Monday, June 27, 2005

Thank You Mr. Congressman

I guess I should have started the last blog with something like, "This is me venting and has nothing to do with my well being." Everybody here is in the Army so I can't really let off steam about the Army to them. So every once in a while I let it out in the blog. I don't mean to come off as negative, just need to let out some steam so it doesn't stay bottled up. So let me start this blog off with, "This is me venting and has nothing to do with my well being."

There was an order put out today by my Brigade that says all E-7s and above and Officers will receive Bronze Stars for being here. It doesn't say all E-7s and above and Officers will receive a Bronze star for something meritorious, but just that you will receive one because you're an E-7 or above. Not only do I think this is ridiculous for the obvious reason that it wasn't earned, but because it cheapens it for anyone who received it before. It's like saying everyone who finishes the NBA season and played at least one game gets a ring. Or maybe anyone who can either add and subtract, or complete a sentence using more than three words will get the Nobel Peace Prize, as long as they show up to the awards ceremony. I think the only person in America that deserves a prize for "just showing up" is Ralph Nader. Other than that you should actually have to do something. Oh, and by the way, all you E-6s and below thanks for coming along for the ride but we don't really appreciate anything you've done for us in this war effort. Well, other than all the work you did so we could get one of the highest Army awards there is. And remember to stand perfectly still at attention while we receive our awards. Because one day, if you work real hard and risk your life, maybe you too can get an award for just showing up. *

* (working hard and risking life optional, not available in all ranks, void where prohibited by law, award has no cash value, hazardous if swallowed, may depreciate in prestige if given as a blanket award)

Man, did I say that out loud?

I can't for the life of me remember why I didn't re enlist the first time around.

Oh well, I'm better now. This place is getting to me though. I would like my money back please, this ride kind of stinks.

Moving on to more positive things. Even though my hours have increased at work I've been able to schedule the time I do have off a little more tightly. I've been able to write a few more songs and I've been working out in the gym regularly. It's a lot easier to work out when you have other people to work out with. My motivation is higher if there are other people involved. I have not been able to get to the computer very much though. One day my blog will say something witty and retrospective about this whole experience from the comforts of my own living room. It'll probably sum up the entirety of this whole deal and outline all the positives that have come from it. Until then you'll have to endure my near bi-polar swings from positive and encouraging to "I can't believe people who do things this stupid actually remember to keep breathing" moments. Notice I didn't say the people are stupid, just the things they do. One thing is sure and constant though. God has been with me every step of the way. He has never given me more than I can handle. He has definitely helped me laugh at myself on many occasions. He's given me the courage to look at death and destruction and move on. He's also given me peace through it all. Peace is a very precious commodity right now, and I have more than I need. If anyone needs a little extra peace I'll give it to you for 500 dinar. As a little quiz does anyone know how much 500 dinar is worth? Answer in the comments if you know. All I know is that I don't know how people without God go through stuff like this? You can say I'm weak and need a crutch to lean on like God. And I'd probably say you're right. In fact I'm so weak I can't even prop myself up to lean on the crutch in the first place. I need a boost just to get to the crutch. Good thing Jesus is there to lift me up off the ground.

Anyway, my sanity wanes and clarity of thought eludes me. Disregard most of what I say but believe me when I say God is there for anyone who will receive him. Depression, addictions, failures, Cowboys fans, it doesn't matter. I guarantee if you try God on for size he'll fit and you'll never be the same. I dare you to try it. I double dare you. I Triple Dog Dare You.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Dear Congressman and Tax Payers

Dear Congressman,

I would like to give you an update on the success of the IRR recall you authorized last year. I figure the best feedback you could use would be to compare the needs for the recall with the actual results of the recall. First and foremost the needs of the Army far outweigh any other form of logic in the known universe. It has always been this way and will always be this way. The recall was based on the needs the Army had in order to effectively and efficiently fight this war on terrorism. I am a patriot through and through and, if recalled again, would show up time and time again if the country needed me. However, the country doesn't need me. My job as a 98C Signals Intelligence Analyst is what is known as a "Critical MOS" (Military Occupations Specialty) There are just too few to fill all the slots the Army has. Since being recalled almost a year ago I have yet to even think about doing that job. Do you know what job I am doing now Mr. Congressman? I am guarding a detention facility, nay I am in charge of a detention facility. Not just any detention facility, but an Iraqi detention facility. I can count on Zero fingers the amount of training I've had to tackle such a sensitive assignment. I am the only American in the facility and ultimately responsible for the whole enchilada, or to be geographically correct the entire Kabob. The bulk of the job revolves around processing detainees on a computer. SO imagine my surprise when the American computer I was given to use was not compatible with the plugs in the Iraqi Prison. NO problem, they make adapters for just such instances. I went to our supply officer and asked for an adapter. I think the dialogue between us is best shared as it happened.

