Sunday, November 28, 2004

Got My First Mail

I've been away from our camp for a few days. We had some convoy training to do at a different camp and since it's convoy training you can't exactly convoy to the training. So in the first few hours of thanksgiving morning I was flying over Iraq in a Chinook helicopter. How many people can say that? We did some close quarters training where you'd have about 30 guys firing all around you all within inches of each other. It was pretty cool. Up until then I had never fired my weapon with anyone else firing within 50 feet or so. It was good to have all that chaotic firing going on around you and be able to trust that your buddy wasn't going to shoot you. We also fired from a bunch of different positions just to get familiar with being able to react to any situation. The camp we went to had accommodations that just don't quite meet the luxury digs I'm used to so far in war time. It was small and dirty but had a neat "Haji" shop. Locals come in and sell just about anything you can imagine. These guys had hundreds of DVD's for $3.00 a piece. I bought the Polar Express to send home to my son and Troy for myself. They get the movies out on DVD like immediately. Thy even had National Treasures, didn't that just come out? I'm sure they're bootlegged somehow but they play just fine. They come with the jacket cover from the DVD but they're in a plastic sleeve instead of the hard plastic cover. One thing I learned is if one of them starts dancing around and asks you if you want "fiki fiki" it's not really the kind of movie you want to take home to the kids. It's hard to communicate because their English is so broken and my Arabic is non existent. So here I am looking at these movie and trying to talk to one of the guys. He kept saying" is good? Is good?" and showing me all of the movies on the rack. I kept saying no because I hadn't found what I wanted yet. That's when he gets a bright look on his face and starts the fiki fiki dance. To do the fiki fiki dance you hold your arms out to the side slightly bent and shake your chest and shoulders while swaying back and forth. Not understanding what fiki fiki was I follow the mysterious dancing man over to one of the tables where he pulls out a box and shows me the movies. Fiki fiki loosely translated must be freaky freaky and involves many people with very little clothing. Once me and all the guys around me got a good laugh we moved away from the fiki fiki section. I picked my two movies and asked how much. He said $6.00 but I only had $5.00. I said how bout 2 for $5.00. He says "tomorrow 2 for 5, today 2 for 6. I said how about today 2 for five and tomorrow 2 for 6? I showed him the money and we had a deal. I'm pretty sure that if you walked in there with just one dollar you could walk out of there with something. Some of the stuff is a good deal but some of it's not. They got some Xboxes somewhere and were selling them for $250.00. I'm not a gaming connoisseur but I think they're really cheaper than that in real life.

Well, we were supposed to fly back after the third day but they canceled our helicopters. The only problem was they didn't tell us they canceled our helicopters until we had waited in the freezing night for, oh about 8 hours. So at about 2:00 a.m. we got some cots out and went to sleep. At 5:00 a.m. they woke us up and said our helicopters would be there that night at 10:00 p.m. I looked at my watch and figured they could have waited to tell us that but there was another reason they woke us. We had to put our cots on a truck back to camp victory. So much for sleeping. All said and done it was a lot of fun. During the convoy training you would drive down the road while these targets popped up. As any good soldier would do you proceeded to blow the crap out of anything that moved. All the while your flying down the road in a humvee. Pretty cool.

When I got back my platoon Sgt had a card for me. It was a thanksgiving card from Cousins P&M. That's the first mail I got. It was postmarked the 22nd and I got it on the 26th. Maybe even earlier because I had been gone. That's faster than I thought it'd get here. Thanks for the card. I hope the Thanksgiving dinner was good. We got to eat a Thanksgiving dinner out in the field. They had everything you'd have at a regular dinner back home. The cooks even dressed up like pilgrims.

I found out that I'll start work tomorrow. I'll work from Noon to Midnight 6 days a week. I think it'll be good to start because I should be able to get into a routine. We took a tour of Saddam's Baghdad complex today. We got to go into the big palace here in Baghdad and see some of the buildings on the lake. Our whole compound is surrounded by cement walls and barbed wire that Saddam was nice enough to have installed before our arrival. This whole area was his palace and recreation area. Apparently the whole place was stocked with animals and he would hunt and water ski here.

