Monday, August 23, 2010

I went to bed in Taji, and woke up in Kampala...

Haven't had much to write about lately, and I was quite busy with the Battalion and Brigade Commander's course that we were teaching.  So I have been quite delinquent in my writings.  I found an old picture of a street corner here at Taji taken in 2006.  I was determined to find out where it was taken.  All I could make out was the cross street, Hoosier.  Not all the street signs still exist, and they have done some major re-work (apparently) to some of the buildings, but I was able to locate and snap a photo of the street corner in 2010.  It was actually quite hard to find the right corner, since the street sign is no longer there, and where that corner is located is not a place that we would normally go anymore.  The only way I could really even tell it was the same place is from the tree way off in the distance, and then the power box and shelter.  The building is nowhere near the same as it was just 4 years ago, and they have completely removed the curbs  Just one little piece of the curb remains.

Well, we are in the middle of Ramadan.  And of course no one is eating during the day at the school.  We have to go hide in our office just to get a drink of water.  It is considered bad form to eat or drink or smoke in front of anyone who is fasting...unless, of course, you are a Muslim that isn't fasting!  Then you just blow the smoke in your compadres' faces!  The guys who aren't fasting are horrible to those that are.  Anyway, if you are in America and someone tells you Not to eat in public during the day because it is Ramadan, tell them to get stuffed...the Muslims don't care, why should we?  At least why should we in our OWN Country, anyway?

Last week I went to sleep on Monday night...not too early, not too late.  It was a good night after a long day of training.  I left my CHU to go to work on Tuesday, just like any other day.  I returned to my CHU to find that I was no longer living in Iraq.  Apparently my room did some time-warp thing and ended up in Kampala, Uganda!  All of the guards here in Iraq are from Uganda, and here at Taji, they work for a Company called SOC.  Not sure what that stands for.  Well, anyway, these guys and gals move into my Pod and every piece of outdoor furniture that I have accumulated over the past two months is now GONE!  Also, these people are absolutely fascinated with my satellite dishes.  Yep, you guessed it, they try to move them...making me completely lose the signals again.  Anyway, all is good after I put signs on them to not touch and they belong to a US LTC.  They are scared of me now...not because of my physical ability, just my ability to tell their supervisors (who will send them home).  These guys come over here for 3 years and work 12 on 12 off 7 days a week, no days off.  I guess they get paid more in those three years than they would make in a lifetime in Uganda, so it is worth it to them.  They also, apparently, so not believe in letting anyone else do their laundry.  They use anything they can find to hang up their drying live Internet wires, my air conditioner, their air conditioners, whatever.  Its actually kind of funny.  They also ALWAYS leave their flip-flops on their porches, which leads me to believe that they do understand that someone still owns something even when they leave it outside, well, maybe only if they leave it on their stuff was next to my porch.  Had I actually purchased any of it, I would be mad...but it is not worth ruining their lives (over getting sent home) just for a few pieces of outdoor crap that I accumulated through scrounging myself.

The picture to the left is of us getting ready for the end-of-course exercise for the Brigade and Battalion Commanders.  We had 34 Brigade and Battalions Commanders from around the Iraqi Army and Federal Police come to our school to learn about Counterinsurgency and then conduct an exercise.  It was pretty fun, but a lot of work.  Ramadan kind of got in the way of things, since most of the social things that we would do with them involved eating, so we didn't get to have the traditional after class meal with them.

Not much else going on, except us getting ready for a new month-long course in October.  This one will be dealing directly with simulations.  It should be interesting, since they really want my contractors to teach it, and we really want them to teach it.  It takes twice as long to get through a class when we teach it, since we have to wait for the interpreter to translate for us, which means a lot less can be taught.  Anyway, we shall see how it goes.

I must get going, have to get ready to watch the Liverpool game.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Not much going on...

When you are living in Ground Hog Day, eventually you just run out of material to talk about.  I mean, the same thing happens over and over again, so often, that it is hard to distinguish what I have told everyone and what is just the normal, mundane thing, that I see everyday, but have not told anyone about yet.  Anyway, we have a new mouser in our CHUs.  We didn't seek him out, he sought us out.  Apparently, we either have the best garbage, or the biggest mouse population.  Either way, he is keeping the critters away from us.  His name is Verne.  We are not allowed, officially, to feed him.  But I don't like canned fish (Tuna, Salmon, etc.) so if anyone sends it to me, I may just have to just toss it...I will open it, of course, just to make sure it is, indeed, fish (and not some sneaky way of getting me some alcohol) I guess maybe Verne might get some treats.

