Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Despite officially going back to the day schedule on 1 Oct, my soldiers spent this past week working during the day in an attempt to establish a structure that suits both those we are supporting and ourselves. This drop in temperature has made it a little easier to accommodate such a change; yet, there is still a fair amount of heat consuming the middle part of the day.
Unlike back home, where we've all gotten used to daylight savings time, the rest of the world doesn't really adhere to this policy, so the sun is starting to rise and set earlier than when I first arrived. By around 0530, the sun begins to peak its head over the horizon, so as to provide some light for those units doing their morning PT. I on the other hand, do mine in the early evening, when the sun begins to set around 1730. The bulk of the day consists of temperatures in and around 95-100 degrees, but it's a welcomed relief from the 125-130 degrees we experienced less than a few weeks ago.
Don't get me wrong, we're still sweating pretty much all day long, but at least there's a breeze to keep us cool. The big, hard sun won't let us forget where we are, but there a few times where you can "feel" autumn, in all its splendor. In a few more weeks, I should be breaking out a fleece to keep me warm on my way to and from the motor pool, but I'll believe it when I FEEL it. Hope you are enjoying the fall, and please send me some pictures of the leaves if you get a chance!Take care.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Words like Roger and Negative, instead of simply saying Yes or No are used in practically every conversation; or rather than saying "Nevermind", a soldier will say "As you were" (or "Belay my last" if you're a sailor). When I first joined the service and heard these terms used, I thought to myself that I'd never succumb to using these silly terms instead of the ones I (and the rest of civilization) were more familiar with. However, this is one area that I've really had no choice but to adhere to. Instead of saying someone is a hard worker or an all around good soldier, some will say he's "high speed." If a person or situation is really messed up, it's a "soup sandwich", or he's "lost in the sauce." There's also the phonetic alphabet, which is a way of identifying a letter without simply saying it. B and D might sound similar to each other, but by saying Bravo or Delta, you've differentiated between the two.
Of course, there's the most (in)famous word in the Army....well, it's not really even a word. "HOOAH" is Army slang for just about anything you want to say. It can be used to say yes or Roger, hello or goodbye, I'm hungry or I'm tired, that's a nice shirt or is that cologne you're wearing? Ok, ok, maybe I'm exaggerating a little, but it's bound to come out of a soldier's mouth at least 15 times a day. When someone is really energized about being a soldier, others will say, "he's really HOOAH." You can have almost an entire conversation with someone using only this term, although I doubt it will have any substance. While the other branches have their own term of endearment - USMC/OORAH, USN/HOORAH, USAF- YEAH!!! (just kidding) - you might find HOOAH on the bumper of a car, the window of a house, or even tattooed onto some soldier's arm!
So, when you see me again please don't look at me funny if one of these terms slips out while having a conversation. It's going to be a pretty tough habit to break when things are all said and done, but at least you'll know what branch I was in! Hope all is well and take care.
Juliet Charlie (see phonetic alphabet)
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I mentioned in an earlier post that my friend Barrett sent me the John Adams miniseries and I must say that all of it was incredible. The writing, the acting, the directing, the cinematography, everything about it was top notch. Well, I'm obviously not the only one who thought this, as John Adams received three Emmys (that I know of) for best writing, best lead actor and best lead actress. Paul Giamatti got Best Actor in a Miniseries for his role as John Adams. Having been a fan of a lot of his work, he did a remarkable job with portraying our second President. Although Adams is seen throughout American history as unsuccessful and largely unimportant, the reality is that he played an intricate role in the establishment of our nation. If John and Abigail were truly the "one flesh" this series portrays, it would be hard to give Giamatti the honor and neglect Laura Linney's performance. There was a line in series by Thomas Jefferson, who stated that Abigail's opinions are thought to inform her husband's every decision. If this is the case, Linney's portrayal as Adams' better half is nothing short of remarkable and both actors are worthy of their honors.