I can't post any pictures because you have to install software to be able to post any pictures. The Army doesn't like it when you install software on their computers. Something about going to jail or something. We are, however, supposed to get satellite internet access in our rooms soon. Can you believe that. It's even going to be faster than the service I have at home. This is more like camp than war. The Family Readiness Group for our unit raised a bunch of money to buy it now it's just a matter of having it installed. I'm not sure what the timeline is. Whenever that happens I'll be able to post pictures from my own computer. I also bought a sim chip for my cell phone the other day. They work on a pre paid system here. You buy the chip for $50.00 and then charge it up $20.00 at a time. It costs 39 cents a minute to call back to the states. I have a local Iraqi phone number and can receive phone calls. Incoming calls and text messages are free, but I don't know how much it costs to call here from the states. If you want to give me a call ask my wife for the number. I'd be more than happy to talk to you on your nickel. I only turn it on when I'm in my room so you don't have to worry about alerting the enemy to my whereabouts. "Ah, habeeb, could you stop shooting for a second, I really need to take this call, thanks...Hello"

That's about all that's going on so far. Let me know if you'd like to know about anything else. Thanks for all the comments and e-mails. They're like getting presents everyday.

Monday, November 22, 2004

First Few Days in Baghdad

There are three separate posts for today so you should probably start with the one called "How I Got to Kuwait" and work your way back up to this one.

The first few days have been pretty cool so far. Both in content and temperature. I haven't really been in extreme danger so far and I'm sort of having fun. I finally feel like I can settle in and get this thing started. It's just like camping in the desert with a weapon.

When we first got here they gave us a few briefs on rules and conduct and things like that. It just so happened that they dropped us all of at the unit I was going to. When we were jumping off of the trucks I heard someone calling my name. When I got to that person it was the commander of my unit. He said they'd been waiting for me for a while and they were glad I finally made it. That was pretty reassuring to know there had actually been a plan from the start. In the back of my mind I was afraid I'd show up and they'd be surprised I was there. After that we were assigned to our rooms.

I was surprised to find that we were living in trailers. This is about the best senario you can ask for. We live in these trailers sort of like a small mobile home. They're divided into three rooms that each have an outside door along the side of the trailer. Each room sleeps two people. There are two beds and two lockers and an air conditioner in each room. The room is about the size of an average bedroom in a house back home. They have electricity but it's 220 and they use British plugs. I am very comfortable in my room. They have a bizarre next to the PX where local merchants sell anything from jewelry to computer parts. I bought a little voltage converter for $15.00. The bizarre is kind of neat because it's just like what you'd think a third world market would be like. It's dirty with so many different smells. It's busy and many different languages are flying around all over the place. One booth could be selling knives and kids clothing all in a 10 foot square. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the arrangement of merchandise. I think they just sell whatever they can get their hands on.

The chow hall is awesome. It's run by a civilian contractor and it's great. They have every kind of food you could imagine. It's organized with your usual main line where you get your meal, but then there are all these little bars around to get whatever you want. There's potato bars, ice cream bars, sandwich bars, pizza bars, salad bars. The food is very good and the place is very clean. I'm really surprised at the quality of food. A million times better than at Fort Hood.

We had a class yesterday on cultural awareness. They had local Iraqis come in and give the class. It was really interesting to learn about their culture and customs. I really feel like the Iraqi people support what's going on here. Well, at least the ones our government is paying to come in and give us the classes. I was a little embarrassed at the amount of knowledge they had about my country, language, and culture. I don't know anything about theirs. Americans really live in this little bubble of our own.

I did a little work on my weapon at the range today and it shot a lot better. We got to watch some of the snipers qualify with their 50 cal sniper rifles. When one of those goes off you're glad you're on the sending end and not the receiving end. The sound alone can probably kill small woodland creatures. My M-16 puts a hole the size the end of a pencil in the target. Those rifles put a hole the size of my fist in the target. If I don't get another weapon I feel pretty comfortable with this one. No matter where you go you have to carry your weapon with live ammunition. Even to the showers.