Eager to do the job I have no training for and have seen many of my fellow soldiers imprisoned themselves for not knowing the proper procedures I walk into the supply officer's office to request the adapter I need to plug the computer into the power at the detention facility.

"Sir, the computer I am required to use for my job needs an adapter to get power. Could I get one?"

"No, we don't have any, but you can go to Captain "Going to disappoint you" and he can give you money to buy one."

"Thanks Sir, I'll do just that."

knock knock "Sir I was told you may be able to help me get an adapter for the plug on the computer I have been ordered to use in a job I am completely unqualified for."

"Sure sergeant, you can buy them at the Haji shop here on post."

"Thanks Sir ,that is the most helpful advise I've ever gotten. I think you should be immediately promoted and lauded as the single most intelligent person on the face of the Earth. Could I get the money to carry out the most stupendous plan ever devised by a single person, ever?"

"No, you have to buy it yourself."

"I'm sorry Sir. I don't communicate on the same intellectual level you do, but I thought I heard you say I needed to pay for it myself?" I said as I had flashbacks of the time I was forced to pay for my own hotel room during the training for the job I'm not doing when the Army recalled me in the first place.

"That's right." He said with a dismissive wave as he turned his head to do whatever monumental world saving task he was tackling as I walked in.

"Sir, I'm not going to use my own money to fix a problem in a job the Army assigned me to do but didn't train me."

"That's fine."

"So, what your saying is I can sit there and read a book twelve hours a day, not do my job and it's OK because the Army isn't going to buy an adapter for the thousand dollar computer that will collect dust that the tax payers sacrificed and bought?"

"Yes, That's fine."

So to sum it all up the recall is working exactly as planned. Just like any other plan the military has devised as of yet. I just thought you might like the feedback for when you plan the draft.



Friday, June 17, 2005

Sweet Sleep

Oh sweet sleep, why dost thou elude me so? Dancing and flirting on the periphery of my consciousness, plying your wondrous wares just out of reach. Oh sweet sleep, why dost thou torment me so? Singing your sweet song in your barley audible tone for all but me. I would that thou wouldst open your bounty and pour your coveted gift upon my weary frame but for a moment. In your sweet comfort do I desire to be, embraced in your warm embrace but for a moment.

Alas, it is not to be.

You torment me with the promise of your sweet presence and then dash my hopes into a thousand pieces and cast them to the wind. You lull me with your sweet song, inviting me in only to turn a cold face as I approach. In vain I seek your comfort. In vain I wait for your rest. What must I do sweet sleep? What must I do? What price would suffice an exchange between us. Tell me now that I may pay it and be done. But trouble me no more cursed strumpet. I would that thou should leave me entirely than to tempt me to madness.

Alas, It is not to be.

Sweet sleep mocks me, laughs as it turns a deaf ear to my plea. Knowing my need and ignoring it all the same. I will hold out hope, no matter the cost. I shall one day find the embers of what we once had restoked to a blazing fire. Sweet sleep I will wait for your return. Oh yes, I will wait.

In other words I've been have trouble sleeping. Partly because of my roommate, and partly because I don't know why, I just can't sleep. I'll fall asleep for about a half hour and then I'm wide awake. I'll lay there, mad at my roommate for playing video games so late into the night, and hope sleep will come. It hasn't as of late. I talked with my roommate and he agreed to knock off earlier but I don't think that's the full problem. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Some Day

I've started to let myself think about going home. Up until very recently I've sort of ignored the fact that this deployment would end and I'd be home some day. Probably some sort of defense mechanism or something, but I've just denied myself the thoughts of going home. I haven't given up hope or anything, just sort of put it on pause. The plan to leave the end of September early October has stayed pretty steady so I guess I can count on it enough to start thinking ahead. Woo Hoo. That puts me right at about three months before my responsibilities are done and then how ever long it takes to get home and out of the Army. Not that that really matters because I've been out of the Army once before and they seemed to find me anyway. Three months will be over before I know it though.