Having spend two blog posts lauding this incredible work of cinematic art, I hope I've enticed you to watch the miniseries (if you haven't already), or at least provoked you to start learning more about that time in our nation's history. Many argue that these chain of events altered the course of history in a way never seen before, and probably never again. Regardless, I think the whole Adams miniseries crew deserve our respect and admiration. However, we cannot forget the "brains" behind the entire operation...the guy that wrote the book (David McCullough)!
Sunday, September 21, 2008
The first group to start heading home is called the ADVON party, and they're responsible for getting back so that they can begin to receive all the equipment and personnel coming back after them. They should be leaving sometime at the beginning of November (No, I'm not part of this crew).
After these individuals have gone through their re-acclimation training, as well as their maximum 30 day block leave, they will begin their responsibilities (which will be sometime in mid December).
Back here in Iraq, the rest of the unit will begin receiving and training the incoming unit on our what they will be doing for the next year. This is commonly referred to as "right seat rides". Essentially, our counterparts will observe us on our daily operations for 7-10 days and then take over, while we observe them for roughly the same time period and provide our suggestions and commentaries. Upon completion of this, soldiers will be packing their bags and heading back. However, we will have a brief layover (about 3-5 days) in Kuwait before crossing the Atlantic. I also need to mention that we are at the mercury of high flying, get the job done (on their time) United States Air Force, who has black out days on either side of Christmas and New Year's. So, from 24-26 Dec and 31 Dec - 2 Jan, we just have to hang out wherever we're until they're ready to fly us to our next destination. As of right now, my unit is scheduled to leave Iraq on 31 Dec, which pretty much means 3 Jan!!! On top of that, our days on the ground in Kuwait consist of going through customs, which means they'll check all of our belongings to make sure we're not smuggling anything from Iraq. Upon completion of this phase, we'll proceed with our trip back to the motherland.
Although this may sound somewhat structured and organized, I have been assured by many that it's not. One long, tedious, mind-numbing process that nips at your patience and sanity. What is more, if things go awry at any point in the process, such as another string of violence, we could be extended until things subside. This doesn't seem to be likely at this point, but Lord only knows.So, despite all this information, I still can't tell you when I'll be back. I'm pretty sure it will be sometime in the beginning or mid part of January, but I can say for certain that it won't be in November!
Friday, September 19, 2008
Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) Joe Schmoe is about 2 years away from retirement and is currently in charge of all construction contracts on FOB Liberty. KBR representative Mr. Smith is seeking to get the contract for installing 500 new trailers on post. Mr. Smith goes to LTC Schmoe and says, "Hey Sir. I've noticed that you're closing in on retirement and we were wondering if you'd considered working for us when you get out of the Army." "I don't know," says the LTC, "I haven't really thought that much about it, but I'd like to hear what you have to offer." "Well, you'd essentially be doing the same kind of work with us, but you'd be making about 3 times what the government's paying you right now," replies Mr. Smith.
What these two gentlemen don't talk about but is crystal clear is that if LTC Schmoe wants that cushy job with KBR, he's got to scratch their back....by awarding them with the contract of $7.5 million dollars to add new trailers. However, it's only going to take them about $3.5 million to actually provide this service because of their cheap labor. So, the extra $4 million gets divvied up to those at the top. Please remember that all of this money is your hard earned tax dollars at work, not private money that each company has invested.
In the field of Political Science, this is approach commonly referred to as the Iron Triangle, with the inclusion of Congress, who is responsible for providing DoD with the money to pay contractors for their services.
In conclusion (over a three blog post period), what we have here is a culture in which the government is paying private contractors to provide services to the military, using foreign nationals who will do the same work at lower cost; yet, somehow we're spending more money than ever before on sustaining our military presence and capabilities. And by the way, I'm not even going to get started on the equipment we use. I place my Herbie Hancock (see Tommy Boy) on receipts for parts that total up to $25,000 EVERY WEEK!!!
So, for those of you feeling pains in area where you keep your pocketbook, at least now you'll know where some of it is going! Take care, and sorry to depress, anger, infuriate, or confuse you!
