goodbye to everyone, the sense of relief I feel about being home is overshadowing everything.  I am also praying for my friends still over in Iraq; times are tough right now, but they are leaving soon - I really hope it goes quickly and safely for them. 

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Back in Kuwait

The whine of the landing gear pulled me from a light sleep.  My butt was killing me, the dude next to me was snoring, and I couldn't feel my left foot.  I didn't care about any of these small annoyances, though - I was finally out of Iraq. 
We took a pretty circuitous route to get to Kuwait.  After leaving BIAP, we flew to Bahrain and stayed there for about 2 hours.  When we got off the C-130 in Bahrain, I could smell the sea immediately; that smell of the sea mixed with a faint suntan lotion smell inside terminal gave me a pretty sudden dose of nostalgia. (Jersey shore, anyone?)  From Bahrain we made a quick stop in Qatar, and then finally we arrived in Kuwait.  We were bused to Camp Virginia, and here I am, patiently awaiting my next flight, the one that will take me HOME! 
I still cant believe I am going home, but that's because its hot and dusty here in Kuwait and pretty much just more of the same.  Which is fine by me, because no one is trying to kill me in any fashion and I get to work out and sleep alot.  Not a bad deal!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

5 years

That's how the war in Iraq has been going on. When it started, I was on my way to Afghanistan, so I was a little preoccupied to fully understand why we were going there. After my past year here, I have seen some definite progress, and I have felt extreme frustration. I want to be proud of what we have done here, and I am, but at the same time, when our Prez says something like this, I want to puke. Romantic? Really? I guess it is, maybe, if being away from your family for years on end is romantic, and enduring situations that you never want to think about again is romantic. This summary of his comments says it all, and says it well.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

short timer

While my posting has been slow and infrequent, life has been pretty busy. In between trips to various Iraqi training bases, I have been packing and trying to out-process (complete the required paperwork to leave). This is a good dilemma to have, as nothing brings me more joy than out-processing.

I will write more and post a bunch of pictures once I am Kuwait, but for now I am happy knowing my time here is very, very limited!!

Friday, March 7, 2008

An Open Letter to an Army Human Resources Command spokesman

Dear Mr. Gall,

This letter is regarding your remarks in a recent Stars and Stripes article about the IRR, “Army mustering IRR members, reinvigorating force”. The article in itself is nothing surprising – the Army had no handle on its IRR system, more than half the recalls didn’t show, yadda yadda I’ve been bitching about those same things for over a year now. However, at the end of the article you are quoted as saying something that turned my face red and caused everyone in my section to laugh at the size of the vein in my forehead as it swelled to abnormally large status.

But to ensure fewer unpleasant surprises in future mobilizations — like call-ups
of dead IRR members — Army officials plan to physically muster no more than 20
percent of “their smiling little faces” each year, Gall said.
I am sure you think that was a cute, funny little quote, Mr. Gall. Probably got you a nice little laugh from co-workers at your plush office in HRC – St. Louis. “Oh Ray, that was really witty, especially because most of the IRR are really bitter, pissed off veterans, and a smile is the last thing we see on their faces!” That’s good; I get it, haha at me for being the idiot to show up. Here’s what you don’t seem to get in your ignorant joke. Most of the IRR are bitter and angry because we’ve served our country, at least once, and have tried to move on. In fact, I’d give a very educated guess that in my IRR recall class of about 300, at least 90% had at least one deployment. Several dozen had cases of PTSD so severe they were discharged, but the ones with mild problems were happily sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

I guess it’s funny though to you though, that we aren’t smiling and how angry we are. I guess it’s funny that despite years of honorable service, we were called up and treated like second class citizens for over a year. Yes, we are the dreaded IRR, and despite having a lifetime more experience than most of the people who thumb their noses at us, we’re still treated like second thoughts.

I guess it’s funny that we left families, school, jobs, homes; we left these things unfinished, we lost out on promotions, we put everything on hold. We tried to start a new life for ourselves, and despite being rudely interrupted, we answered the recall – we understand our obligation and we honored it.