There is still a big question as to how I'll actually get out of the Army. I didn't come here with the Brigade I'm attached to. I came along as what they call a filler. I just showed up and they put me where they wanted me. Which, oddly enough, had nothing to do with the reason I was recalled. They told us they recalled us for our job specialty but I have yet to even think about doing my real job. No matter though. I think God wanted me to be here for entirely different reasons. Anyway back to the subject at hand. When the brigade came here they sent most of their stuff earlier in conexes. You know those big semi trailer looking boxes that sit out behind Wal-Mart. I didn't get to though. I carried all my stuff with me from the start. So now I have four duffel bags and a footlocker worth of stuff and you're only allowed to take two duffel bags back. The rest you put in a conex that may or may not show up in the states three to six months after you get home. I don't plan on sticking around that long to get my stuff back just to turn into the Army. The problem is that the Army issued me all this junk and I don't turn it in until I'm back in the states. They still haven't come up with a plan to get all the fillers and their stuff back home. I'm sure there is a plan at a much higher level somewhere, it just hasn't trickled down to my level yet. I'm not too worried about it though. Worst case scenario I put all my Army gear in a conex with the rest of the Brigade and have them give me a hand receipt for it. That way when it's time to turn in my gear I can tell them it's on a ship somewhere and here's the paper to prove it. That way I don't have to carry any stuff around. However it works out I know it will work out. Everything has so far.

I got two DVDs in the mail yesterday. The first one was the second half of my family's Christmas. The second one has misc stuff about my kids. I watched the Christmas one last night and I'll probably watch the other one in a day or two. It was good to watch but it was really hard at times. I didn't realize how emotionally disconnected I'd become. Again, I'm sure it's just a defense mechanism but it was good to see the family and have feelings for them. I think it'll be pretty easy to get back into the swing of family life. I've been fortunate in that I've had internet access pretty much everywhere I've been. I've been able to talk and instant message my family almost daily. Unlike the previous wars our country has had I've been able to sort of stay a part of my family's daily life in a small way. I hope that will help the reunion go a little smoother.

Just a few short months left, and there isn't a better time to leave Iraq than in the summer. It's been getting hotter each day. I think we were around 116 today. It's been really dusty too. There have been probably three or four dust storms in the last two weeks. You know the saying back in the States "Yeah, but it's a dry heat"? Well I think with the heat and the dust there should be a saying in Iraq, "Yeah, but it's a chewy heat." Not too much longer and I'll be able to take a shower without shower shoes, go to the bathroom in something other than a 200 degree green plastic box, Eat food that requires more than boiling to prepare, sleep in a room where nobody snores, nobody plays video games until 2 o'clock in the morning, and someone (not me) thinks they are a drummer so they slam drumsticks on their bed and stomp their feet as hard as they can on the floor for two to three hours at a time no matter how nicely you request them to stop and you feel the only options you have are to sleep outside or just shoot them and shooting them looks more attractive simply because your rifle is much closer than outside is, and the place I live doesn't smell like urine. Not to mention no longer worrying about being blown up, shot, kidnapped, tortured, catching some terrible disease from the water, or having to shoot merging traffic because they won't stop, or wondering which of the Iraqis are actually on your side or on the insurgent's side but the only way you'll ever know is if they shoot you or try to blow you up, or worrying that every car on the road is a bomb waiting to blow your convoy off the road. You know, just the simple things in life. That's all I ask. And you know what, some day I'll have it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

What's up my Homey?

I know I haven't posted lately but it's been busy. Not the non stop busy that makes you pull your hair out, but just little spurts of busy throughout the day. Before I know it it's the middle of the night and I need to go to sleep. It's a good tempo though, it's making the days fly by. I don't really have anything important to say, I don't even have any witty garbage to fill a page. So I figure I'll just give you a few little tid bits of what I've been up to.

The weather is getting hotter. It's been about 108-109 with peaks around 112. I know it's going to get even hotter though. The summer where I live in the states gets into the low hundreds in the summer, but I expect 120-130 here when it really kicks in. The bugs are unbelievable. I counted the bites on my arms just now so I could give you a count. Right arm 27 left arm somewhere around 42. The left arm is harder to tell because there is this one little concentrated area on my elbow that I think a tiny bug landed on while I was sleeping last night and just went to town. The space is maybe two inches by two inches and there's around 20 bites just in that area. They're small and itchy and hard to count one from the next. Good news is that, unbeknownst to me, the Army has exterminators. In fact it was one of the guys I got recalled with and went through the initial training. He was spraying the common areas and I talked him into feeling sorry for a fellow IRR soldier and he sprayed our room today. Hopefully that helps. Between the bugs and the heat I haven't been sleeping very much, maybe 2-3 hours a night. I think that will change though. I cleaned the filter in the AC and we shut it off for a few hours today. Once I took the filter out we noticed that most of the inside of the unit was iced over. We let it thaw out and now it's really kicking some cold air. My hope is that the combination of spray and AC will chase the bugs away. These bugs aren't like American bugs. They know when you're swatting them away and when you're actually trying to kill them. The flys will let you touch them if they think you aren't trying to kill them. If they're on the table at dinner or something like that you can actually push them out of the way, but if you swing at them they'll fly away for a second. They're not shy like American flys. American fly are puny compared to these. I actually saw a fly give me the wing the other day.

