Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Prayer Request

I have mentioned to you before Karl, one of the other new LT's assigned to my unit. We met a couple of weeks after arriving on post and went through training and traveling together before parting ways a few days after signing into the unit. We were a couple of pretty tight battle buddies there for a while, but he's out at one of the JSS's serving as a Platoon Leader.Well, the other day Karl's appendix ruptured and he had to have emergency surgery. I saw him just before it happened and he was not feeling good at all. He could barely stand up straight and said he didn't even have enough strength to put his boots on in the morning. He couldn't keep anything in his system and just sitting up in bed was painful. The worst part is that his wife of just over 7 months hasn't been able to get a lot of information on his status, as of late. He's called her a couple of times, but the time in between has been rough because she doesn't know what is going on with him. His leadership hasn't provided her with many updates or given her a complete synopsis of the surgery and how long it will take him to recover.I couldn't imagine having to deal with a ruptured appendix, or be over here in a combat zone and have it happen!!! I ask that all you please keep Karl and his wife Carly in your prayers. Lord willing, he'll be fine in the long run, but there is no escaping the fact that this is not the most opportune time to have this happen. Thanks and take care.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Contractors

I'm sure by now you have heard how much the logistics and day to day operations of war is being contracted out to private companies. Some elites seek to capitalize on the daily necessities of the individual soldier, while those they employ might just be looking for a better way of life and are willing to use the skills and abilities they have developed over the years to better their standard of living.What I have seen over here, in my little bubble of Constructionland, is an array of different types of contractors. For instance, the Army has starting using a new types of vehicles for transporting soldiers and they have contractors here to work on those vehicles when something goes wrong, or if Maintenance can't fix it.When it comes to our daily activities - eating food, taking a shower, laundry, going to the gym, buying things - one is bound to come into contact with a civilian employee. Some are former military, doing practically the same job they did in the service, yet making a lot more money. Others just want more money and are willing to risk their safety in return for more coin in their pocket. What is more, that person you meet is probably not from either America or the Middle East! Take Mukibi, the security guard at the gym. He's from Uganda, one of the more impoverished countries in subsaharan Africa. On my way out of the gym, I struck up a conversation with him. "Why did you Uganda and come here, to a war zone?", I asked. He just rubbed the tip of his thum up against the tip of his other fingers and said, "The money!" Mukibi is just one a plethora of Africans who fled their respective countries in search of a better paying job, regardless of the environment they work in. Frankly, these gentlemen probably work in a safer place than if they were back home!I've met people from Europe (East and West), Russia, Asia, South America, you name it! All of them have their own reasons for leaving their homeland to work here in Iraq, but the overwhelming majority will say that they've got a better chance of making an honest living here. I find it amazing how as Americans, when we think about our soldiers going off to war, we fear for their lives; yet, those seeking a better life, or at least a more prosperous life, have little regard for their safety. In most cases it's because they are from less developed countries or regions that are filled with their own daily uncertainties. I've been reading several books as of late about the internal strife throughout Africa and the Middle East, and I sometimes forget that what we view as a hostile area, others might view as a vacation! I know that may sound weird, but think for just a minute what your daily life is like. The most stressful thing you might have to worry about today is how well you do in a presentation or if your outfit matches. Honestly, since being back here on Camp Liberty, except for the fact that I know what I'm going to wear everyday, I worry less about my safety than I do my job performance. Now, imagine sleeping in your garage with about 4 or 5 other people, waking up with little to no food or water and the only thing you have planned for the day is going around in search of food, or some way to work that will enable to you buy food for your family. That's what most of these people are leaving behind, so no wonder they come here. To some of you, the word contractor may carry a negative connotation. At times, it does for me; but, then I meet people like Mukibi and I say to myself, "Self, at least you have physically seen that there are some people who's lives are better off from this war. Now, if only we could make their lives better in their own country!" Take care.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Celeb Sighting?

