Sunday, February 27, 2005

FOB Mahmudiah

As with all good relationships there are always things to learn about your partner. In the contiuing relationship I have struck up with the port-o-podies there are still lessons to be learned. For instance, just because all the port-o-podies I've used so far have a urinal on the left wall doesn't mean all the port-o-podies I will ever use have a urinal on the left wall. So, when I walk into one in the middle of the night and think I'm aiming at the urinal on the left wall, it may just be the left wall. Note to self, always use flashlight.

My time at FOB Mahmudiah has been great so far. It's like what I thought war would be like with all the tents and no amenities. Believe it or not it's been the best time I've had so far. There is one stiking discovery we made today though. Before we showed up the place was all Marines. Well, they have a contract with the people that come in and do the laundry. The contract is with the Marines only though. We went to take our laundry today and were greated by the soup Nazi from the Seinfeld show. Only he was shorter and arab, and he doesn't make soup. He does laundry. He said, in his broken english, "No laundry for you!". When questioned further his response was a firm but afraid "No laundry for you!" Appearantely his repertoire was exhausted, and he is afraid of angry Americans with guns. So we did what any kind hearted soldier liberating someone elses country would do, We put our laundry bags down and locked and loaded on him. No, we didn't, but that would have been a great picture. You know how when you buy a used car from someone it's used for them but just like new for you. I wonder if the same holds true for underwear? Anyway, I hope they figure something out. I did the math and I could only change my uniform every 11 days, my shirt every 6 days, and my underwear and socks every 4.2 days to make it to the end with a full bag of dirty laundry and a fully used uniform on my stinky body when we left here. Doable? Yes. Desirable? No. Oh yeah, the contract for the water to be trucked in for the showers, same story. That one should be worked out though.

In other news, I love it here. It's more the work environment than the setting. I'm really contributing to the war effort here and I'm much happier. I've taken pictures but they don't let you upload stuff here. I'll have to go to the pay side and upload some pictures soon. Did I tell you about the Snickers bars here? The Snickers here are the best Snickers I've ever eaten. We think it's because of the high fat content in the dairy products they use here. The unanimous conclusion is that Middle Eastern Snickers could beat the crap out of the North American Snickers with one creamy nouget tied behind it's back. mmmm Snickers.

Alright, I'll post again as soon as I get a chance. It sure was convienient when I had internet access in my room. The trade off in level of satisfaction is worth it though.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I'm Here

Well, I'm here at beautiful FOB (Forward Operating Base) St. Michael near the thriving metropolis of Mahmudiyah Iraq. For a paltry sum you too can have your own tent, along with thirteen other guys, and miles and miles of lush desert landscape. And, if the cooks aren't on guard duty, they might even have food for you.

Actually I love it here. It's like the real Army. Tents and cots and MREs. Best of all, no changing spaces into underscores. We got here a few days ago and have been working non stop to set everything up. The first day we took it easy and only worked 15 hours. Yesterday we hit it hard and worked 17. Now that it's all set up we'll fall back into our 12 on 12 off schedule, but there aren't enough guys to have days off here. I haven't stopped smiling since we got here though. Satisfaction is found more in your work environment than it is with comforts. I love it here.

The tents do have a heater/airconditioning unit in them. The first night got down to about 40 outside, but we couldn't figure out how to turn the AC off so it was probably in the thirties inside. Good thing I brought my sleeping bag. The contractors came to fix it last night but I guess it'ss all the way broken now. Oh, there are two internet cafes here. One is run by the Army and is free to use, the other is run by a Local Guy and costs $2.00 an hour. I thought I was in the free one but I, just at this moment, found out I'm in the $2.00 one. Oh, well, live and learn. This place is starkly different than Camp Victory. Camp Victory is bigger than some cities in the States. I could probably throw a baseball from one corner to the other here. Along with the small size comes a proportionate lack of amenities. However, there is a place to sleep, a place to eat, a place to shower, and internet service, a place to play my guitar, and my old boss is nowhere to be found. What more could you really ask for. We should be here for 6-8 weeks and then we'll go back to Camp Victory. My hope is that someone else will be sucked into my old position and then when I get back I can do my real job. We'll see what happens. I'll post some more pictures in a few days. Now that I'm understanding this internet cafe it looks like you can bring your own computer and hook it up. Good thing I brought mine.