So it is really getting pretty hot here.  118 today, and it is taking longer and longer for it to cool down at night. My evening cigar has been pushed back to about 10pm, since it is just way too hot until then.  There is not much else to do, except play Tiger Woods 11 on  my Wii.  It is pretty awesome, but really hard, since the Wii controller is much thicker a Golf Club.  It is also hard to swing at something that isn't there, with a club that isn't really there as well.

We are at the beginning of Ramadan here, which is the month where all Muslims fast during the day-time hours, and then feast after dark.  Or, that is what they would have you believe.  Remember, it is not important for them to actually BE good Muslims, but as to be THOUGHT OF as good Muslims.  Just a fact of nature that is shared by many Southern Baptists, and dare I say, many of us Tribe Members, too.  So some of them will eat and drink, right in front of those trying to fast, some will go hide in a room somewhere, some will go "Wash Their Hands" an awful lot.   Whatever.  But heaven help us if one of us infidels tries any of that in front of them during Ramadan.  We don't have that kind of leeway.  They got into a big argument on Wednesday over if they should be fasting or not that day.  They still rely on someone actually SEEING the first Crescent of the moon to declare it.  It is hard to believe that we can predict the moon's location to a micron, and know EXACTLY when the start of Ramadan is, and have known for several centuries...yet they actually ARGUE over when the start of the month is.  Just one of those things, I guess, that I will never understand.  Then there are the guys that just don't fast...and don't care who they offend or disrespect while the gloriously consume mass quantities of cold water and yummy treats, just to watch their devout friends fume.  I understand them, at least, thumbing their noses at the control that their religion has imposed for centuries on their community.  Not that I would eat in front of someone that is fasting on Yom Kippur, but I do get it.  It is actually a little easier on us during Ramadan, since we do not have to worry about bringing them any ice or water, since it would be "Inappropriate" for us to do so (but not at all inappropriate for them to do so).

So now I am starting to count the days down until I get to go on R&R.  Well, not literally counting, I have no idea how many days...I just know that it is next month.  I really am looking forward to some time off.  But, knowing me, I will be worrying about my team the whole time, and won't be able to rest.  Just another one of my character flaws.  The trick will be to ensure that my Satellite Dishes don't get swiped while I am gone for three weeks.

Speaking of the Great Satellite Caper of 2010...I thought it was over.  But, I was premature in my assessment, apparently.  I came home from work a few days ago to find both dishes missing.  Hmmm!  And it was on the only day that there were actual workers in my Pod, working on the CHUs.  So, naturally, I assume it is them.  So I raised a big stink with the local workers, and then told them I was going to the Mayor's cell to report it.  Nobody knew nothing, but 30 minutes later there is a knock on my door.  The Internet guys were collecting up their old switches, and, of course, asked the wrokers (who know NOTHING about anything) if they could take the dishes, since the guys about to move in aren't allowed to have them.  Of course, now that they know they pissed of a LTC by taking them, they are all apologetic and put them back.  Of course, now I have to reposition them.

So yesterday I finally get fed up with the dishes not being repositioned correctly, and all of my local satellite pointing talent is home for the start of Ramadan.  I am on my own for this one.  Luckily, they didn't move any of the LNBs, and they removed the one I had on a pallet, and didn't take the pallet.  So when they put that one back, it was roughly in the same place it should have been, plus, those satellites are relatively easy to find.  Only trouble is that I picked 1400 to try to remedy the situation.   No one has ever accused me of being very street-smart, and certainly not of being desert street-smart, so the fact that my satellite dish pointing guys always come late at night didn't clue me in to the reason why...the freaking dishes are too HOT!  Not only are the dishes too hot, but the tools, if left outside for,oh, about 1 second, get WAY too HOT to use.  But that didn't stop me.  So there I am, with my flat panel TV, converter box, extension cord, tools, trying to get this thing pointed in the right direction.  The dish on the left in the picture, with the 3 LNBs is the one for the programming, and it was in position in about 45 seconds.  I should have cut bait at that point.  The dish on the right is for the decoder so I can watch all of the good sports channels.  That one has to be pointed at someplace in space the size of a pinhole.  And that dish was WAY hotter than the other one.  I tried, I really did.  But after about 10 minutes in the hot sun (it seemed like an hour) I gave up and decided that I needed to watch re-runs on the free channels until my satellite pointing guys get back from their weekend.  I am getting tired of watching CSI-Miami and CSI-NY re-runs, so I may try again tonight, but I may have to get some help.  We shall have to see.  But anyway, just trying to get all that stuff BACK into my room was a major challenge.  The tools were hot, almost untouchable, and the electronics were not much cooler.  I had to play hot potato with the stuff all the way back to my room (it is really only about 20 feet, but seemed like about 100yds.).

Anyway, it is time for me to start getting ready for my Friday night religious duties.

Later all!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

It's Deja Vu all over again!

I am trying to get to Baghdad...and my flight is cancelled, again!  I feel like I am about to repeat the same sad story of hope and despair, of metal chairs and body odor, and worst of all...missed showers!  Anyway, will try again tomorrow.  Will have to see how the weather looks.

It looks like my roll is about to expand.  Seems as though some brilliant planners forgot to back-fill the Training Center here at Taji, and I may have to take over that job as well.  I will have to just keep telling myself that they are giving it to me because I am so awesome...not because they want to punish me for something.  I really just think it is because I have the largest team.  Anyway, have to get running, will write more when I return or don't go...

Miss you all


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A funny thing happened at Dinner tonight...

The team has been working hard, and two of my interpreters have gotten their applications approved for Visas to come to the US, so we thought that it would be time to go out for dinner together on the Iraqi side of the base.  Each of the units seem to have their own little restaurant, so we decided to go to the newest of them, the one owned and operated by the location command.  We had been there before, and new that if we got there early enough, no one would mess with us, and we could be American Idiots and not embarrass ourselves too much.  Besides, one of our interpreters has agreed (demanded, actually) to pay for the whole meal.  There were 11 of us, so even for Iraq, it couldn't have been too cheap.

So we get dinner and have a good time.  Then it comes time for the Chai.  In Iraq, rather than clean up after you, they move you to another table for the drinking of the Chai...that way they are not cleaning up on top of you.  So we sit down at the new table and I notice that there is a fly there that isn't really moving.  Then, after further review, we notice that it isn't a fly, but two flies.  And they are doing the wild thing.  Only it isn't too wild, and isn't very animated at all.  They are just kind of joined by the uglies...

Then comes the hookah...One of my contractors, who just returned from R&R, decides that he wants to have some apple flavored tobacco in his hookah.  Not sure what it is supposed to do to you, but he was definitely acting pretty goofy.   He wanted me to try it, so he tried to lift the thing (not by the base).  Yep, you guessed it, he dropped the glass part containing the bong water, and it shattered everywhere.  The Iraqis, not missing a beat, had a new bong water glass thing under there in seconds, and then had it cleaned up in minutes.  I think that they have done this before maybe?  Anyway, it tasted more like licorice to me, but whatever...It wasn't unpleasant, anyway.   That's a good thing, because I bought one to send home.  It has 4 hoses so that Susie, Rick, Jen, and I can all sit out on the porch and look like idiots together smoking sour apple tobacco or something.

Well, a good time was had by all, so it was all worth it.  We have to be up early again tomorrow.  We bought the refreshments, so we had to take Ice out to the school to cool off the Iced Tea that we bought.  We are trying to show them how if you plan even a little bit ahead, you can have cold drinks in the morning.  We also get to explain how the (U) and (K) on American cookies means "No Pork!"  I am not sure that they need the real explanation.  I mean, it's not like it ISN'T true or anything...

I must get going, have to get to bed for an early riser tomorrow.  Hopefully I haven't forgotten anything that I need to do tonight for work.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A three hour tour, a three hour tour...

Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale...or so the story/song goes.  Well, last week I felt like I was living Gilligan's Island!  First of all, I had to go to Victory Base Complex (or VBC) for a 4-hour meeting on Thursday. We are getting ready for a rather important class, so I figure I can leave on Wednesday night, go to the meeting, then fly home late Thursday night.  And although I packed for about two days, I still was not prepared for what lay ahead of me.

First of all, my flight was supposed to leave Taji around 1700ish on Wed. Afternoon.  Only there was this dust storm coming in.  They actually had us kit up in our gear and walked us out to the lift pad, where we all watched in amazement as our two Chinooks circled on by.  We waited around on the 110 degree lift pad for about 15 minutes when they told us that we could go back inside.  Weather hold...another way of saying good-freaking-luck getting a flight on a helicopter!  So about 1030 they decide the flight is cancelled.  Now here is the messed-up part.  They have absolutely no mechanism to get people on flights once their original flight is cancelled.  NONE!  All they could tell us was to show up at 0630 in the morning and try and get out on the first flight to BIAP (Baghdad International Air Port).  Only they didn't tell us that the first bird going out doesn't take any space-available passengers (those of us not originally manifested on the flight - three days earlier).  So we get in there and they tell us that they are not allowed to put us on the ONLY flight that can get me into BIAP early enough to make my meeting, even though there are 7 empty seats on that flight!  So I have them connect me to their ops center where some specialist tells me what I want to hear, but the people in the terminal still don't believe me.  Well, anyway, the supervisor finally makes a call to the Ops Center and gets someone of authority and, wow, he makes it happen.  Only when they call out the 7 people's names that are getting on, MINE ISN'T ONE OF THEM!  unbelievable!   Anyway, a guy I gave a ride to the night prior when our flight was cancelled offered to give me his seat.  He ended up getting on, anyway, so we were off to VBC!