Forget about the recruiter who told us the IRR only gets recalled in the event of WWIII; forget about a system so badly mismanaged that more than double the actual number of needed people were recalled; forget about the fact that our unit admitted it shouldn’t have recalled us but still wouldn’t send us home; we knew we signed a contract and we were obligated to it. So we reported as ordered. We just didn’t do it all that happily. And to make a joke at our expense, Mr. Gall, would really take a lot of - well - gall.

A pissed off and now very annoyed IRR recall

Thursday, February 28, 2008

So close, yet so far

Seriously. I feel like I am in quicksand and just cant get out of this trap. Leap year - just my luck. That extra day is like an entire other month has been tacked onto the deployment. Who invented leap year, anyway? What is its purpose? In any event, I cant complain. Some of my IRR brethren have been royally screwed by the plethora of bad leaders here. Me? I am still on schedule. If a schedule really exists.

I posted some new pictures of some of the trips I've taken recently, and . . . that's about it.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Not Much to Say

My life has come to a grinding halt. At least, that's how I feel right now. I can almost taste being home yet its impossibly far away. Adapting to the new job has had its trials, but I am just starting to get the hang of what I think they want me to do. If only they knew what they wanted to do, I'd be all set.

I have gained a different perspective on how the training of the Iraqi Army is going. Now that I have a birds eye view instead of a ground level view, it does appear that we are making some really good progress. The section I am in is responsible for generating the new Iraqi Army Brigades, training their Soldiers and Officers, and then making sure they have all the equipment they need to get into the fight. Once they are recruited, trained, and equipped, we turn them over to group of Military Training Teams (MiTTs) who supervise their entry into "the fight". I wont say everything is going smoothly, but I do think as far as generating an Army goes, there has been some good progress made in the past year. Michael Yon has a great article about all of this and his interview with LTG Dubik, who is the commander of the unit I fall under.

I've been able to travel to the one of the training complexes in Besmaya and see an Iraqi Brigade graduate, and it was a pretty interesting experience. I posted some pictures about it last week. Other than that, things are going fairly well. There is a pretty good group of Captains in the area I work in, a few of which have also spent the last year training Iraqi's, so we have a pretty unique perspective on alot of the operations underway. We're also really sarcastic and short-timers, so it's not that bad of a time. Except when we get yelled at. Which is alot.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New Job

Basically, I work on a staff in the IZ. I do staff work such as go to meetings, write orders for units like the one I used to be a part of, and go to meetings. They tell me that the logic behind bringing me down here was to get some experience from those of us who have been, as they say, "in the field". Ok, whatever. Its not real exciting, although I occasionally get to travel to some different locations and see some of the other training teams. At least that breaks up the 14 hour days they require me to work.

I wont be able to update much since our internet is limited and I dont have access to internet once I leave work. I will try and post the occasional update, though, and I have some new pictures to upload when I get a chance.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Reassignment - Is it true?

"Yes, it's true. [slight pause] This man has no dick."

Ah, nothing like a quote from Bill Murray in Ghostbusters to lighten the mood.

Yes, I am being reassigned with under 40 days left in my deployment. No, I don't know what my new job for 30 days will entail. No, I don't have confirmation that my redeployment wont be delayed. On the bright side, I get to hang out with all my IRR buddies for the next month and I will be doing something different, which should make the clock race towards my finish.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Stay Tuned

"For who? For what?" No, this isn't Ricky Watters after the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Bucs in '95. It was me, after the latest episode of "but, Life's Not Fair!" In that episode, I learned that despite being about 40 days from going home, I am being reassigned to the IZ!

Apparently, my superhuman bitterness has not prevented people from thinking highly of me because I was supposedly requested by name. Go ahead and laugh - I did. You might ask what I'll be doing, or why they chose me so close to redeployment, or if this means I will get extended. You might even say "What could you possible get accomplished in 30-40 days?" I said all of those things and got the Army's equivalent of "because I said so" in return.

So stay tuned for the next episode of "but, Life's Not Fair!", where maybe some of these questions will get answered!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

unwanted feelings

I turned the radio up so that I couldn't possibly hear anything else and notched the speedometer to just a tick under 100 mph. I was on my way to work at around 9pm and upset about something; nothing calms me down quite like deafeningly loud music and driving fast.