Well, now that I'm caught up I'll try to organize my thoughts a little better from now on. I've got an address here now you can get from my wife or my parents. If you hurry it's not to late for Christmas. Not that I'm fishing for packages or letters or anything. In fact e-mail would be fine. I might need to clear up some information I wasn't clear on. In an earlier post I said my address was no longer good because I was leaving Fort Hood. I meant my mailing address. My e-mail address will be the same forever. I've had some questions on that and thought I should clear it up. By the way, the person who told me he wasn't e-mailing me because of that little misunderstanding still hasn't e-mailed me. You know who you are. Speaking of that person, for all you left handers out there the Iraqi people think it's impolite to eat with your left hand, when we asked why they said that only the devil eats with his left hand.

Hello From Baghdad

Well it's been a while since I've had time to post or had access to a computer. I'm now in Camp Victory Baghdad. The name is actually changing to Camp Liberty. So much has happened in the last week I hardly know where to begin. (At this point you need to imagine the deep baritone voice of the guy who narrated the Mighty Mouse cartoons.) When we last left our hero (me) he was dangling by a thread anticipating the issue of body armor among other things. Will he get it? Will he not? Will he need it if he does get it or will the forces of evil prevail against him. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of "Does Anybody Really Care".

I suppose it was the 17th of November when we walked down to the RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative) site for some more gear. There were about 90 of us and they asked who didn't have body armor. Everyone raised their hand. The guy who asked the question let out a line of explicatives and asked why the explicative we left the states without body armor. When we told him they sent us out and told us our armor would be here in Kuwait there were a few more minutes of explicatives followed by a short pause then a few more explicatives to finish the point. He told us he didn't think he could come up with that many. So, off we marched to get the rest of our gear with the body armor issue no closer to being solved.

We were given some pretty cool stuff though. We got two more pairs of boots, brining the total so far to 5, we were measured for the new ballistic helmets and told we would get them in a few months. As with all things government these were awarded to the lowest bidder. It is a mom and pop shop somewhere in the Midwest and he is nowhere close to being able to stay up with the demand. Oh well, my old kevlar helmet will still stop a bullet. I think, I've never actually tested the theory. They also gave us a camel back bag you fill with water and wear like a backpack. It has a tube that comes around front that you can drink out of. They gave us some fire retardant gloves and some fleece pants and jacket. The jacket and pants are my favorite pieces of gear the Army has ever given me. We also got some cool Willey-x ballistic sunglasses, some silk weight long underwear, and some socks and t-shirts. All in all this was the best issue I've ever gotten, I'm more than pleased with these items.

After we got all of that cool stuff we went back to our barracks and put it all away. All that gear brings me up to 4 duffel bags worth of stuff. One and a half of which are, as we speak, sitting under my bed in a category I like to call "why the heck did I have to carry this useless junk half way around the world?" To our surprise a guy showed up with three different sizes of body armor for everyone to try on. A few hours later we walked back down to the RFI center and signed for our body armor with plates and all. If you've ever seen the movie Blackhawk Down you can see what the plates sort of look like when the guy decides he doesn't need the one in the back of his armor and lays it on the floor. That's not something I plan on doing. With the plates in it the body armor weighs 40 pounds or so. This is a weight I don't mind carrying.

Well, we didn't do too much more in Kuwait except drive to the Air field to fly out to Baghdad International Airport (BIAP). Here's how that went.

We were supposed to fly out on the 19th. We loaded all our duffel bags onto a truck and convoyed to the air field. Once there, we unloaded all the duffels, 90 people times 4 duffel and one personal bag per person, onto these big pallets. Then we put big cargo nets over them and cinched them down. This was about 10:00 in the morning on the 19th. A few hours later half of us plus two pallets of bags loaded on a c130 and taxied out onto the runway. Then we stopped and were informed that not all the engines worked and we'd have to get off the plane. So we did. We waited in a big tent for a few hours and then were told we couldn't leave until about 3:00 p.m. the next day, Oh yeah, your bags are still loaded on the pallets so you can't get them out. Not to big of a deal, so we thought. We spent the rest of the evening in a tent talking and eating MRE's until we went to sleep on cots. The temperature was probably in the 60's and kept getting colder. It would have been O.K. except they had these huge air conditioners blowing full force and everyone was shivering. Then it started to rain. Finally we decided we were breaking into our bags anyway, which were outside in the rain. I found my fleece jacket and my poncho liner, which is sort of like a blanket and slept the rest of the night no problem except the tree days worth of fuzz that was now growing on my unbrushed teeth. The next day we flew to Baghdad without incident. When we landed there was a small PX right off of the runway, our bags were still on pallets but one the top to one of my friends bags was poking right out of one of the spaces in the pile of bags. He had just enough room to open the padlock and wiggle out the blessed item on top of his bag. A tube of toothpaste. I hurried into the PX, which was the back of a semi trailer, and plunked down 50 cents for a toothbrush (mine was still in the pile of bags it had been in for about three days.) It is a good feeling to brush your teeth. I think if you want to live this adventure right along with me you should not brush your teeth for three days, walk, not drive, to your nearest walgreens, scrounge a squirt of toothpaste from someone you've just met, and buy a toothbrush. My dad was right, it is more satisfying when you work hard for something.

I think this blog has served it's purpose so I'll catch you the rest of the way up to speed in my next blog.

How I Got to Kuwait

This is a blog I did on my computer a few days ago and haven't had a chance to post yet. Though I don't use profanity this particular blog alludes to it.

Camp Doha

We started our trip to Kuwait at 3:30a.m. Ft Hood Texas time. We didn't take off until about noon. First off we carried our three duffel bags worth of stuff downstairs to be loaded on a truck and ultimately the plane. Then we drew weapons and MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for the trip. When I came around the corner from the weapons room I was forcibly volunteered to be the seating NCO (non commissioned officer) for the plane. This is important later. Every task in the Army has something called the NCOIC (NCO in charge) For this particular task I was supposed to make sure everyone filed onto the plane and filled it from the back in an orderly fashion. One of my friends was in Saudi Arabia for the first gulf war and has story about being the NCOIC for a particular duty. It seems at this particular camp they didn't have port-o-podys, they had these little huts with a big metal drawer under them. The only way to get rid of the previously made deposits was to take them out in the desert and burn them. So him and another guy would take these big drawers and load them onto a humvee and take them out in the desert. Now, as he explains it you have to imagine carrying a big metal drawer full of urine and feces. The shear grossness of the task makes you laugh, the more you laugh, the more it sloshes around. The more it sloshes around the more that gets on you. The more that gets on you the only thing you can do is laugh and the cycle starts again. Once there they would pour some fuel on the drawers and let em burn. You can imagine the smell that would permeate your clothes and skin. He said it would even smell when he'd sweat because it would come out of his pours. Anyway, in colorful Army terms he was called the crap burning NCOIC only his title started with the letter S. I guess that was a pretty crappy job. (sorry, I had to) At this point we weren't sure what type of plane we would be on or how many seats it would have. The morning progressed like this with us sitting outside under an awning in the freezing rain. We had already turned our room key in and had nowhere else to go.

When it was time for us to get going we went to a gym on post where they were playing really loud, really bad country music. I know what you're saying, is there such a thing as good country music? I'll let you debate that fact. So, after sitting here for a few hours we finally get on a bus out to the flight line. To our satisfaction we were flying on an ATA 757. I was the first on the plane so I could do my all important job of seating NCO I'd been training all these years for to find we had about three times the number of seats that we need. So we put two people to each row of three seats. When it was all over I got to sit where I wanted. I got a whole row to myself. This came in handy when I wanted to fold the arms up and lay down across the whole row.
A few hours later we were at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. We picked up a few more people and some more equipment. They had a small USO in the hanger where you could get some free snacks and sodas and play games like ping pong and pool. I'm proud to say I skillfully defeated all ping pong challengers. All two of them. We stayed here for a couple of hours and then boarded the plane.

A few, few more hours later we landed in Shannon Ireland. We got to spend about an hour in the terminal. It was middle of the night for them so there weren't many people in the terminal. They did have a duty free shop where you could buy stuff. A few guys bought Cuban cigars for $160.00 for two boxes. He says it's a good deal but it sounds expensive to me. They took Euros or American dollars. I tried to get some euro coins but they wouldn't change dollars to euros. If you paid in dollars you got dollars for change. They did have a little exchange place but it didn't open until the next morning. The ATM, however, disbursed euros as an unfortunate soldier accidentally found out when he tried to get one hundred dollars out. He was surprised to get euros. If you went to Ireland and used an ATM what do you think would come out. He got a few people to buy them but they were close to 20 dollar notes and I didn't want that much.
A couple of more hours and we were in Budapest Hungary. They didn't let us off the plane here so we spent the next two hours looking out the window.

22 hours after we left Fort Hood we landed in Kuwait.

The trip was actually quite comfortable. Since it was a civilian plane we had stewardesses and hot meals and in flight movies. I got quite a bit of sleep off and on. When we landed in Kuwait it was morning by my biological clock but it was late at night locally. We got a few briefs and went to midnight chow. This was the best food I've had since being back in the Army. Since it was midnight chow we had the choice of breakfast or lunch. The chow hall was big and nice. So far it doesn't really feel like a foreign country. We're on an American installation surrounded by Americans. The only thing that looks different is the signs written in English and Arabic. And the Kuwait license plates on the numerous SUVs. They put us in a building with a bunch of bunk beds and we tried to sleep. I got about an hours sleep and couldn't sleep anymore. I walked down to the AT&T phone center to call my wife to tell her I got here alright. I found that the exchange rate on phone cards is 10 to 1. So the 500 minute card I had was worth 50 minutes. I'm not sure what it'll be like in Iraq. I've heard of different options like VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) apparently there's a company called Segovia that has set up these types of phones in certain camps. You can go to their website and charge minutes to a virtual calling card. I've heard anything from 5-10 cents a minute internationally. Hopefully this option exists. The time difference is close to half a day ahead of the states so if I call in the morning I get my wife before she goes to bed. If I call before I go to bed I get her just after she woke up. So far so good. We're supposed to get more equipment tomorrow, including body armor. I'll let you know what happens.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Well, I'm Back

Got back to Fort Hood on Saturday night, it was raining and cold. Woke up Sunday morning to go to church and it was still raining. Long walk plus freezing cold rain equals go back to bed. Woke up this morning to go to breakfast and it's still raining. It's kind of nice because they don't make you stand out in it so once you go back to your room it's too hard for them to find everyone if they've got some stupid stuff that needs to be done. Speaking of stupid stuff, here's one for the "just shake your head" file. I got back on Saturday the 13th. Went to the chow hall for dinner and there was a sign on the door saying the chow hall was close for the week and will re-open on Monday under new management. Under new management?? How does a chow hall on a United States Army Post re-open under new management. Who's going to manage it now? Canada? Not likely, they're the Switzerland of North America. I don't think they'd get involved. Maybe Mexico, the food would probably be good but stay away from the water. Whoever is running it now it was opened for breakfast this morning and didn't seem much different.

Right now it's 12:30 ish just after lunch. Just before lunch we turned in our sheets and blanket in preparation for leaving tonight. We're not sure if we're flying out at 2:00 a.m. or going to the airport at 2:00 a.m. but so far we know that something is happening at 2:00 a.m. It's quite possible that at 2:00 the thing that happens is that they tell us nothing is happening. Either way I'm packed and ready to go with three duffel bags worth of gear and a small handful of personal items. I'm glad I didn't really bring anything because you're only allowed three duffels and a carry-on. The stuff the Army issues you takes up 2 3/4 duffels so you basically have room for a shaving kit and a bible. I'm not sure if you can bring more back than you brought but how many times have you gone somewhere for a year and didn't come back with more stuff? My plan is still to acquire a guitar while I'm there even if I have to give it away or sell it at the end. My goal is to write an albums worth of music while I'm over there and hook up with some guys I've played with back home and start a band. It's been my only dream since I was old enough to have dreams and I figure now's as good of time as any. So if any record labels or independently wealthy music lovers wants to fund our first tour leave me a comment.

The vacation with my family was awesome. We spent a few days at home, went to Disneyland and gave them all of our money, then spent a few more days at home. I know all the sappy stuff about cherishing your family and absence makes the heart grow fonder but I did have a great time. In normal life you have so many other things going on that compete for your attention. On this leave time I didn't let other things have my attention. We even told people that we couldn't have dinner with them or go out because we wanted to spend all of our time as a family. Thanks to those people for understanding. It was a fine line between worrying you were offending someone but really needing to spend the time as a family. Thanks to our friends for understanding.