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Get on the internet and search for a civilian contractor job in Iraq and you're bound to see an assortment of different positions, with almost all of them boasting the salary being offered. It's not hard to understand why people will travel halfway across the world to double, or even triple their annual income. In virtually all cases, civilians do not go outside the wire, and instead work in environments parallel to what you work in back in the States. As a result, it's easy to see why so many different types of people work here.
During what I like to call 20th century warfare, civilians on the battlefield was pretty rare. When it comes to aspects of daily life, if you need to eat, buy something, or go to the restroom, soldiers were the ones responsible of the maintenance and supply of such goods and services. Not anymore!
If you think about it, we used to pay PV2 Snuffy a little more than minimum wage to serve food to the soldiers, or clean up after them; but not we're paying a foreign national to do that, and American civilian Mr. Snuffy is the supervisor. Sounds like a better use of the Soldier's time, right? Yes, but what about the money that we're paying these foreign nationals and Mr. Snuffy? Remember those civilian jobs boasting six figure salaries for one year's work? That's YOUR money. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, your tax dollars are paying civilians on the battlefield. However, we're not paying Mr. Snuffy the same amount as we paid PV2 Snuffy. We're paying BILLIONS of dollars to contracting companies who are employing foreign nationals for what you and I would consider an insult by American standards. Those American "supervisors" are raking in a decent amount, but the real golden egg lays at the top.
So, the next time you see an advertisement for a receptionist in Iraq making $120,000 for 1 year, that's what your tax dollars are funding! Take care....but, I'm not done yet!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
For instance, when I go into the DFAC, I am likely to find just as many, if not more, contractors than military personnel. Imagine walking into a store, like a supermarket, or simply going to a movie. You are likely to see a plethora of different types of individuals, ranging in age, race, and even personal appearance (i.e. dress). Now, take the image and supplant it onto the descriptions I've provided of FOB Liberty and that's what I see everyday!
I've seen, young and old, male and female, red and yellow, black and white (Jesus loves the little children of the world!) on this installation. I've seen middle-aged women who look like they would work at my mother's school, and college aged guys and girls like the ones I used to see walking around the UT campus. They dress just like they would in these environments too, with some wearing a t-shirt and jeans, or a collared shirt and khaki pants. It's strikingly odd how the diversity in the corps of contractors mirrors that of your normal, run of the mill setting back home, save the uniformed personnel intermixed amongst them. You are bound to see some of the eccentric people as well. I've seen guys with long hair and piercings all over them, as well as women with brightly dyed hair (red to be exact).
Many have come for the money (almost all), while some just want a taste of adventure or to get out of their mundane schedule back home; however, not all are American. As previously stated, some are from underdeveloped countries, while others are from the advanced countries like the UK, Germany, France, Australia, and Brazil. I've heard Russian spoken at my table a few times, from individuals who look and dress just like some of my friends back home.
So, if you think that the combat zone in Iraq is nothing but a bunch of Americans sitting in tents, waiting for the next attack to take place, thing again. Those days are long gone, replaced with a atmosphere of reconstruction and business by individuals from all walks of life. More to follow on the contractors....but, it's not very good.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Although I grew up in a Southern Baptist church, I wouldn't technically consider myself one anymore. Leslie and I have been members of a non-denominational church for the past 5 years now and this service is more catered to that style of worship than the more traditional one I grew up attending. Many of you may be familiar with the "Contemporary" terminology, as this service uses contemporary music; however, there are still some traditional components intertwined. First, we start off with one or two gospel songs (which is somewhat foreign to me) followed up by a time of praise and prayer requests. We return to worship music with a few contemporary songs, then proceed with the Sermon, delivered by any one of the five Chaplains. We conclude with the Lord's Supper and a hymn to close out our time together.
As you can see, this is a very diverse service; yet, it maintains the centerpiece of our fellowship, glorifying and honoring our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Although I wish there were more people attending, we usually get a solid crowd and I have developed a few closer relationships along the way. I am very thankful for this time of worship; however, it always makes me miss my wife and our home church even more. Chad, I hope you're still saving us a seat for when we return!
Take care and God Bless.