A couple of days ago, one of my NCO's and I, along with another soldier from the Squadron, made our usual trek to the DFAC for lunch. We got there just before it was closing, so there was plenty of space for us to spread out. I was the first to get my food and decided to sit down at an empty table. While making small talk with my "entourage", I noticed a man in civilian clothes seated at the table next to me. He was speaking in a British accent and conversing with some American soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division. As I scanned the rest of the table, I saw more soldiers and two more civilians with them. One of the civilians looked strangely familiar to me, but I just couldn't place his face.I finally convinced myself that the gentleman was a reporter, but I wasn't sure with what network. For those of you who don't already know, I have a slight obsession with watching the evening news. I think I got it from my Dad because I can remember watching the news every night just before eating dinner. Ever since then, I've watched it. Dad will tell you that it's not like it used to be when he was growing up, but it still provides an accurate synopsis of the major events of the day. Ok, back to my story. I had a gut feeling he was NBC, but wasn't completely sure because I flip back and forth so much that I couldn't quite remember. Finally, as he was leaving I summoned up the courage (after getting a quick glance at his id card that said MEDIA) and asked him who he worked for. He said, "I'm Ned Colt with NBC News." "That's what I thought, Sir. I watch the Nightly News with Brian Williams back home and I thought I recognized you." (Here's his bio didn't get a chance to find out what he was doing with the soldiers, but as I was walking through the parking lot, I saw them all leaving together and deduced that he were going out on patrols to get their story. Ned Colt has been a familiar face reporting on things here in a Iraq. Along with many others, these journalists spend countless hours trying to bring the story of things on the ground back home to the rest of the country. I'm sure many of you remember when Bob Woodard of ABC News was hit by an IED a couple of years ago, losing his longtime cameraman and friend, and this isn't the only time a reporter has been caught in the line of fire. I know many people might think these journalists are stupid, or crazy, but one could almost say the same thing about anyone who joins the military, knowing they're going into combat. Regardless of your political slant, or view of the media, these people risk their lives to inform you of what is happening to your friends, family, and neighbors on a daily basis. Some might do it for fame, fortune, adventure, or excitement. But you have believe that some do it because they firmly believe that everyone should know the reality of war, good or bad. I admire these men and women for their willingness to leave a cushy office back in the States and ride around with soldiers in the middle of a combat zone, not knowing what lies ahead, in search of the truth about life here on the ground.For those of you who believe that ALL journalists are self-aggrandizing careerists with an agenda they are trying to push, let me know ask you something. Would you come half way across the world to a combat zone and risk your life day in and day out just so you could prove a point? I didn't think so.Take care and hope everyone is enjoying their summer!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Little About the Post