Well, I better not run up a tab so I'll post another bolg and some pictures in a few days.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

On the Road Again, Again

I'll be moving for the fourth time this week. I volunteered for this move though. Can't really say too much about it until after the fact but I can give a few details. I'll either be living in a tent, or these little plywood room things that they've built. There is internet access but not from your room. You can eat chow as many times as you want, only they spell it differently. They spell it MRE. Oh, yeah, it's the rainy season here right now and our living area in a big depression. All this and they even pay you. What a deal. Seriously, I'm excited about the move. I haven't really felt like I've contributed since I've been here. Well there was that one time on the 13th of February. I even marked it on the calendar at work. My boss didn't think it was funny. She doesn't really think anything is funny, especially the fact that I volunteered to go to this new assignment and She's going to have to actually come to work during the days. I really think I'll be able to contribute at this new thing. It's only for a few weeks and then back to the grind. However, there is a rumor floating on the breeze that when I get back from this little vacation in the mud someone else will be in my job and I'll move again to the place they actually do my real job. We'll see what happens. I'd like it if that happened.

Was that last paragraph as hard to follow as it was to write. I'll clear up all the details after we've moved. Don't want anyone planning an attack based on my blog. Once I'm there I'll probably be just as safe as I am right now.

We did have some fun the other night. It was a little slow around evening chow time so Me and two other guys decided to go to the Corps chow hall instead of ours. We'd heard stories about it like it was some magical wonderland where all your dreams come true. When you live in the desert during a war chow is about all you have to look forward to so it tends to take on mythical qualities at times. Anyway, we mounted our trusty Humvee and drove the fifteen or twenty minutes to the area we knew it was in and conducted a "tactical dismounted patrol" in search of the chow hall holy grail. When we walked through the door or quest was rewarded with culinary treasures only dreamed of by mortal men. There were booths you could sit in like real restaurant, and fresh pies for dessert. The lines we like 2 seconds long compared to the 10-20 minute lines in our chow hall. I'm not sure but I think I even saw little chow hall fairies dancing and flying singing songs of pure delight. I wanted to stay there for the rest of my life. Well, until I was done eating anyway. Like all things in the military, the closer you get to the flag pole the nicer the amenities.

I posted a few pictures in the Texas section of the photo album, and I'm almost done with the Camp Slayer section. I'll update the album in a few hours when all the pictures have posted. With this new move I'm not sure when the next time I'll be able to post is so don't worry if you don't hear from me for a while.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Did He Really Do That?

My internet connection has been very sporadic lately. I mean to post more pictures, but I can't keep the connection going long enough to upload them. I'll try some more tonight.

Warning, this blogs is not for the squeamish. Do not read on a full stomach.

Yesterday I was sitting in my office working and talking to a guy who just got back from a 4 day pass to Quatar. I was asking him about what there was to do and if he had a good time. I'm the kind of person who likes to maintain eye contact during a conversation. You know that whole non verbal communications thing. Well, this guy had a whole different set of non verbal communication skills. As we're talking he keeps flirting with the edge of his nose. So I'm listening to him but in my mind pleading with him not to take the next inevitable step. Well it happened, he goes in and picks a winner. I can tell by the content of what he's saying that the conversation isn't even close to over. Oh well, everybody picks their nose though right? But there's more. As he's talking, he's rolling it in his fingers and looking at it without missing a beat in the conversation. I'm still listening but wishing I could leave or that he'd just get rid of it. You know the old saying be careful what you wish for you just might get it. Well I got my wish. He got rid of it. Right into his mouth. I know you may be thinking I'm making this up but I'm not. At this point I have no clue what he's saying. I'm still struggling to maintain eye contact, but all I can think is I just saw a 40 something year old man eat the fruits of his labor. So as I'm struggling with the notion to just feign unconsciousness to escape this conversation, or just be polite and trude through. But it gets worse, oh yes, it gets worse. How you ask, just listen.

Apparently his nose was sufficiently stripped of all nourishment so he starts to pick at what must be a sore or a scab on his head. Not just a scratch, or a rub, But a full fledged get your fingernail caught in the cracks kind of picking. This goes on for a good 10 to 15 picks when whatever it is comes loose from his head and is now in his fingers. As per his normal practice (I assume) he starts to roll the whatever it is in his fingers. Now I'm desperate. I have to terminate the conversation or .....NO, HE DIDN'T. Oh yes, he did. Just like you'd take a piece of pop corn and tilt your head back and pop that sucker in, he did. He tossed the whatever it is into his mouth. Now, it didn't go right down mind you, he chewed it for the rest of the conversation.

I'm not really sure what he did in Quatar, or what he said during the conversation, but I haven't been hungry since. And, before anyone asks, I didn't get any pictures to add to the album.

On a different note, I will be moving again, this time I volunteered. I know you're not supposed to volunteer in the Army ,but it was for the better. I'll fill you in the next installment. Right now I have to go try to scrub the stomach turning images that have been forever burned into my retinas.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Photo Album

Alright blog fans, you asked and I delivered. On the right side of this page just below the archives should be a link that says Photo Album. Click that puppy and see if it works. When I tried it tonight it was a little slow to load, but be patient. I only loaded pictures on the pages called "Kuwait" and "Baghdad". I have more but I'm getting tired. I'll put some more up in the next few days. I'm pretty proud that I figured it out in the first place. It turned out better than I had hoped. I actually had to learn some HTML to be able to do it. If you don't know what that is don't worry. It's the magic that lets you click on a word and bring up my photo album. I'll add more photos in the next few days. If you have anything you are curious about here ask and I'll take a picture of it if I can.