It was about 9 months or so after I originally got out of the Army, and I still had these uneasy feelings of guilt that came crashing down over me. They were usually triggered by a news report or hearing from one of my buddies still deployed. It would start as a little pang of guilt and quickly work itself into a full storm of anger on top of guilt. I wasn't even sure what I felt so bad about, which is what brought the anger on. I served a year in Afghanistan, I did my time honorably. Why should I feel bad about not having to go through all that again?

My initial decision to leave the military was a tough one, but I never had any real doubt about what I wanted. The biggest, and most obvious reason for me to get out was to start a family, which would be pretty tough to do if I was deploying every other year. There were other reasons though, and plenty of them. Still, a ridiculous deployment schedule was far and away reason numero uno.

The hardest part, though, was leaving the people. There is nothing in the world like the bond that gets formed between people in the military. The collective act of embracing the suck together forms bonds that are nearly impossible in any other organization. Try spending 10 rainy days in the box (also know as the training area) with 20 guys in the swamp-like conditions at Ft Polk and you'll know what I mean.

Of course, breaking that bond can have some pretty tough consequences. Sure, Soldiers PCS (permanent change of station) and change units all the time, but your not really breaking the bond because you go on to form new ones. So when I left the military, and all of my military friends deployed again to either Iraq or Afghanistan, I felt like the biggest dirt ball on earth. How could I be happy with my new car and house and wife when my friends were 6000 miles away embracing the suck together, again?

So I stopped watching the news. Didn't even pick up a newspaper. Listened to alot of sports radio. I still kept in contact with my friends who were deployed, but kept it to once a month or so. Then my best friend, Mark, got recalled off the IRR and I almost lost it. At that point I had a pretty firm grip on my choice and was even starting to feel truly happy about it, but the news that he would have to go back into Active Duty after over a year of being out was tough to swallow. So the cycle started up for me again. The random feelings of guilt and anger that would cycle on and off, pissing me off even more when I couldn't just be happy for what I had.

Eventually, though, that subsided as well. It happened more toward the end of Mark's deployment, when all my other friends were home and had subsequently ETSd (Expiration of Term of Service) themselves. One day, though, I had this sudden realization that I not only accepted my decision to get out, I was happy about it. I mean, my job was going great, Rachael and I were as happy as a couple could be and were thinking about starting a family. I had a lot of hope that when Mark got home for good, I could finally be rid of the nagging guilt I seemed to carry around with me all the time.

I never got the chance to see if that was the case, though. Soon after I accepted happiness I got a letter in the mail. I guess I wouldn't have a choice about feeling guilty for anything. Looking back, I laugh at what I felt and even how I phrase it as "accepting happiness". I mean, seriously, did it really have to be that difficult?

Saturday, February 2, 2008

and now, for some news commentary

I was on my front porch, sipping my morning latte and reading my copy of The Washington Post, when I couldn't help but feel some annoying, gnawing uneasiness come over me. I tried to put my finger on it and couldn't; as I skimmed over the article I was reading again, it hit me - everyone has gone insane.

Or, quite possibly, I have gone insane, seeing as how there is no front porch, morning latte, or hard copy of the Post. I did, however, read some articles today that are just making me scratch my head in bewilderment.

I started with this piece* about some mythical debate on a pause in troop cuts. (*warning - link opens in a new tab or window) The article talks about military leaders assessing this and deciding that, and blah blah blah my ADD prevents me from reading for long periods of time when nothing important is said, and then we get to this, a quote from Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps Commandant:

"Admiral Fallon has a larger responsibility. He's fighting two fights in his area, and one is going pretty good, and one -- according to some sources -- not so good," he said, referring to Afghanistan.
So I guess what your trying to sell me is that Iraq is going pretty good and Afghanistan is going not-so-good. Sorry, I'm, not drinking that Kool-aid just yet. Another highlight:

Military leaders are debating whether to move forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, Conway said. "Now . . . the discussion is going to become: As things continue to improve in Iraq, at what point do we shift focus into Afghanistan to try to create the same margins of success there?"

But he said there is disagreement within the military over security trends in Afghanistan and the proper strategy there.
To that, I say - let things really improve in Iraq before trying to re-create our "success". January - not such a good month here. And how exciting is it that military leaders disagree with each other on strategy?