The day got worse and worse, yet they still would not cancel any flights!  Those people get us drunk on hope, and I think they like that.  So after a long day, I catch a ride to BIAP with a Master Gunnery Sergeant and all looks good.  Only the dust decides that it isn't going anywhere, so we sit, and wait...the kind of waiting they did in Casablanca...then they finally cancel the flight about 2330.  Same deal.  There is no system in place to roll people over to the next day.  They took our information down, and put us in for a flight the next day, and told me I had to be there at 0500 to check on the flight.  So I decide I am going to sleep there on the metal chairs, since it is only about 5 hours, and I would spend over an hour just trying to get somewhere to sleep.  If you have ever tried to sleep on metal chairs, with ballistic plates that stop bullets as your pillow, you will realize that I did not really sleep.  They did have free wireless internet there, so I was relatively set...until about 0900, that is.  The free stuff cuts off at about 150MB, and my little computer needed a lot of updates.  So now it is about 0900, No flights are coming in or out (helicopters, that is), and my dime is up on the free internet.  So I go up to the desk to check on my flight.  That is when they told me they put me in for a flight at 2130 that night...I was floored.  They needed me there at 0500 to check on a flight 17 hours later!  Anyway I caught a ride back to VBC with the guys that hosted the meeting.  There they had a tent (with awesome air conditioning) all for me, with a bed, linen, and a relatively clean latrine nearby.

They do have an awesome dining facility there at Victory.  The sports oasis is really nice.  Lots to choose from.  So now it is Friday and I am hanging out with the COIN SOC guys for Lunch and Dinner.  They drop me off about 1830 back at BIAP so I can finally catch a flight back to Taji.  Nothing flew, anywhere, if it was rotary wing.  Still too much dust, and a 4mph wind that was blowing it nowhere, slowly!  This time, I had it all worked out to get back to the tent...only Murphy decided to intervene.  The van that I had laid on to come get me was unreachable due to a problem with some Iraqi workers stealing some food somewhere, pulling the guys that were supposed to get me away from the phones.  So I try to call the KBR taxi service and their number is not working, UGH!!!!  Anyway, I remember that when I first arrived here there was this nice lady that worked for KBR at the Stryker Stables that can make ANYTHING happen with transportation.  So I waited about 45 minutes for a bus to see her.  She was there working, and made it happen.  After about another hour and a half (now it is 2330) I finally hit the pillow back in my private tent (that sleeps 20).  They wanted me to check on my flight at 0600, but told me I could call in this time.

Imagine everyone's surprise at COIN SOC when I was sitting in their offices at 0700 waiting to use the phone.  Now it is Saturday morning.  I went to the Sports Oasis for some breakfast (why is it that I only eat breakfast when I am traveling>) and run into a classmate from West Point.  She is a COL that works there on VBC.  At lest I got to see someone that I hadn't seen in a long time.  Anyway, they danced around if my request to get on a flight was approved for a while, but then finally we found out it was...for 2130 that night, of course.

So we are supposed to get there about 2000 for the flight and we are running late.  I rush into the terminal and the guys there (old pals by now) ask me if I want to get on one that is leaving right then.  I am not pressing my luck with the weather, so I say "ABSOLUTELY!"  They kind of take me the back way through the terminal and get me in line with a bunch of other folks.  A lot of contractors (This will come into play in a few minutes).  Anyway, these contractors have a bunch of luggage with them, so we are riding on a Chinook.  They start piling on all of the luggage, and I can already see that tensions are high amongst the flight crew (I am a leader, I am supposed to notice these things).  Then I see the Crew Chief point at his arms and then point at this female contractor.  She had short sleeves on...a Bozo No-no on helicopters!  Of course, her bag is at the BOTTOM of the Griswold pile of luggage that is on the floor of the aircraft, and she can find no long sleeve shirts.  At this point, I am panicking that Mr. Murphy is about to shit all over me once again.  Then I remember that I have an ACU top in my backpack, buried at the bottom.  So I reach into my pack and pull it out and give it to the crew chief.  The look of relief on his face was visible even behind his visor and NVGs, 1) because he wouldn't have to kick this girl off the aircraft, and 2) because we could finally stop pulling all of the luggage apart.

To make a long story short, I got home at about 2130 on Saturday night...a whole 48 hours after I should have  returned home, and much more smelly and apathetic for the experience.  The cool thing is, I get to do this all over again next week!

See everyone at the funny farm!

I think that I will go smoke a cigar now, take care everyone.

Peace, Love and Rugby!