Having lived on Camp Liberty for the past week, I've become more familiar with my surroundings and overall life on this military installation I call home. Camp Liberty is actually part of the larger installation surrounding Baghdad International Airport, what many refer to as "The Green Zone." There are several other camps within a short drive of each other, including Camp Victory, home of the infamous Abu Ghraib Prison. If you remember back to the beginning of the invasion, one of Saddam's Palaces was seized and used as a operations center for Coalition Forces. I've driven by it a few times and the pond that surrounds it provides a hint of relaxation before entering what I call "Constructionland." The only way that I can describe this area without showing you pictures is by comparing it to a huge construction site. There are portable trailers everywhere, with all kinds of construction vehicles parked in front of them, or consolidated into motor pools (like the one I work at!). There are barriers of all shapes and sizes separating living quarters from work buildings, or along roads that lead to other parts of the post. The biggest buildings here are the Dining Facility (DFAC) and the Post Exchange (PX), which is the military's version of a Walmart, of course without the lawn and garden, or the savings!There are civilian vehicles, mostly trucks, used by both military personnel and contractors. It just so happens that I share a Ford F350 with my Squadron Maintenance Technician, Chief (you'll learn more about him later). Although I wouldn't be caught dead driving it back in the states, $.06 for a gallon of gas makes it a useful vehicles on these all dirt roads. Pretty much anything that's not a road has gravel on it. My calf muscles have never gotten this tough of a workout! Oddly enough, dirt is more common than sand, and coupled with the wind, being outside without sunglasses or eye protection can spell disaster. Trucks drive around all day, watering the roads in an attempt to suppress the occasional face full of dirt.All in all, it's not a difficult landscape to adapt to, but it's definitely not the beautiful green mountains that I'm used to back home. Sometimes, I close my eyes and visualize hiking up in the Smokies on a cool, foggy morning when the sun's rays fight their way through the trees and down onto your face. I look forward to experiencing that again sometime.Take care.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Throughout the realm of analogous phrases, this particular one has a special one in my heart. Obviously, mechanics are here in the combat zone to do just that, fix things; however, until a piece of equipment breaks down, or deadlines, then there isn't much for them to do. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on who you are), this is seldom ever the case since both the geographic locale and over usage of vehicles and equipment constantly require repair and/or modifications. On a similar note, this metaphor has also guided my approach to managing the motor pool. Believe it or not, there are several procedures involved in the repairment of the Army's equipment. Orders, tracking information, accountability documentation, diagnoses, and the like lead to mounds of paperwork that I and other members of my staff must consolidate in order to provide the types of services with which we are tasked. Many of these processes are set in stone, while others may vary depending on one's management style. All of the individuals under me have been over here for roughly 8 months, and for many of them this is their second or third deployment. Therefore, one would expect them to be well versed in their daily activities and duties. So, why would a newly installed, inexperienced Lieutenant want to change any of the processes and procedures they have become so accustomed to? I have asked myself that question a hundred times over and I keep deducing the same answer every time... because he's an egotistical, self-aggrandizing, prideful, moron! Hopefully, none of you think this is a description of myself. Which is why I have maintained the "IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT" mentality towards my job. These people have been here long enough to be very comfortable with the work they are doing and the manner in which they do it. For me to come in and try to change that could either ruin the good things or exacerbate the bad. This is not to say that if something looks down right out of place, that I will continue to let it be the case. I know wrong when I see it and will correct what needs to be corrected; but for now, I believe I have fallen in on a great, hard-working group of soldiers and a supervisory staff that is almost unmatched in its expertise. I look forward to telling you about them in the upcoming months and hopefully my time spent here will be rewarding, both for me and for them.Take care.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Now I have successfully made it back to Camp Liberty, I am now learning the day to day reponsibilities of my job. The best way to describe it is I am a conduit of information. I take what we are doing in the motor pool and pass that information on to those that are affected by my work, which is pretty much everyone in the Squadron!
Here's the jist of my jobs and the type of stuff I'll be dealing with every day. First off, I am the Squadron Maintenance (or Motor, depending on who you're talking to) Officer. I am in charge of the motor pool, where all the mechanical maintenance to any and every piece of equipment we own. The HMMVV's you see on television, or the new Mine Resistant Anti-Personnel (MRAP's) vehicles are all serviced by my guys. I have two mechanics at each JSS and then about 15 more back here at Camp Liberty that work in the motor pool. Because of the weather and rough terrain, we're constantly having to fix stuff on the vehicles like fuel injector pumps or generators.
Ok, I have to make a confession. I don't know anything about vehicles. I don't even know how to change my oil! However, this does not give you reason to question my manhood, as I know several other well respect gentlemen that are in the same boat as me. Unfortunately, I never really got into understanding cars and working on them, but this job has definitely initiated my quest for becoming an amateur mechanic.
The other part of my job is serving as the Maintenance Platoon Leader. Unlike the combat platoon leaders here, my job doesn't really have a lot of applicability until we get back to the States. Then I will focus more on personnel type issues, as well as training them up on certain things. Due to the extreme heat during the day, roughly 120's right now, my guys have two shifts they work during the evening hours. This allows them to work during the night, when it's cooler. I, however, work from about 0800 to 2100 (9pm)! Luckily, this whole time period doesn't consist of work, since I'm only passing on information to different people, but my On the Job Training has me getting familiarized with a lot of processes and information in a short period of time. I have time to eat and work out each day, so that's building the type of routine that is important for my daily sanity.
Well, I hope this gives you a taste of the kind of stuff I'm doing here in Iraq. I know there will be plenty of stories for me to tell you in the coming months, but this is predominantly what my daily activities consist of, so please don't worry too much about my safety!
Take care.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Well, I finally finished my time out at the JSS's. On Tuesday I left Charlie Company and headed back to Camp Liberty on the LOGPAC. In essence, the LOGPAC is the means with which food, supplies, equipment, vehicle parts, and people are transported around to each of the different JSS's. A couple of times a week, I will be leading our Distribution platoon on these LOGPAC patrols. It takes several hours to plan and prepare for each one of these, which run at various times each day to ensure that the enemy cannot consistently track our movement. In the past, this has been one of the most common targets for enemy combatants. They look considerably different from a combat platoon because we use bigger vehicles and, in most cases, our supplies are visible to the naked eye. As a result, insurgents were able to attack our convoys and hinder our ability to transport the supplies needed at our Forward Operating Bases (FOB's) or JSS's. So, as you can see there are still some threats posing me every time I leave the wire. Unfortunately, this is also one aspect of Army life that is frequently overlooked. Most of these people are trained in their primary jobs ON TOP OF BEING AN INFANTRYMAN! All combat jobs usually focus on their maneuver and attack drills, which allow them to perfect their skills and abilities in the field of battle. However, support personnel must focus on how to efficiently conduct their daily responsibilities, as well as how to react to hostile contact from the enemy. Not an easy thing to do, and in many cases, a very thankless job. I ask that you continue to pray for all of us that are over here, regardless of our jobs, but please remember that even though some of our military personnel might not see direct combat on a frequent basis, they risk their lives daily to ensure that our combat personnel have all the resources needed to conduct their daily activities. Hope all is well on the home front. Take care.