Friday, September 12, 2008
While this aspect of tradition is mainly for those individuals within the Armor branch, as a Forward Support Company we are considered part of this unit and encouraged (read required) to embrace the same traditions, i.e. wearing of the Stetson.The black and gold band around the hat represents the Officer Corps; at the top of it is my 2LT rank; and just below it is the crossed sabers with 75 (representing the 75th Cavalry Regiment) and a 1 (1st Squadron). You can see on the back of the CO's hat, there are some pins. These can either be our Branch Insignia's, or our Unit Crests. Soldiers are free to put almost anything they want on the back of theirs, which is why I have a big Orange T on mine!!! Although I am an East Tennessean, a place where wearing a Cowboy hat is a common practice among many, this is actually the first Stetson I have ever had, and one that carries with it a special meaning to me because it will always remind me of the things I have done here.
Hope this helps in understanding our culture!
Thursday, September 11, 2008
My next class was scheduled for 1030am, so I quickly got ready and walked over. My professor, a native New Yorker, began with an announcement that despite the events that had taken place, we needed to press on and continue our lesson for the day. Although this might seem somewhat strange and irrelevant, that was probably the most reassuring thing he could have done for a group of scared, unnerving college students. We all knew the world we lived in was about to change dramatically, just not sure how.
I think about that day often, as well as all the events that have taken place over the past 7 years that brought me here, to where I am today. I wish I could say that I joined the military because of 9/11, that I wanted to seek revenge on those who seek to harm us, but that would be a lie. I do, however, serve with a number of individuals who point to those events as their rationale for joining, some of whom lost a loved one on that fateful day. I thank God, not only for the sacrifices they have made, but also for their willingness to press on with life, despite their circumstances.
When I lost a friend of mine in high school, his wrestling coach stopped by one my classes and spoke on what Scott had meant to him. Noticing my unease, he looked directly at me and said, "The band of life marches on." Those words he uttered will forever remain with me.When you think about today, and the many images that run rampantly through your mind, take just a moment and realize all that has happened to you and those you love over the past 7 years. We have all seen success and failure, happiness and pain, rejoicing and sorrow; yet, the band of life continues to march on.
Take care and God bless.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Yesterday, I saw for the first time in over 80 days some rain, albeit briefly. I had just completed my 45 minute Operations Order (OPORD) for conducting the CRO and God said "Let there be rain." Unfortunately, I wasn't really able to enjoy any of it, as I was meeting with the SCO, who was in attendance to "critique" my organizational structure. However, when I went outside I could see the remnants of what looked to be a 3-5 minute downpour. About the only thing it did was compact all the dirt on the ground and cool the temperature off a few degrees, but at least it brought a smile to my face.
So many times I've taken the rain for granted, just wished it away so that I could carry on with my day. Yet, I have come to miss those rainy days, when all you want to do is lay around the house and relax, or possibly even sit out on the porch and just listen to the calm, soothing sound of it hitting the roof. I doubt I will ever look at the rain in the same way after this whole experience.
Take care....and enjoy the rain!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Friday, September 5, 2008
Unfortunately, those glory days are gone, along with my high metabolism, and keeping up my physical stamina has become somewhat of an arduous task. The Army has certain physical standards that all soldiers must adhere to, and thankfully we have a fitness center that enables us to do so. Two gyms are within a short walking distance from my trailer; however, I have taken to working out in the late afternoon, so I come from the motor pool. Not minding the jog, I run from the motor pool to the gym, conduct my workout, then run back. Push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run are the three components of the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT). However, doing only those three activities day in and day out would make even a routine-friendly guy like myself go crazy. Luckily, these gyms have the same variety of equipment one is likely to find anywhere in the States.
Not only is working out a requirement for Army personnel, it's almost become a favorite past time. You're likely to see both men and women pursuing their amateur body-building careers (I'm not joking) on a daily basis. You also have your social groups, who don't really come to workout, just to talk and look at members of the opposite sex. There's also this one guy that I love to watch workout. He listens to an ipod everyday, which I believe consists of only rap music, because he mouths the lyrics and makes hand gestures like he's in a video! Even better, he dances...in front of the mirror! In between songs, he also likes to look at his muscles and fix his hair. If you've ever set foot inside a gym, you know the kind of guy I'm describing. It's really quite entertaining!
