Friday, October 31, 2008

The Rainy Season

Well, despite all those prayers for no rain over here, I'm afraid to say that we're officially in this region's rainy season. Everyone who was here last fall said it didn't come this early, as it wasn't until mid to late November that this place turned into a huge mud pit, but it looks like mother nature sent her wrath a month early.
Coming from East Tennessee, I'm pretty accustomed to inclement weather. I remember wearing shorts and a t-shirt during baseball practice just before final exams in December during my sophomore year of college. I also remember the blizzard of '94 that occurred just after I started "Spring Break". The weather in ET is so unpredictable to people going to UT games usually bring a raincoat, sweater, sunscreen and a handheld fan! However, I would take that daily uncertainty anytime over the weather here.
Case in point, I woke up this morning and the ground looked like it had rained overnight. I couldn't be completely sure because when the dew falls here, it also looks like it just rained. I KNEW it had rained on my way to the DFAC because my boots were covered in mud before I even got out of the motor pool. Luckily, the sun was up and it didn't look as though it was going to rain again, at least not anytime soon. Around 0830, the sky was filled with storm clouds; however, about 15 minutes later they were gone. The temperature, on the other hand, had dropped about 10 degrees (which was actually a nice relief). By lunchtime, it was again pretty cloudy and spitting rain. It wasn't until around 1530 (330pm) that the clouds broke and the sun began to shine down.
In short, dealing with the rain and mud will be a constant battle from now until I leave. Does it bother me? A little. Yet, there's nothing that can break my will of getting home to see my friends and family next month. If this is what I have to endure in order to get home to them, then Jesus, bring the rain...and the mud.
Take care.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

DOWIECO (WARNING! This post may not be suitable for people with weak stomachs)

In Season 3 of the sitcom "How I Met Your Mother", Marshall and Lily invested all of their money on a condo in this "chic" new suburb of NYC called DOWISETREPLA. At the end of that episode, they found out how this up and coming area got it's stands for DOwn WInd of the SEwage TREatment PLant. Needless to say, this wasn't the best plan to generate a return on their investment!
I bring this up because it's what comes to mind just about every time I'm out walking around post. As previously stated, portable toilets (modern day outhouses) are a very common aspect of Army life. Despite having what I call "poo trailers", which contain porcelain toilets, they are few and far between over here, so most individuals are forced to do their business in a port-a-jon everyday.
The company responsible for cleaning them out each day is called Ecolog and I think their slogan should be "If you call it waste, We'll pick it up!" because they are also in charge of emptying out the dumpsters all over post. It never fails, I'll be walking to and from the DFAC or going to the gym to work out and I'll catch a big whiff of the sewage truck as it's emptying out human waste from a port-a-jon and filling it up with what a co-worker of mine calls, "the blue juice", something he's threatened to drown himself in because he hates his job so much! It also doesn't help that I have one right next to my office, where they change out the blue juice twice a day. I have to leave my office for at least 15 minutes every time because the stench filters its way into my air conditioning duct! However, it has helped keep me on a pretty consistent routine.
Just like every other real man, I've smelled some pretty gross things in my life. It's practically a right of passage in fraternity initiations. Think about it, when two or more individuals are forced to experience the same horrific event, it brings about a common bond between them. I know some of you are shaking your heads in the affirmative right now, so I will move along.I will remember a lot of different things during my time over here; yet there are some that will stick with me forever. This smell is most definitely one of them! I've just learned to accept the fact that no matter where I am on this installation, I will always be DOwn WInd of ECOlog!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pray It Doesn't Rain Anymore!!!