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Terps

No, this post isn't about the mighty University of Maryland Terrapins, this post deals with one of the most crucial components of engaging the Iraqi populace... the interpreters.

Throughout my time here, I have been introduced to several men and women that have been sacrificing the safety and security of, not only themselves, but their families as well. In many areas of the country, anyone seen working with Coalition Forces could face harrassment ranging from destruction of their property to death. These brave nationals face this dilemma on a daily basis, yet the go out each and every day, aiding Americans in their effort to build strong relations with locals in their area of operations.

I've met guys like Salami, who has been referenced as "the 12th man" in our effort. Despite my distaste for this Texas A&M connotation, I have seen first hand their tireless efforts to help do their part in bringing peace and stability to the region.

MJ, a local from Baghdad, has a wife and child on the way. Although they are only about 30 minutes away, he has to stay at the JSS and work day after day without seeing his loved ones. This week will be five months without seeing her, and she is due to give birth anytime now. And I thought being away from Leslie was tough, these two have been apart almost this entire year and they're only 20 miles away from each other!

Mikee and Mark both have to cover up their faces when they go out, for fear of being recognized by someone who could do harm to them or their families. My heart goes out to them.

I have often found myself taking for granted the luxuries that we as Americans have on a daily basis. For some of these interpreters, they hope for a better life by working with us, so as to earn their citizenship and move to the States. Others just want to do their part in bringing peace and stability to the country. Either way, they too are on the front lines of this war and deserve our support and prayers.

I ask that you add the many individuals who daily sacrifice their lives to serve as the communicative link to a better, more stable life here in Iraq to your daily thoughts and prayers. May our father watch over them and their loved ones during these times of crisis and uncertainty.

Take care.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More of the Same

Yesterday I arrived at my next stop and was delighted to find that my other cohort, Karl was still here. We split up after staying at our first JSS together, with him coming here and me going to the JSS that he will call home in a few days. We caught each other up on all the things we had experienced over the previous two days, and briefed each other on what to expect at our respective locations.
Since there wasn't much going at my current JSS, I was able to take advantage of the big screen TV and movie channel for several hours before doing my first night patrol. We were out for about 4 hours, most of it calm. The only exception came when we were briefed before going out that a red Volkswagon Passat barreled through an Iraqi Army checkpoint, and one Iraqi soldier was shot. Our initial intelligence report said the driver of the Passat was the shooter; however, we later found out that a sniper was the killer. Oddly enough, we came across two separate red Passats that matched the description we were given, and were forced to raid the houses of the owners. Both were innocent, but during times like these, it's imperative that we take all the necessary precautions. They were both understanding, but one can only imagine how scary it must be to have a herd of armed men entering your house unexpectedly.
Today was another pretty laid back day. I rode along on one patrol and only to dismount our vehicles once, for a brief period of time. However, instead of being able to come back and watch more movies, I had to sit in the dark (and heat) because our generators broke. Tough luck, huh?
Tomorrow it's on to my last stop before heading back to Camp Liberty. I'm hoping for a quick visit, with relatively low activity; but, hoping can only get you so far here in "The Box."
Take care.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

If Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, Mine Is Bursting at the Seams!!!