Health and Welfare

Right now I am sitting in my room waiting for what the Army calls a "Health and Welfare". In laymans terms a room inspection. They say it is to make sure your room is clean and healthy. What they really mean is to make sure you don't have anything you're not supposed to. So, I'll gladly sit here instead of at work and wait for them to come around and inspect my room.

Our Family Readiness group sent me a Birthday present today. It was quite a surprise especially since it's not my birthday. In fact it's almost as far from my birthday as you can get without getting closer to my birthday. It was a nice thought though. They gave me a pillow case with an iron on picture of an eagle flying past a flag and below that is an iron on patch with my name, spelled incorrectly of course. They did give me an AAFES gift certificate. That the PX or BX systems on all the military posts. They accept them here at the PX, so that's nice.

Well, the Health and Welfare is officially over. They just stood in the room and looked around and left. So that will conclude this episode of a day in the life of an IRR Soldier. Tune in next time for another exciting installment sure to add joy and fulfillment to your life and mine.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Look Before You Leap

Look before you leap doesn't only apply to jumping and making decisions. It also applies to using port-o-podies. Since I work noon to midnight it's dark for more than half of my shift. There's a row of port-o-podies in front of our building and good old pot-o-pody number two is my particular favorite. The lock works for one thing, also it's not the first one in the row so fewer people pull on the door to check if it's unlocked while you're in it. For tactical reasons there aren't any lights anywhere so it's pretty dark out everywhere. I have a small flashlight I carry around for just such occasions. There are many times you have to wipe the seat off before settling in to do your business. That's just an accepted part of the game. However, you don't usually have to scoop the seat off if you catch my drift. I can understand missing number one, but how do you miss number two? You don't even have to aim? Physics and anatomy make it sort of a given that the deposit will end up in the correct account. How could you possibly miss? Well, someone did. Good old port-o-pody number two is now good old port-o-pody number two for an entirely different reason.

Well, I've been piddling around with the photo album idea and I think it's solved. I have to upload the pictures now but the structure is there. Look at the side bar where the archive are in the next few days for a link you can click to open the photo album. I'm not promising any Pulitzer prize winning stuff here, but I hope you enjoy it. Can you win a Pulitzer for photography, or is it just for journalism? Anyway, it'll be there in a few days. My internet connection has been slow and cutting out the past few days.

I'm starting to get a complex. I've been here for about four months and have had three different rooms. Each room mate has left for one reason or another. Now my new room mate is going to move out. I'm not too broken up though. There is an extra blanket that was in the room when we moved in, so I'm going to make the other bed so it looks like someone lives here. That way if they come through to do any maintenance they'll think there's two guys in here. Having your own room is a good thing if you like to play guitar. My room mate sleeps about 52 hours a day. Every time I'm here he's asleep. Now maybe I can play some more guitar. I've got about four songs toward the album so far. I'm not sure they're all keepers but it's a start anyway.

I'm gonna go work on the photo album now. Let me know what you think once it's up.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Moving Day Take Three and Mardi Gras

I've been a little busy since I got back from leave. Most notably I've moved into my third room in as many months. The problem with this move was that nobody told me until the person moving into my room was knocking on the door. This is one I'll never figure out. I had to pack all of my stuff up and move into the room of the person that moved into my room. Did you catch that. We just swapped rooms. What's the point. There were about 20 people involved in a room shuffle and I just traded rooms with someone. Why not just leave us alone? That was one of the dumbest things I've had to do so far until I got to work yesterday. My task for the whole 12 hour shift, and I'm still not even halfway done, was to go to all the file names on our computer and take out any spaces and replace them with an underscore. If that's not contributing to the war effort I don't know what is. I thought maybe it was some formatting thing so people could search our files easier or something. No, that's just a new naming convention my boss wants to implement and thought we should do it to all the files. If any congressmen are reading this and you're wondering if recalling the IRR is helping the war effort you can be rest assured that if I wasn't changing spaces to underscores we would most definitely lose the war.