In short, my gym, just like any other is full of its various stereotypes. It's a little annoying for someone like me, who just wants to work off that piece of cake I had a lunch before it settles into my spare tire; but, at the same time it kind of feels like home! Take care and enjoy the weekend.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
My day usually begins around 0645 and I make it down to the motor pool around 0745, conducting my personal hygiene and swinging by the DFAC for breakfast within that hour. Although I may try to vary up my caloric intake at my favorite meal of the day, one think that remains constant is my cup of coffee. There is virtually nothing that will stand in the way of me enjoying a hot cup of Joe before the temperature hits its normal 120 degrees at around 1100!
Each day may vary with regards to meetings or daily tasks, but I'm responsible everyday for briefing my superiors on the status of all our equipment, ranging from vehicles to weapons. This is done not later than (NLT) 1100 each day. For the remainder of the day I am either going to another meeting, trying to manage a mini-crisis, or just sitting around waiting for that mini-crisis to strike. It's not a hard laboring job, nor is it fast paced; however, those stressful times are enough to make me lose what little hair I have left! Aside from those days that I lead the CRO, I adhere closely to this above schedule.....EVERYDAY.
For staff officers, there is really no such thing as a day off. One day you might not have as much going on as the day before, but you're still expected to be at your desk or in your office everyday (unless you're deathly sick). Just about everyone that has been here longer than me is entitled to a leave period, roughly consisting of 15-18 days off back in the U.S. This is pretty much considered your time off while deployed. Platoons staying out at the JSS's have been able to get about 1-2 days a week back at Liberty for "refit". In other words, they get a day or two to stock up on toiletries, money, food, etc. before heading back out into sector. This is time they aren't required to work, but at times might be tasked with miscellaneous duties that take away from their leisure time.
My leisure time, if you can call it that, must be crammed in somewhere between the hours of 2000 (8pm) and 0700 (7am), as this is pretty much the only time that I am not in the motor pool, or at a meeting. Yes, I get my three square meals a day, something not enjoyed by my brothers in arms out in sector, so I can't complain about that. However, it would be nice to have just one day to sleep in! For those of you who get that luxury, next time you're waking up around 0930, wondering what you are going to do that day, just think of me....then go back to sleep! Take care.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Despite the agonizing defeat of the Vols last night, I'm going to try my best to put together a blog post of some substance. So, if you don't feel like you've learned anything from this one, please chalk it up to my disgruntled emotions! I'm the kind of guy that if you tell me to do something, I need to know what criteria lead to its completion. In sports, I knew that I played until the final batter was out, or the clock ran out of time. In school, when I turned in the my final paper or test, I knew I was done for the semester. I need something to work towards, what the military and many other circles calls an "end state."
When I first found out I was going to be deploying here for the rest of the year, I was told that 15 January would be the completion of this deployment and we would be back home. However, due to some circumstances that have befallen our unit and the one replacing us, there is a possibility that we may be going home earlier than expected. As a result, rumors abound as to when this might happen.
Although I cannot say for sure if and when this might take place, all I can say is that such a topic is almost inevitably discussed among the many circles I come across. Soldiers asking if I've heard any new information, peers telling me what they heard someone else say about a meeting they went to, etc. If you've been here for while, or more than once, your mind starts to ponder the many things you aspire to do when you get home. All the things you want to do with your friends and family to make up for the lost time. It's almost enough to drive you to the point of exhaustion.
So, if you're wondering what might consume that thoughts of a soldier in my brigade everyday, now you have it. I was at a promotion ceremony yesterday and the Troop First Sergeant (1SG) said, "I've heard rumors that we're going home in November, December and January," he said in his loud, booming voice. "I can tell you this....we will definitely be going home in either November, December, or January." There you have it folks, the very words of a old Army sage. Take care.