Ok, enough on that one. Soon after reading that, I stumbled across this little gem, which makes some surprising claims about our Reserve and National Guard readiness. Rather, their lack of readiness. Does it really surprise anyone that the NG and Reserves couldn't defend our home turf right now? IRR, anyone? Money quote from that article:
“We looked at their plan. It's totally unacceptable. You couldn't move a Girl Scout unit with the kind of planning they're doing now,” said Punaro, executive vice president for Science Applications International Corp. in San Diego.
Finally, to tie all these heart-warming articles together, I read this tear-jerker. McCain and Surge, in the same headline. As the wise Hans Solo once said, "I've got a bad feeling about this."

I'm not saying good things aren't happening in Iraq. I am saying a few good months don't a good strategy make. I guess this should be expected in an age of instant gratification, where we need to have our answers now, even when the answers might not always be right.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quality problems

As I drove up to the "new" building with the fading paint, I tried to rationalize what I was seeing. A week earlier, the building had new paint applied to the outside, just prior to the new roof being installed. To see that same building with half a good paint job and half no paint, I went through every scenario I could think to justify why. Maybe they found a new color they like better. Maybe they need to re-seal the walls and take the paint off before hand. Or maybe, just maybe, they lined the freakin' roof up flush with the wall face so that when it rained, the water cascaded down the face of the wall and washed away all the paint. As I got to the edge of the building, I looked up and saw that this was in fact the case. To make matters worse, the roof wasn't lined up straight all the way down, meaning that in some spots it was lined up so the water ran straight into the middle of the wall, which I hear is great for the durability of the cheap brick inside.

The problems didn't end there. In one area we are constructing a 600,000 m2 yard for all of the traffic that comes through here. This way, instead of trying to drive through the mud, the convoys can deliver their supplies in an area with a stabilized, modified sub-base. What I saw out there, however, were several pools of water - which are great for swimming, but bad for drainage. The other problem I saw was that they were compacting the sub-base 30 cm at a time. Now, I built my own patio at home, which of course means I am an expert at compacting sub-base. I compacted my sub-base every 3cm, and I was just building a patio to withstand a gas grill and my fat ass after a few beers. This is an area that will have to stand up to the weight of tanks, trucks, and the occasional mortar. Unbelievable Not surprisingly, I used the same equipment for my 600 m2 area that they are using for one 100 times that size.

I've heard of similar problems at other sites as well. It seems that if left to their own devices, the contractors will use the minimum amount of quality that they can possibly get away with. Part of this is because of the "lowest bidder" policy on how we award a contract. Obviously, their bid is the lowest for a reason. So it's up to us to ensure quality is maintained, but its a never ending battle. The other part of the problem is just bad habits by the contractors. They know there is money to be made by cutting corners and they do so, seemingly without shame. Speaking of no shame, I didn't even get into the sewer trenches that always seem to pop up at the construction sites. Nasty.

With this plague of low quality comes opportunity. Opportunity for those contractors who want to deliver a quality product despite having to keep their prices low. Such is the case with one company that has been awarded 4 different projects here. It's a small company run by 5 brothers, all some type of engineer. One of the brothers was a fighter pilot in Saddam's Army, but lost his commission after the 1st Gulf War (has there been a second Gulf War? Because I wouldn't call this a Gulf War. Anyhow, I digress . . .). The motto is this company is deliver a quality product and they do just that, yet somehow manage to keep their prices down. Word of mouth has given these guys opportunity where before there was none, and they are getting projects faster then they keep up with. It's a good story, and I hope with growth they can continue to do what has gotten them to this point.

On another note, I've added some more links to my blogroll on the right. These blogs put my writing to shame, so make sure you take some time and check them out!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Letters from home

"Dear soldier. Plees dont die. I love you."

Receiving letters from elementary school kids has to be the highlight of being deployed. I remember getting letters when I was in Afghanistan and spending hours reading them, and then whenever I was a little down re-reading them. It's kind of like that show "Kids say the darndest things" that used to be on. They write down whatever they think about the war, or Soldiers in general, and usually accompany it with an awesome drawing. Some ask me if I am tired, or if it is really loud here. One kid asked me what Iran looks like. At least 30 of them told me its good I didn't die or asked me not to die; the kid I quoted up above who asked me not to die drew a tank shooting an army guy. I laughed at that one for at least 5 minutes.