The plan from here is to go to Kuwait for an undisclosed amount of time to do something I have not yet been told. Then, at another undisclosed time we will move to somewhere in Iraq by an undisclosed mode of transportation. That's how much I know about what the future holds. In fact I had to stretch some of it just to make a sentence. I'm sort of glad I don't know because how can you worry about something you don't know is coming.

I'll try to post as much as possible. I figure some pretty interesting things are about to happen so feel free to ask questions. Treat this as some sort of interactive journey where you can live vicariously through me. You don't get to be as good looking as me but you can pretend. Also you don't get a weapon, but so far you already have the same body armor I have.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Last Day of Leave

Tomorrow I have to go back to the Army. Blah. It's been great to be back with my family. We spent part of this leave at Disneyland and had a blast. Other than that we've seen friends and just hung out around the house. I took the kids hiking yesterday and went on a "tiger hunt". Although it was pretend my boy had some trouble going to sleep last night.

I'm not sure when I'll have a chance to post again. I fly back to Texas tomorrow and then to Kuwait on Monday. I'm not sure what will happen after that or what the communications options are. I'll try to post as often as possible. I'll probably write the posts off-line and then upload them when I get a chance. Also, it'll probably be a while before I have a good address again for mail. If you have my current one it's not good anymore. Anything you send to that address will either get lost or returned. If you know my wife or parents they should get the new address whenever I do. Mail of any kind is always appreciated. If you know any soldiers over there drop them a line. Mail is a real morale booster. Packages are even better. Go to google and search for packages for soldiers or anything like that. This will give you ideas for things to send. Snacks, books, magazines, and powdered drink mixes are always popular if you know what they like to read. There are companies out there that will sell you a pre assembled package and mail it for you if you're not sure what to send. Go to
for information on sending mail and packages to soldiers overseas.

That's about all I have here. The adventure is about to really get underway so stay tuned.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

It's Been a While

I know it's been a while since I blogged but it's been pouring rain for the last couple of days and the computer lab is a long walk. So here's what's been happening since last time. Nothing. The validation process proved to be the type of thing that's reinvented after every use. I did get validated mid day Tuesday, bought a ticket to fly home a few minutes after that, and am now writing to you from the comforts of my own home.

It was a happy reunion at the airport. I'm going to be home for about ten days and we're going to Disneyland for our first time as a family. I'm not sure who's more excited, my wife or my kids.

Remember the hotel fiasco? Well, the money finally caught up with me. The Army gave me about $1,200 more than what it actually cost me. I didn't realize this but if they don't provide you housing they will pay for your room plus give you a per diem. So they basically paid for my flight home and our trip to Disneyland.

At the risk of sounding like a preacher for two blogs in a row I have a question. What's the one thing in the Bible God says to test him in? Giving your tithe. The most miraculous part of this deployment has been our finances. With the change in income you naturally worry about money. We haven't had one problem with money that I know of. In fact, money has just been coming out of nowhere whenever we need it. Our church took up a collection before I left that made up the gap of the initial income change shock and then some. People from our church have been to the house to mow the lawn, fix some plumbing, babysit the kids. And now the Army was nice enough to give me the money to take my family on vacation before I head over to Iraq. I honestly think this is a direct result of our faithfulness in tithing. I'm not saying this to blow my own horn. I'm saying it to blow God's horn. I want you to view this as proof that God holds to his promises. When I share this story with people some of them say, " oh great, all I hear about church is give money, give money." It's not that at all. It's a test to see if I'm going to trust God with my money. Giving money has nothing to do with the church making money. Can I prove this? Yes. The amount of money the church gave my family the day before I left to go back into the Army was more than the total amount I had thithed in the whole year before. Business wise the church didn't make any money on the deal. So if the Bible talks about tithing only to make money that wouldn't have happened. If God is who he says he is, you know created the whole world and all, raised from the dead in three days, fed the five thousand, would he really need my money? No. It wouldn't mean anything to him. It's just a test to see if I'll be obedient when he asks me to give ten percent of my earnings to the church. Look at the returns he's given me. Anyway, give it a try, see what happens.

Well, I probably won't post to much while I'm on leave. For those of you tired of hearing me talk about God and the Bible stick around. I'm leaving for Iraq in less than two weeks and should have plenty of blood and guts and Army type stuff to post then. Should be something for everyone.