Although I have already added a post for the day, I feel it's important to add this one, as it provides some insight into the heart and mind of a soldier who has left his loved one's back home.
Most of the time I am out here, I'm pretty focused on the work that needs to be done; but everyday has its moments of calmness, when it's easy to catch yourself thinking about all those that you have left back in the States. During these periods I constantly find myself thinking about my wife, Leslie. I wonder what she's doing at that very same moment, and how I would give almost anything to be right there by her side. Yes I know, thinking about things like that tend to just make things worse. However, one's wants and desires are bound to creep their way into each day's passing thoughts, thus making the absence of them even more difficult to bear.
My faith has seen me through many things, and I know this situation is no different. I am comforted by the promises of my Father in Heaven that he will guide and protect me and bring me safely back home; yet, trying to ignore the fact that I will be away from one of the most important things in my life is an almost impossible task and one that I wouldn't wish on anyone. This is not to say that I don't miss my parents, sisters, and other family members, as they will always have a special place in my heart. But, there is something about that one partner God gives you to spend the rest of your life with that not being around them makes you feel incomplete, like a painter without a brush, a movie without an ending, or for your sports junkies, a broadcaster without a microphone!
In short, I miss my wife terribly. I miss the small things, like the way she crinkles her nose when she laughs, or the way she likes to snuggle up next to me when she's cold at night, regardless of what I may be doing at the time. I miss her unwavering desire to "take care of me."
I'm sure that plenty of you will continue to pray for the both of us during this time of separation, but my prayer for all of you is that you take a just a little time out of your day today to show your loved one how much he or she means to you. It may just be in the form of a hug, a kiss, or a simple "I love you", but let that person know that their presence in your life is a blessing from God and nothing could ever take the place of them in your life...nothing.
Take care.

In the Midst of the Fight, Cont'd

Ok, so I told you a little bit about what I've been doing over the past few days out in our Area of Operations, and Wednesday was yet another fun-filled day of patrolling with a combat unit. One of the other LT's was kind enough to let me tag along with him as I continued to fulfill the SCO's policy for incoming Officers to the Squadron and I must say that he pulled out all the stops, just for me (not really)!
My day started off with going house to house through a neighborhood in Ghazalyia, knocking on doors and sitting down with locals to see if they had any information to give us, primarily with regard to the public services they were receiving. We were offered chia tea at almost every house. Later in the day, we drove to the location of a suspicious dump truck. A dump truck, you may ask? Read the following article in the Washington Post and you'll see why such a vehicle could spell disaster.
Thankfully, the truck wasn't what we suspected and we moved on to our next stop, which included raiding a local farmhouse that at one time housed an insurgents weapons cache. All we found was a rusty old AK-47, with rounds. Nothing too serious. However, on our way back to the JSS, we spotted some wire running across the road in front of us that had been covered with dirt by hand. It turned out to be nothing serious, just an old mortar round with a wire attached to it. Nonetheless, we had to report it to higher and an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team had to come out and blow it up on sight. Pretty neat little blast.
I arrived at the JSS for my first night and in the room next to me, a local Iraqi was being questioned about some of his recent activity. Just a normal day at the office... I guess!
Luckily, Thursday has been a pretty lowkey day with only one patrol. It's been pretty relaxing, with little in the way of excitement. I'm about to go watch some of my mechanics change a fuel injector pump. Score!
Anyways, hope you've enjoyed my updates thus far. I hope to drop many more!
Take care.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