This time, I've received hundreds of letters, most notably from kids at Hillcrest, Belmont Station, Yosemite, and St. Annies (my elementary alma matter!). They all have one theme in common, and that seems to be that every letter is truly appreciative of the Armed Forces. Hillcrest sent us over 12 huge boxes filled with all of their Halloween candy that was collected throughout the entire school. These kids gave up all of their candy just to send to us, and the letters they wrote all said "we gave up our candy because you need it more than we do." An elementary school kid, giving up their hard earned Halloween candy that they wait for all year? Wow. Thinking of that kind of sacrifice from someone that age gave me goosebumps.

I sat down today to finish up writing back to them, and started re-reading all the letters again, and I thought that everyone should get to enjoy some of the favorite letters I've received. So I am re-writing some of the funniest / best letters here, omitting names and which school so as not to embarrass anyone. Enjoy!

"Dear Jason,
I hope you like the candy. I feel really bad that you cant be with your family for Halloween it means alot to us that you put your life on the line. I wish I could help but Im just an third grader."

"Be carful! Dear, Jason
I hope you stay safe.
Did you get a lot of candy? I hope you have a good Veteran's Day.
I like your name. I have a friend named Jason. You are a very strong man I would be scared to fight other men that are stronger than me!"

"Dear Veteran,
Thank you for your bravery and courage. It's good you didin't die if you died I would be crying like crazy but it is good you did not die. Thank you for your good fighting in the war.
Thank you for reading this letter!"

"Dear Veteran,
I hope you are doing well. Maybe sometime we could meet and get something to eat at FIVE GUYS. they have good stuff to eat there. You should see my dog, he's so cute
so we can do this on friday November 17th at 3:00 because I have school at 2:30"
(ed. note - sorry buddy, I missed our lunch together! Maybe I can visit your school when I get home)

"We Honor . . .
you because we know that you've served in wars to protect our country from giving up our equal rights. Thank you for protecting our country so we don't have to have slaves. Also thank you for our freedom. Thank you for protecting our country from the United Kingdom. Finnaly I'm grateful that you were willing to give up your life for America."

"We Honor . . .
Everybody who has fought in the Vietnam, Iraq, Civil, World War 1 and 2. and the Revolutinary war. My Great Grandpa was born in 1921. He fought in World War 2 and survived. He died on 2004 by falling off his cane. My Grandpa Grunge fought in the Air Force the year I was born. He has pictures of his plane at his home in Indiana. I hope the Unknown Soilder is revealed in the future. I visited the Vietnam Memorial and heard the president's speech on Memorial Day."

"Dear Jason,
Jason, I'm a thired grad boy. I wonder what it is like way over there in Iraq. I hope your okay and I would want come and see what kind of things can do. Mrs Dvo is is my teacher. thank you For sipporting our cuntry, you are probly busy right now. But I have so much to tell you about Yosemite.

Skiing, hiking, bike rideing, camping, and stuf like that. This week, the tird graders went to the top of Sentinal Dome. When we got to the top There we had the best view of yosemite vally stay safe and pleas write back"

"Dear Jason,
Thank you for going to war for our country. It must be really hard. I hope you come home safely and don't get wounded to badly. Good Luck in battle against terrorists. Be careful."

"Dear Jason,
Thank you for protecting me and our country. I hope we win this war. That would be a good thing. So let's win."

Cant' say it much better than that.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

pudding makes me happy

It wasn't meant to rain here. Even a light sprinkling turns everything into goop. A full rain? Not good. It's sort of like the water hits the dusty earth and the earth freaks out and throws it all back up, so you either have pools of water everywhere, or chocolate pudding-type mud. Which is weird, because the mud almost looks delicious enough to eat, like someone spent the time to whip it up into chocolatey goodness.

When you’re in charge of construction projects, not a whole lot nothing gets done in weather like this. Unfortunately (for the construction) we don’t have the heat of summer, so it takes 4 or 5 days for the mud-pudding to dry out, and in those 4 or 5 days you might get a whole days worth of work accomplished, if your lucky.

Despite the sloppy conditions and lack of progress being made on our projects, I kind of like this weather. It’s cool enough to see your breath but not cold enough to freeze everything; the sun is hidden from view for like the third time this year, and I feel like the mood outside matches my mood inside; which, in a weird way, makes me happier. Go figure.

Oh yea - I got my camera back! I will add pictures every now and then to my flickr page, so use the link on the side of the page to check them out.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

false motivation

They say false motivation is better than no motivation at all, so even when things are at their worst put on a happy face and pretend they don't suck. My problem is that I am at a point where that is becoming a nearly impossible task. We're at precarious point in our deployment where we are real close to going home - awards are submitted, evaluations complete, and for me, project proposals are all finished. So it's easy for us to put it in neutral and coast through the next period of time until our replacements arrive; in fact, the real challenge is getting out of neutral, like a car with a broken shifter.

The problem is that we still have a job to do. Our replacements aren't here yet, and it's not time for us to pack our things and ship them home. Allowing ourselves to slip into cruise control and just mindlessly finish out this deployment is a dangerous situation that we need to guard against, but how? I vaguely remember being like this in Afghanistan 4 years ago, but I think it was easier then. I still had a platoon to lead, and an example to set. Here? Not so much. Being an advisor has been a different sort of challenge the entire past year, and this is no different.

As always, comments and suggestions are appreciated!

Monday, January 14, 2008

one year

Alot can happen in a year. Your life as it is now can be completely different, unrecognizable to you, a year from now. A year ago today I got on a plane headed for Fort Jackson in South Carolina. I was leaving everything I had up to that point - my job, my house, my beautiful wife - and getting on a plane to somewhere I didn't want to go, to start on a series of adventures I didn't want to experience. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, and I was just praying to get through the next week, let alone the next year. Yet, here I am today, a year later, thinking on all that has happened since that day, and hopefully no worse for the wear because of it.


One of the challenges I consistently face here is cultural pressure. As the person in charge of construction projects, many of the Iraqi's have taken a special interest in me. It seems that at least 75% of them have a brother/uncle/cousin in the construction business, and who better to get their relative a job then the guy in charge of the construction where they work?

It's a fairly simple process. I write a scope of work to describe in detail what kind of work I want done. I then send that out to contractors asking for an estimate on how much they can get the job done for. After taking all estimates, I forward that to our contracting center, and they write the legal language and officially award the work to the lowest bidder. The problem with having so many of Iraqi's interested in getting their relatives work is that, should their cousin get the work, the people who didn't get the work get pissed off. Then I am open to be questioned about playing favorites, taking gifts, etc. It's not like the oppurtunity isn't there, either. I have had my fair share of "gift" offerings, but I knew what they really were, and I usually spend about 15 minutes refusing them. It's hard turning down some of these "gifts"! In their culture though, they don't see the problem. If it were up to them, their brother's cousin's uncle would be getting the first shot at all the projects. Why? Because he's family. Makes sense, when you think about it. It's just not ethical.

So I have to look like the bad guy. I've never even sent a request for a bid to someone's relative that I work with, and it hasn't made me a popular guy. Here's the thing though -I don't care. Well, its not that I don't care but . . . yea I don't care. I didn't ask for this. All I want is to get back to my normal life - my house, my job, my beautiful wife. The last thing I need is to have someone question my ethics and have this nightmare extended because I am part of some investigation. So I don't even chance it. Your brother owns a construction business? Awesome! I wont give him any work, but I'll be sure to let the other project officers know that your he's an option.

I was never good at popularity contests anyway.

Friday, January 11, 2008

slip and slide

I poked my head out of my room and blinked my eyes a few times, not believing what I saw. My feet were freezing but I had to step out and touch it anyway, just to make sure - it was snow. Snow, in central Iraq!

The roads were slippery from the snow-turned-rain, and the Humvee slid, just a little, threatening to fishtail if it didn't find traction soon. Luckily for us, it did, and not a minute too soon, as we came up on a narrow bridge with only metal spanners to cross it. The orange dump truck stopped for no reason on the bridge made us nervous, but it turned out to be nothing. I don't know if it was the snow, but there seemed to be more stalled vehicles than normal - every half mile there seemed to be a guy pulled off to the side of the road, peering under his hood or just standing there. Don't stare at us too long, mister, or my friend with the large gun up there on our roof might get nervous. Trust me, you don't want that. Aside from one guy who ran when he saw us, our convoy this time was uneventful. Even the guy who ran stopped and put his hands up when we fired a warning at him.

Life in the IZ is quiet. Most of my IRR friends are on leave, but a few are still around, and I love catching up with them. I finally got my last project approved for funding, to the tune of $10 million. It's so easy to spend money over here . . . I really hope when I go back to my regular job I can get a realistic expectation of spending back. I guess it doesn't matter, because in a few years, I'm sure this will just seem like a bad dream anyway.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Happy Birthday . . .

. . . to the Iraqi Army! No, seriously, it's their 87th birthday today. As a special treat, I had prepared an interview with some of the "old-head" officers and Soldiers from the Saddam era to compare and contrast his army vs. the current army. It was a great plan, except for the fact that they all took off today. Great. No joke, I think it's quite possible they spend more days off than they do working. Oh well. Keep an eye for that interview, though, because I think it will be an interesting comparison.

In other news . . . I have no other news. Which is kind of a good thing here.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Awards Rant, Part I

Once upon a time in the Green Zone (IZ), there was stationed a Lieutenant who worked at a desk. This LTs sole purpose in life (at least, his life for the 6 months he was in the IZ) was to determine the equipment needs of the Iraqi Army and procure the necessary supplies. This was a vitally important function to the establishment of a new Iraqi Army, but it rarely required him to leave his desk, in his cubby hole, in the heavily fortified Green Zone. When LT did have to leave his desk, it was usually to do the normal things people must do - eat, sleep, go to meetings, and smoke cigars. It is upon the latter thing that our story takes place today.

One day the LT was outside his office, smoking a cigar with a few other people. They were having their normal discussion, minding their own business, when some pesky insurgents lobbed a 60mm mortar from an unknown location far, far away. Unfortunately, this mortar happened to land close to the LT and his cigar buddies. Not close enough to hurt any of them, but close enough so that their table shook and they heard a big portion of the loud explosions that mortars make. As anyone who lives in the IZ knows, mortars are an unfortunate part of life. So they scrambled for cover, waited for the "All Clear" signal, and went about life.

Nothing came of this, but a week or so later, the LT decided he was having some hearing problems. He also decided that it was a result of the mortar attack that he narrowly escaped. Now, I've been pretty damn close to many a mortar and rocket, and when they land, they tend to shake you up, and they are loud. However, like most Soldiers, I shake them off and go back to business as usual. Occasionally I hear air being hissed from a truck and get goosebumps, but nothing major. Not our LT, though. He was permanently damaged (actually, the doctor diagnosed temporary hearing loss).

With medical diagnoses in hand, our brave LT went about the cumbersome task of writing himself up for not one, but two combat awards - the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge. On the first pass up his chain of command, poor LTs awards were denied. However, he seized opportunity when it became available int he form of a change in his command structure; he presented his packet to the new commander and up his award went.

A few weeks went by and LT re-deployed to the US, his insufferably long 6 month deployment finally over. Nothing was said of this award until a close informant confirmed the impossible - LT received not one, but both highly honored combat awards. And he deserved them - after all, the long patrols he went on, and the nights he spent trying to stay awake guarding his remote combat outpost .. . oh, wait, he didn't do any of those things. No, but he is a decorated combat warrior, a recipient of two awards that represent our bravest and finest warriors, people who sacrificed themselves physically for our country.

Yep, wear them with pride LT, because all that face time you had with the general who signed off on that garbage finally paid off. When people see your decorations, and ask you what happened, make sure you tell them something horrific. We don't want anyone getting the wrong impression that you might not have actually earned them. After all, the criteria for the newly formed Combat Action Badge clearly state that "the Combat Action Badge provides special recognition to Soldiers who personally engage the enemy, or are engaged by the enemy during combat operations." And you clearly did that, right LT?