Yesterday was also my first taste of Mardi Gras. The unit I'll attached to is from South Louisiana and they organized a Mardi Gras parade around the camp. The decorated vehicles and dressed up in stuff people had sent from back home. They threw beads and everything. It was pretty cool. This coincided with what is probably the largest morale boost here so far. There was a superbowl party tonight here on the camp. General order number 1 makes it illegal to drink alcohol, which doesn't matter because there isn't any to drink. Well, Anheuser Busch donated 120,000 bottles of Budweiser and chartered a plane into Baghdad to transport it. Every soldier could go to a table they had setup and slide your ID card to get 2 bottles of Bud. I don't drink so I gave mine away, but you could see the morale rise as guys were drinking "real" beer. They have non-alcoholic beer in the chow halls but hardly anyone drinks it. They say it's terrible. So the combination of Mardi Gras, Superbowl, and beer made for one Americanized good time on Camp Victory last night. You could almost see the mullets grow as visions of motorcycles and bass boats twinkled in every eye.

This morning I was startled by a knock on the door and four foreign men standing over me as I woke up. KBR, the people that maintain the sleeping quarters here, came to clean the little air conditioner/heater unit in my trailer. They didn't knock and then let me answer the door. They knocked after they unlocked the door and were stepping into the trailer. So here I am in my underwear in the little 4ftx10ft space I live in with four other guys in muddy coveralls trying to get some clothes on and get out of their way. All of this in the first few seconds of waking up. I considered getting my rifle but thought that wouldn't really help the situation any. So it's three hours before I actually have to get up but I can't go back to sleep. Guess I'll go take a shower and get this day started. You can never get too early of a start when your changing spaces into underscores.

It's supposed to get down to 30 degrees here on Thursday. We haven't seen temperatures that low here yet. Of course it's raining and our humvee is broken down.

One of the Floats Posted by Hello

Another float Posted by Hello

Mardi Gras Girl Posted by Hello

Chow Hall Parade Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Back to Baghdad

Well I'm back. I didn't anticipate this but it's actually sort of a relief to be back. Not a relief to be here instead of home but just to finally be back after traveling. You know that feeling you have when you come home from a vacation and open your door and just breathe a sigh of relief. It's like that. It's comfortable to get back to a routine. I've said it before but these are the nicest port-o-podies in the world. Honestly I've never seen cleaner. The two days I spent in Kuwait were port-o-pody hell. They were stinky, dirty, and never had toilet paper. That may be OK in the Middle East culture but I prefer toilet paper. I left the west coast of the United States at 6:30 a.m. on Jan 28th. I unlocked the door to my trailer at about 11:00 p.m. on February 1st. I spent two days in Dallas TX and two days in Camp Doha Kuwait with a stop over in Rhein-Main Air Base Germany in the middle. The delays weren't bad, just one more day not in Baghdad. But it was settling to get back to my familiar surroundings at Camp Victory. When my unit picked me up from the airport they told me I didn't have to go into work the next day (today). That was nice, it helped me finish turning the time around from the 11 hour difference. The flight from the States to Kuwait was nice. It was a huge commercial plane with stewardesses and food and everyone got their own row. I picked the center row that was four seats wide so I could lay down and sleep. The two hour flight from Kuwait to Baghdad on a C-130 was the worst part of the whole trip. You sit sideways in a row of "Lawn chair couches" with the legs of the guy facing you right between your legs touching your seat. You're just woven together like a human watch wrist band. The worst part is the seats are just a piece on Nylon slung between two aluminum poles. If that flight was one minute longer I'm convinced my butt cheeks would have fused together.

There seems to be a feeling of validation around camp from the elections. Like what we're doing here actually has some purpose. Some estimates I've heard have participation in the elections at 70+ percent. Could you imagine if we had that much participation in the States. Do you think the campaign strategies would change if the candidates expected everyone to come out and vote? Anyway, in a weird way it's good to be back. I'd rather be home, but if I have to be here, here's not so bad.

When I got back they told me my room mate wasn't coming back at all. He's still in Texas and has to have back surgery. I heard from Kentucky a few weeks back. He's in Iraq now with his unit but that's about all I know. I'll e-mail him shortly and ask him for more details. Then I'll ask him if he cares if I share them. I know his wife was reading the blog early on but I haven't heard from her in a while.

So, since I didn't have to work today and my room mate isn't coming back I think I'll rearrange the room a little bit. He had about 2/3 the space and I had the other 1/3 with his refrigerator and the cleaning supplies on my side. I think I'll go for a little more 50-50. Also, since I only really got to play my Christmas guitar that one day I think I'll have a little "Rock the 'a little bit closer to freedom' world" day. Check out the "Raise Your Goblet of Rock" post if that didn't make any sense.

I found a way to post links to a photo album here on the blog but it didn't work exactly like I thought. It gave the viewer (you) access to change and post pictures which didn't sound like a good idea to me. My wife said she didn't think anyone would care about pictures. If that's the case I won't try anymore options, but if you'd like to see pictures leave some comments and I'll check out some more options.

Well, that's about all the news I've got. Let me know in the comments if you'd like to know anything else I never talk about. I'd also like to use this blog to give people answers to what they're curious about concerning life over here.