I've been hitting the gym again too. I had started when I first got to Liberty but quickly faded out when I got my guitar. My energy level is a lot higher now that I'm working out again. We try to get into the gym 5 days in a row and then rest one to two days depending on what's going on. We've been playing a lot of basketball too. The people that know me know that I'm terrible at basketball, but it's different here. We play with the Iraqis who only know how to play soccer, and the goal is only eight and a half feet tall. It's really a cardio workout coupled with a few shots and a lot of laughs. It gets really intense though. It's fun.

I started e-mailing my company back in the States to give them a heads up that I should be back towards the end of the year. I also needed some information from them to plan my return. It's not going as smoothly as I had hoped but I know the whole shootin match is in God's hands and it'll all work out how it's supposed to.

Speaking of God, there's a Chapel here but no Chaplin. There's supposed to be a Chaplin here on Tuesdays from Liberty, but he's never made it here so far. He does come on different days sometimes but you don't know about it until he's here and ready for the service. So far I've only caught him once, and I was the only one in there. That particular time it was a Chaplin from a very formal background so instead of being like a one on one service he still conducted it very formally. It was a little odd, but a time to worship anyway. My wife and I are reading the same book of the Bible. It was her idea and we only started it this past week. I wish we would have thought of it sooner, not the reading part but the reading together part. I have been reading my Bible. Anyway, I really miss my home Church.

This deployment has really been just about as good as I could have hoped. Even still it's really wearing on me. I'm ready to be done with it. You know how in your job you can at least go home from it at the end of the day and get a little time from it. You can't in war. There really is no time that your not protecting yourself and your friends, or looking for the best spot to take cover if you're attacked, or looking at everyone around you and wondering if they're going to try to kill you, or wondering if that pothole is really just a pothole or if there's a bomb in it. It's not the actual fighting that wears you down, it's the anticipation of being killed while you're not fighting. At least in a fight you have a general idea who to shoot, or in what direction to shoot. It's the everyday wondering if a mortar is going to come over the wall, or a rocket. Now that we're in a FOB that we share with the Iraqi Army there's a lot of people walking around not in American uniforms. The problem is that they don't always wear the Iraqi uniform either. So now you have the added stress of trying to trust these guys, trying to get them to trust you, and here's this guy in civilian clothes with a vest on and you don't know if he's friendly or a suicide bomber. Those are the things that wear on me the most. In addition to this at the end of the day you don't clock out and go home to the Family. You do more of the same. You wonder what the explosions outside are, are they close enough I need to worry? Was that outgoing artillery or incoming? It's always there and you can never get away from it. A few more months and it'll all be over. In all actuality after a while you sort of ignore the explosions and the stuff that's not happening right around you. There's nothing you can do about it anyway. Keep focused on your job and trust that the guys around you are doing the same thing and it should be alright.

Well, that's about all I've got to say. I didn't really even plan on saying that much but it just sort of came out.

Thanks for all the e-mails and letters and packages. I can't tell you how much of a morale boost that stuff is. A letter or an e-mail or a package from home can turn even the worst day around.

Now that I've depressed you all you should go outside and take a deep breath of fresh air, or drink the non diseased water, or get a cookie out of the cupboard or use your running water and electricity, or make fun of George Bush or do any of these things just because your free and you can, and know that America is the best freaking place to live in the whole world bar none.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Room

Have you ever read a book or listened to a song, or heard a speech or sermon and said, "Man, that's exactly right, I've always known that, I've always thought that but I've never been able to put it into words." My wife forwarded an e-mail to me today. I have no idea where she got it, but it was one of those "Right On" type of things. I do the same thing most people do with forwarded e-mails. If it's not something with funny pictures or from someone who wants me to see a specific thing I delete it. Everyone does. I think it's one of the main reasons the delete key was invented. You did it with paper junk mail before computers, and you do it with electronic mail now. This one, however, was different. This entry says a lot of things I've tried to say or wanted to say but wasn't smart enough to put the words together correctly. So far my blog has been viewed over 7000 times. This is much more than I had thought it would be. The majority of it has been my experiences from the war and I've had a great time writing it. This entry is the one I hope people read if they only read one entry. It sums everything up in one short, powerful, concise story without all the extra fluff. I'll just let it speak for itself.