Ok, I know a while back I mentioned how long it had been since I'd seen rain, and the refreshment I felt after a brief downpour we experienced. Well, I take back any desire I've had for it to rain over here, and for very good reasons.
Yesterday morning, I woke up to a nice, cool overcast day. I don't think it had been this cool since I got here, and not having the sun beating down on me during my walk to the DFAC for breakfast was quite a relief. Around 1130, one of my soldiers asked if I wanted to participate in a friendly game of motor pool baseball (pretty self-explanatory). I accepted the offer and after finishing up an email, I proceeded to walk out of my office/bedroom (we had to move out of our trailers so KBR could clean it for the incoming unit). At that time, the rain began to fall. It did so for only about 20 minutes and after it dissipated, we began our game. After playing for an hour, we finished up just in time for lunch, at which time it began to rain again. I'm not talking about a monsoon or anything of the sort, just a steady flow of rain; but the amount of water that was collecting on the dirt (now mud) roads was shocking! The entire post turned into one big sloppy mud pit in matter of an hour!
Now, I'm no agriculturally savvy individual, but one would think that such a dry climate would be able to retain an average amount of rainfall, but I'm convinced hardly any of this rain permeated the ground. It just sat on the surface and mixed with the dirt to form a thick layer of mud. As much as I've complained about having to walk on top of gravel, I was begging for a patch of gravel to walk on and at least knock of ridiculously large amount of mud on my boots. It was even worse when I had to walk to the shower trailer because now my only pair of running shoes was getting caked with mud clumps that couldn't be shaken off. It practically negated me taking a shower because I was kicking mud up on the back of my legs the entire way back!
So, if any of you were praying for me to enjoy that nice, cool rain that you've been experiencing lately, STOP IT!!!! The last thing we need here is more rain, especially since we're about to start having our equipment inspected for dirt and mud! Rain, rain go away and come again when I'm back at Fort Campbell and don't have anything to do, but sit in my living room and watch TV!Take care.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Crab Legs

I wasn't much of a seafood eater growing up. My mom's allergic to crab (bless her heart!) and dad had a bad experience with fish when he was a kid, so there wasn't much "meat from the sea" eaten at our house. We've always been more of a meat and three type of family; however things have started to change over the past few years.
The first time I lived in Maryland (summer of 2001 when I interned on Capitol Hill), I tried some crab and wasn't too impressed. It just seemed like a lot of work for such a small amount of food. That frame of mind has come and gone because now I can't get enough of it! When Les and I were in Maryland this past Winter and Spring, we ate so much crab that I'm almost convinced we single-handedly kept the Maryland Blue Crab industry in business! One time we had a crab pretzel, cream of crab soup, crab legs and a crab melt sandwich all in one meal!!! Man, that was a good day.
I'm mentioning all of this because I want to let you know that being over here isn't all that bad because every Wednesday night at my regular DFAC is Surf and Turf. Along with sirloin steaks, they serve crabcakes, shrimp, clams and crab legs. It's quite the "home away from home" feeling for me; however, this isn't something I've been able to take advantage of every week. Wednesday nights I go to a bible study, which is unfortunately at the chapel right next to another DFAC, and this one doesn't have Surf and Turf night. So, I've only been able to get my fill occasionally and instead been forced to eat dry chicken breast and overcooked vegetables. I hope this doesn't sound like I'm complaining, as any food is better than no food at all; but indulging in crab legs does seem to make the pain of being away from friends and family just a little bit easier to bear, especially when it's free! It's definitely not Joe's Crab Shack or Red Lobster, but it certainly gives me that little taste of home to get me through the week.
Take care and I hope I didn't make you hungry!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Children Wave At Us

Just about every time I go outside the wire, I, along with many other soldiers, always have that one thought, "What if today's the day?" It's a common thought, but one we must constantly battle in the deep recesses of our mind. We never talk about it to each other and we seldom ever give it another thought while out on patrols. Our thoughts are more concentrated on doing the right thing and making sure that our fellow soldiers are just as alert as we are. When driving by a car parked on the side of the road, or even when driving through densely populated areas, there is always the potential for something to go awry. However, there is one thing that for some reason gives me the comfort of knowing that I am safe while out on the streets.
Seeing a child or group of kids on the side of the street waving at me as I pass by them always seems to calm my nerves. While I am still fully aware that at any moment a bomb could go off, or a sniper on top of a building could take out one of my gunners, when I see a child waving and smiling at me, it's as if God himself is speaking to me through them, telling me that everything is going to be fine.
After returning to Liberty each time, I seem to find myself sitting at my desk, thinking about those children. What will they grow up to be? Will their lives be any different than they are now? Can they recover from these hardships and turn this country around? My sincere hope is that this war and the many things that they have seen at such a young age will not deter them from reaching their full potential. Moreover, I pray that their lives will not be filled with the same conflict and suffering that their parents are currently undergoing.
As cheesy as this may sound, Whitney Houston was right, the children are the future, especially in this country. If and when these children grow up and become adults, regardless of how this country turns out, I hope they all remember the American soldier who was waving back at them.
Take care and please remember to pray for the children of Iraq.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Officially Official

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you will remember a while back when I said there was a possibility that we would redeploy back to Ft. Campbell earlier than expected. You might also remember that I said it didn't look as if such a dream would come to fruition.
Well, just to let you in on how messed up things can be in the Army, we've now been given an official word that WE ARE COMING HOME EARLY!!! Yes, you're reading this right, we are coming back next month (November). In short, the powers that be here in Iraq said they didn't need our brigade anymore and their higher ups signed off on sending us back home early. We got the official word yesterday and I must say that things are definitely taking shape. Although we are just now getting the final word, preparations have been taking place since the end of last month in order to prepare for this possibility. I've had about 3/4 of my stuff packed away in a container for over a week now and we still have a significant amount of work to be done before saying our goodbye's to the Middle East.
I will be getting home before Thanksgiving (which I will have plenty to be thankful for), and the brigade will go on block leave starting in early December. Block leave is a 30 day window for soldiers to take vacation (should they so choose), but very little work is done during this period. However, it doesn't make up for the fact that a) most soldiers have been gone for over a year and b) we don't really get to take vacation during the rest of the year! So, whenever you hear that soldiers get 30 days of vacation a year, just remember that this includes weekends and holidays, not to mention the fact that we usually have to deploy in order to get time off when we come back!
Take care...and see you soon!!!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Armed Forces Network

I'm somewhat ashamed to say this, but the truth is that I love to watch television. I don't think you could categorize me as a couch potato (all the time), but most of my evenings are spent in front of the tube watching Prime time shows or ball games. The wife and I do a pretty good job of staying active and not wasting our day away on the couch, but there are specific times each week that we're in front of the television. However, those times are NEVER during our meals.
Unfortunately, while here in Iraq, I have only been able to watch television DURING my meals. It's the only time I'm around the tube, and even then I'm probably watching it in 30 minute intervals. The DFAC I go to regularly has some pretty nice big screen televisions that broadcast various events via Armed Forces Network (AFN). AFN consists of a dozen or so channels that one is likely to get back home, including, you guessed it, ESPN!!! Despite only getting a few times a day to stare at the big box, I've been able to keep up with all the major sporting events. For instance, this morning I got to watch the tail-end of the ALCS Game 5. I saw in real time J.D. Drew's winning hit that sent the series back down to Tampa Bay. At dinner every Sunday, I'm able to watch the first few plays of an NFL game, and the watch the highlights of them at breakfast the next morning.
Although I do get a chance to stay up to date on all the big games, it still doesn't compare to those calm, relaxing weekends where I can just hang out all day and watch football, even if the Vols are losing!
Take care.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Haji Movies

The act of illegally downloading music, movies, software, etc. (known as pirating) is a problem in the United States. I remember being back in college when Napster was the rave and people were always on their computers downloading various songs for free.
Although one is more likely to pay a fine for littering, or go to jail for drugs, than to get busted for piracy, it's still an offense. These illegal acts are also a problem in other countries as well, including (you guessed it) Iraq.
Known as haji movies, these versions are all over the place, sold in dozens of shops and stores all over the place. Here on post, you can walk into a "haji store" and by a "haji version" of your favorite new movie. Most likely, the version you are purchasing is one in which a person took a camera into a theater and set it up on the screen. How do I know this? Because throughout the movie, you can see shadows of people getting up from their seats, or they will have subtitles in a foreign language at the bottom of the screen! Yes, I admit, I have SEEN some of these versions; however, I refuse to BUY them (mainly because they're such bad quality).
These things sell for around $1-3 here, while purchasing the same movie back in the states will cost roughly $20. Thanks to some of my Soldiers, I've seen newly released movies such as Ironman and Batman the Dark Knight, as well as the entire Jason Bourne trilogy on one dvd! I hope this doesn't sound like I'm condoning the act of movie and music piracy, but at least I don't have to wait until they come out on dvd in the States to watch them!
Take care.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


One aspect of being an officer is that your are responsible for administering certain ceremonial sessions, such as an individual's enlistment, or RE-enlistment, also known as re-up.
This past Thursday I was asked by one of my soldiers, SGT Booker, to administer her re-up oath. This might not seem like a big deal; but for many, this is a serious commitment, since they're signing away the next 3-6 years of their life away! What is more, soldiers are allowed to choose any commissioned officer to administer their oaths, and I was flattered that SGT Booker asked me! However, I think it helps that I'm a) her platoon leader and b) the only officer she comes into contact with on a regular basis. However, I have already been asked by another soldier, in another platoon for that matter, to administer his re-up oath; so, I can't use the above as my only excuses.
A big campaign for the Army right now (well, since the war began) has been to retain as many soldiers - not necessarily good, quality soldiers - as possible, since most have the experience needed to operate in this type of environment. So, I'll be performing this task somewhat frequently during my time in the service. It's a neat process and one that makes you feel like you're actually doing something, even if it's just uttering a few words and having the person repeat after you!
Take care and enjoy the pics.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Camp Trash Can

Yesterday, I got to experience something that was interesting, depressing, shocking, and just plain odd.
In case you didn't already know, the military is one of many federal bureaucracies that uses a lot of stuff, and wastes a lot of stuff. With the war halfway through its 5th year, you'd think there would be a lot of garbage accumulated. Well, there is...and I got to see it.
Camp Trash Can is one of many waste depots in country, and all units on this installation send their trash to be dumped here. On a weekly basis, my platoon loads up the "trash truck", a M1083 Medium Tactical Vehicle (MTV), and we transport it to the dump.
While this area is just like any other landfill, the most interesting, yet depressing, aspect is that all the people who work there spend their day rummaging through the trash to find stuff of use to them. When we stopped the truck to let the security guards know what we were dumping, a passerby took advantage of our halt and proceeded to jump up in the back and grab a water cooler, filled with hundreds of nuts and bolts!
Most of what we were dumping was stuff that had accumulated in our welder's bay throughout the deployment; yet, this stuff was of great use to the local nationals who work there. There were two things I was thinking while emptying out the back of the truck: 1) I couldn't believe how much trash I was looking at and how much money all this would actually cost to clean up and 2) I bet "Survivorman" Les Stroud could build a lot of cool things with all this trash! Sorry, still a big fan of him.So, in short, I saw first-hand just how much stuff we are throwing away on an almost daily basis and the old saying is true, one man's trash is another man's treasure!
Take care.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering...

Since the ridiculous increase in gas prices over the past couple of years, you might have noticed a slight decrease in the numbers of SUVs and trucks driving out on the road. This doesn't mean they have been producing less, instead they have just been sending them somewhere else. Where might you ask? Behind my motor pool!!!
Yes, as you can see by the pictures, there are several hundred domestic trucks and SUVs sitting in a lot right next to where I work all day every day. Civilian cars are a very common aspect of transportation here and many people have taken advantage of their utility in this terrain. However, you should know that this entire lot was completely empty when I arrived, only to be filled to the brim a couple of months later...and only a few of them have moved!
Evidently, units are allowed to use/rent/rent/lease/borrow or something of the sort, these vehicles while deployed; yet, there are a multitude of hoops to jump through in order to obtain one of them. They are something of a luxury in that passengers do not have to wear their combat helmets while riding in them (as is the case in all military vehicles). I honestly can't tell you how long they will be here or if they will ever be used. But you can guarantee that if and when Coalition Forces withdraw all its troops, there will be a dramatic influx of American vehicles into Iraqi communities. With gas prices at about $.05 a gallon, at least someone will be using them and getting their money's worth!
Take care.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Goodbye Norma Jean, Hey There Delilah

Most men have a tendency to attach a female name to a piece of equipment they cherish. It might be a boat, motorcycle, car, or in my case, a rifle.
For those of you who don't already know, I was a late comer to theater and was subsequently forced to carry the outdated M16A2 rifle since joining the unit. All the highspeed M4's assigned to my company were already given to soldiers who had deployed with the unit, so I've lugging around this "musket" for the past 3 1/2 months! Yes, I could've been a jerk and demanded that one of my soldiers give me his, but I just couldn't justify doing that and felt that my time would eventually come.
If you're not familiar with either of these weapons, there's only major differences between them: the M4 is an improved modification of the M16 and is lighter and smaller due to its collapsible buttstock and shorter barrel. In other words, it's a few pounds lighter and about a foot shorter.
I know you're probably wondering why I'm all of the sudden choosing to mention this; well, due to some unfortunate circumstances, a soldier in my company is getting chaptered (read kicked) out of the Army. As luck would have it, I was given her weapon! Although I never really identified my previous rifle (we don't carry guns) as Norma Jean, it's kind of appropriate, as Elton John's ode to Marilyn Monroe is now considered a "classic" (implying that it's old). I hope none of you Sir Elton fans take offense to this. Honestly, that song and "Hey There Delilah" by the Plain White T's were just the first two things that came to mind when I was given the news of my even trade.
When I signed the hand receipt for my new "friend", I felt a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders....because a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders!
I really do hate the unfortunate situation through which I acquired Delilah, but I honestly feel like it was the best course of action for this soldier and the Army. I ask that you pray for this soldier finds the Lord and is able to get her life back on track.
Hope all of you enjoyed your weekend and are well refreshed for the upcoming week. Take care.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Listen to any veteran tell a "war story" and you're bound to hear him/her start it off with the phrase, "So, there I was...". It's practically a requirement. Therefore, it's only fitting to begin this story with....
So, there I was, sitting in a nice air conditioned room meeting with all of the Squadron Executive Officers (XO's)....hold on...I've got to exaggerate in order to make this sound more exciting than it really is, as that's how just about every story is told nowadays.
So, there I was, sitting in a very small bunker, crowded with all the XO's, mud and blood all over our face, bullets whizzing over our heads....nevermind, this isn't working. Take three.
I was meeting with the Squadron XO's when all of the sudden we heard a pretty loud explosion. Around here, you're bound to hear at least a couple everyday. Most are controlled detonations (control dets), which is when an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team is summoned to an area where unexploded ordnance is found (UXO). However, this was louder than usual, which meant it was pretty close. Everyone in the room just dismissed it...after we got back into our skin.
I found out later that a checkpoint Coalition Forces go through about 50 times a day was attacked by a Vehicle Born Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED). In short, it was a car bomb. Although this isn't that out of the ordinary, what I find interesting is that had one of my company's convoys not had radio problems, they would've been somewhere in that vicinity when it exploded. Alan, the company Distribution Platoon leader, was transporting our Company Commander and First Sergeant to a JSS in sector, but stopped short of leaving the FOB due to an inability to communicate with all three trucks. If this happens, it halts the convoy and everyone is forced back to the command post to fix the problem. Had they not had issues and just rolled out the gate, there's no telling what would've happened to them.
I'm sure everyone has at some point in their life played the "What if" game and questioned the likelihood of their continued existence had some unforeseen circumstance not changed the course of events. Well, this is definitely one of those times for some of my soldiers and peers. What if they didn't have commo problems? Would they have been hit by the car bomb? There's never a definitive answer on that stuff, but by the grace of God they didn't have to find out. Luckily no one died....except for the driver.
Take care.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Long Live Cool Hand

He ate 50 hard boiled eggs while in prison, concocted one of greatest scams on a high ranking mob boss, and was the recipient of my father's favorite line in a movie, "You just keep thinkin' Butch, that's what you're good at."
These are my fondest memories of Paul Newman, the movie icon who died last week of cancer. My dad introduced me to Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (our favorite Western) and The Sting, all of which are some of Newman's greatest roles. For those of you who don't know, my father is a walking encyclopedia of movie knowledge and trivia. He can turn the television to TCM or AMC and tell you the name of the movie, the actors, the director, the year it was made, the company that produced it, and probably how much it grossed at the box office! It's actually pretty funny watching him do that, but he'll tell you that it helps to have an actual movie encyclopedia next to his living room chair!
While dad's pretty well versed on Paul Newman movie trivia, what me might not be able to tell you is that Newman really wanted to be remembered for his philanthropic legacy. He donates 100% of the profits from his food company "Newman's Own" to building camps all across the world for children with life-threatening illnesses, like AIDS and Leukemia. Although this company started off as a joke, it has evolved into a multi-million dollar business that has given over $250 million to charities, including $28 million to Safe Water Network (which Newman started) that provides safe drinking water to impoverished communities in places like India and Africa.
One thing "Butch" made clear before his passing was that after he is gone, his company would continue the practice of giving all its money away to his "Hole in the Wall" camps. For those of you not familiar with Hole in the Wall, you might wanna pick up a copy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid the next time you're at the movie store. It's sure to become one of your favorites; but, don't forget that behind those piercing blue eyes and million-dollar smile was a philanthropic heart of gold.
Take care.