In the Midst of the Fight

Hello everyone! Hope all is well back in your respective lands. Things have been very interesting over the past couple of days and I wanted to share with you my initial observations of the area and the Squadron.
After being told that I would accompany the Squadron Commander (SCO) on some of his patrols in and around our Area of Operations (AO) I was a little nervous, mainly because I didn't really know what to expect. I went outside the wire in less than 24 hours of arriving at Camp Liberty and have spent most of the last two days running patrols throughout our AO on the western side of Baghdad. Things were pretty hot here earlier in the year, but the conflict has all but ceased over the past month or so.
With regard to the areas that I have seen, there is really only one word that comes to mind... dirty. There is trash everywhere and most of it looks like it's been there since before Desert Storm!!! You can't go 10 meters without seeing a pile of trash on the side of the road. Almost every tree has at least one or two plastic bags (20 in some cases) stuck to its branches. There are stray dogs all over the place rummaging through the trash for food and herds of sheep or lamb are constantly passing through the villages.
For those of you who might be wondering if I have been scared or nervous during the patrols, the truth is I haven't. I've been with a group of soldiers that have been doing this EVERDAY for the past eight months. These guys are Pros, so if they're not scared, I shouldn't be. Moreover, I have felt the comforting presence of the Lord throughout this time, which further validates my trust in his protection, and I believe their are many others here who feel the same way.
Before leaving each time, one of the SGT's recites a few passages of Scripture and offers a prayer for His guidance and protection. I asked him today how he chooses his verses of scripture and he said that he just thumbs through the Word until the Lord speaks to him. My prayer request from you all is that you pray for Sgt. Long as he seeks the scripture that both comforts and prepares his fellow soldiers as they leave for the field of battle each day.
Take care.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Gettin' My OIF On!

Well, I have officially become a member of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I flew on a C130, which had some parachutes hanging from a rack in case we were to get shot down, and after a rollercoaster ride our pilot took us on as he strategically flew over much of Iraq, we landed at Baghdad International Airport in the dark of night.... because our plane got delayed for 8 hours.
Sorry, but I can't say that I had some high speed, stealth-mode entrance into the War zone. It was pretty uneventful for the most part, but we were fortunate enough to get here safely.
I spent much of my first day in-processing with both the Brigade and the Squadron, but things turned dicey when I was told that I would be going with the Squadron Commander out into our Area of Operations for the next several days to observe our unit's overall tactics, techniques and procedures, otherwise known as TTP's.
So, for the first part of my journey, I will get acclimated to our theatre of operations, while at the same time learning very little about what I am personally going to be doing throughout my time here. In other words, I don't get to start my actual job and meet my most of my soldiers for at least another 10 days! Kind of a bummer because I was hoping to hit the ground running. Instead, I'm hitting the ground and then taking off again, unsure of when I'll return.
Can't be all that bad, though. I'm going to learn A LOT about what's been going on since the unit's been on the ground and what to expect for the rest of the time we're here. So, I've got my pen, a notebook, coffee of course, and an eager willingness to find out how best to not get killed! Sorry, but I had to through that in!
Take care.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Anyone for a nice, warm cup of Globalization?

Ok, so I bet some of you are wondering just how much we are "roughing it" out here.
There are a lot more places like this on post: Taco Bell (are you jealous, honey?), Burger King, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Pizza Inn. If you don't want to eat in the Dining Facility, you have your choice of the many American restaurants at your disposal, and all run by foreign nationals.
Regarding hygiene, we have trailers with showers and sinks, but we're limited on water. Toilets are port-a-jons, but they're actually the cleanest i've seen in a while. Not too stinky!
The gym here is supposedly the biggest one overseas. Not bad, but packed most of the day. The only beef I have is with the internet situation. You can pay for wireless, but so many people try to get on that you end up like me, trying to get on at 2am local time! I tried to send Leslie a picture of the Starbucks here, but it won't load (prime example).
Of course, I could make the 1 mile trek to the internet cafe, but it's always packed and you can only get on for about 30 minutes, 20 of which are spent waiting for the next page to load!
If there are any other questions you have about the lifestyle over here, feel free to ask.
Well, I'm going to try and get some sleep. Oh, speaking of which, I sleep in a big tent (with air conditioning) with about 12 other guys. We're on cots. A lot better than some of the places I've stayed!
Take care.