17-year-old Brian Moore had only a short time to write
something for a class. The subject was what Heaven was like. "I
wowed 'em," he later told his father, Bruce. "It's a killer.
It's the bomb. It's the best thing I ever wrote." It also was
the last.
Brian's parents had forgotten about the essay when a cousin
found it while cleaning out the teenager's locker at Teary Valley
High School.
Brian had been dead only hours, but his parents desperately
wanted every piece of his life near them-notes from classmates and
teachers, his homework.
Only two months before, he had handwritten the essay about
encountering Jesus in a file room full of cards detailing every
moment of the teen's life. But it was only after Brian's death
that Beth and Bruce Moore realized that their son had described
his view of heaven.
"It makes such an impact that people want to share it. You
feel like you are there." Mr. Moore said.
Brian Moore died May 27, 1997, the day after Memorial Day.
He was driving home from a friend's house when his car went off
Bulen-Pierce Road in Pickaway County and struck a utility pole.
He emerged from the wreck unharmed but stepped on a downed power
line and was electrocuted.
The Moores framed a copy of Brian's essay and hung it among
the family portraits in the living room. "I think God used him to
make a point. I think we were meant to find it and make something
out of it, " Mrs. Moore said of the essay. She and her husband
want to share their son's vision of life after death. "I'm happy
for Brian. I know he's in heaven. I know I'll see him.
Brian's Essay: The Room...

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself
in the room. There were no distinguishing features except for the
one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the
ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in
alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor
to ceiling and seemingly endless in either direction, had very
different headings. As I drew near the wall of files, the first
to catch my attention was one that read "Girls I have liked." I
opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly
shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on
each one. And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was.
This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog
system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every
moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn't match. A
sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within
me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content.
Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and
regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if
anyone was watching.
A file named "Friends" was next to one marked "Friends I have
betrayed." The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright
weird. "Books I Have Read," "Lies I Have Told," "Comfort I have
Given," "Jokes I Have Laughed at." Some were almost hilarious in
their exactness: "Things I've yelled at my brothers." Others I
couldn't laugh at: "Things I Have Done in My Anger", "Things I
Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents." I never ceased to
be surprised by the contents.
Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes
fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the
life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my
years to fill each of these thousands or even millions of cards?
But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own
handwriting. Each signed with my signature.
When I pulled out the file marked "TV Shows I have watched",
I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards
were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn't
found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the
quality of shows but more by the vast time I knew that file
represented. When I came to a file marked "Lustful Thoughts,"
I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an
inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I
shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such
a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me.
One thought dominated my mind: No one must ever see these cards!
No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!" In insane
frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn't matter now. I
had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end
and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single
card. I became desperate and pulled out a card only to find it as
strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly
helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead
against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh.
And then I saw it.. The title bore "People I Have Shared the
Gospel With." The handle was brighter than those around it, newer,
almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more
than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the
cards it contained on one hand.
And then the tears came. I began to weep.. Sobs so deep
that they hurt. They started in my stomach and shook through me.
I fell on my knees and cried. I cried out of shame, from the
overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in
my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I
must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the
tears, I saw Him.
No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I
watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the
cards. I couldn't bear to watch His response. And in the moments
I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper
than my own.
He seemed to intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He
have to read every one? Finally He turned and looked at me from
across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this
was a pity that didn't anger me. I dropped my head, covered my
face with my hands and began to cry again. He walked over and put
His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He
didn't say a word. He just cried with me.
Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at
one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to
sign His name over mine on each card. "No!" I shouted rushing to
Him. All I could find to say was "No, no," as I pulled the card
from Him. His name shouldn't be on these cards. But there it was,
written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus
covered mine. It was written with His blood.
He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and
began to sign the cards. I don't think I'll ever understand how
He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him
close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand
on my shoulder and said, "It is finished." I stood up, and He led
me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were
still cards to be written.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."-Phil.
4:13 "For God so loved the world that He gave His only son,
that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal