Did you know that being married is like being nibbled to death by a duck?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Carry On My Wayward Bulldozer, There Will Be Peace Down Under

Ok, the last couple of weeks is a bit of a blur, sot this one is going to be quick and dirty.

When I left Iraq, I was having trouble sleeping due to nightmares involving bulldozers. It's a long story that will be recounted soon enough, but suffice to say for now that when one gets stuck in a marsh near the Tigris, it's not exactly an easy fix to get it out. The lesson to be learned here is to call for an extraction crew when it gets stuck, rather than after 3 unsuccessful hours of trying to extricate it. I mean, seriously, what's the worse that could happen if you call early for help? You get it out and tell them to not come? Whoa, that's crazy talk. And definitely not the Army Way. Instead, we turn what could be a good idea -- flame throwers and heavy equipment are mega-cool, right? -- and turn it into a 17 hour version of The Oscars: a lot of glamor, but no substance and poor execution. And way too few Sean Penns on fire. Have you ever used a flame thrower? I haven't either, and after seeing one in person, I am, to say the least, hugely disappointed. Perhaps my vision of another Sodom & Gomorrah was a little presumptuous...

But all is better now, because I am relaxing for my two weeks of leave on the warm, Sunshine Coast of Australia. It is a wonderful place where people talk all funny and don't know how to use a correct system of measurement to save their lives. Seriously, "liters of petrol." What the blarney... Get with the times, mates. And I'm about tired already of trying to cross a road on foot and nearly getting run over for not looking the "right way." I'll show you the right bloody way...

I do think, having seriously studied the idea, that the Army should grant me extra leave to study the effects of American Soldiers on....Australian.... girls. Yeah. That sounds right. I think an extra, say... 16 weeks should cover it? Call your Congressman. I think I've got something here.

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Aches and Pains of Bichegan.

Yes, that is really a place name here. Whether it came from a huge fan of the state which actually claims Detroit as its own or from someone too retarded to spell – or speak – it correctly, I do not know. What I do know is that when a semi-retarded guy who lives in the village of “Bichegan” tells you that he has a weapons cache to take you to, take heed, for it is probably a waste of your time. At least it was for me, as we waited many, many, many hours after we found this “cache” for EOD to come and take it. And all I get for my troubles is a neck with lightning bolt shots of pain arching down it for my trouble. At some point in the past year I believed that my previous injury wouldn’t bother me that bad if all I were doing was wearing body armor. Well, shame on me, I say. Shame on me.

That is all for now. Too much pain for me to continue to write. I will attempt to spin a wonderful version of today’s non-events when I am feeling better. Toodles.

Oh Those Golden Hills

November 28, 2008. Yet another trip to the area known as Golden Hills. This is the same general neighborhood where I “walked” my first mission, and also the one place in this particular AO (Area of Operations) that has the biggest potential to kick off in an orgy of violence at any given moment. Today I wasn’t walking, however. I was back to my regular spot in the gun turret of our Humvee. While it isn’t the most exciting place to be at this point in the war, it does give me a better view of the countryside and, on days like today, helps create a burning desire within me to kick small children in the chest.

It works like this: our vehicles pull into a neighborhood and set up 360 degree security. Then everyone except the drivers and gunners of each vehicle dismount and do whatever it is that particular day’s mission calls for – usually talking to sheiks and local leaders about general concerns. If this happens to be in a regular neighborhood where families live, it is then the job of the children to come out to the vehicles and harass soldiers by begging for whatever it is that pops into their cute little minds. And in case you are picturing a bunch of cute little street urchins similar to what could be pulled from the pages of a Dickens novel, scratch that thought. I would sooner draw a parallel to a horde of Urokai from Lord of the Rings.

Don’t get me wrong, the kids mean well and they are always very happy to see American Soldiers. They wave and laugh and are eager to talk to us. They are also eager to beg for…anything. And everything. But mostly pens. Man oh man do they ever want pens. Why, I do not know. And if you gave them each a pen, it would be about four seconds before they asked for another one. As another soldier remarked, we could open an Office Depot on every street and there still wouldn’t be enough pens for these little rapscallions. But they will take other stuff, too. Oh yes, they would be more than happy for some food. Or candy. Or water. Or bullets. I had one small boy today ask – by way of pantomime – if I could shoot at his feet while he ran away with the machine gun. Sure, I could see that being fun and in no way dangerous or counterproductive to our mission here. But that doesn’t stop them from asking. Repeatedly. And regardless of whatever answer was given them. I was probably asked for pens and candy no less than fifty times by the same kids. Persistent little buggers, I tell ya. What’s funny is their reaction to us saying no; a frown, followed by approximately four seconds of pouting, and then some sort of time-matrix, worm-hole phenomenon occurs and it goes back to the beginning where they ask the question as if it is for the first time. Scientists could make millions by studying this, I am sure.

What I find most interesting is that the parents allow this to happen. I am not amazed about allowing children to ask strangers for free goods (in the U.S. we call this “welfare”); I am intrigued by the concept that a foreign Army has vehicles on your street with machine guns manned by guys who are dressed like urban-camouflaged Storm Troopers and the guardians of these children see no problems in allowing them pester the soldiers to no end. Let’s suppose that the Russians had invaded the United States. After a few years of being there, they pull their vehicles into your neighborhood to talk to your local police chief who they have helped put in power. The soldiers pulling security are on edge due to years of danger, they are in a bad mood from not enough sleep and wearing indescribably uncomfortable gear, and they are itching to unleash thousands of rounds of ammunition upon any possible threat. Do you as a parent tell your child A) ”go and play on the other side of the street, away from the big scary guys with guns,” or B) “go ask those soldiers for everything on their body and in their truck, and if they say no, cry for a second and then ask again. A lot. Over and over. Then get mad at them when they say no and point at their guns and make fun of them.” Seriously, what the hell?

Perhaps it is that, after the regime of Saddam and a threat of al Qaeda, nothing scares them. Maybe they know that Americans are good guys with “rules” they actually obey. Or it could be the culture, the Middle East has known so much war and they place so much emphasis on the Will of Allah that they figure, “hey, let the kids play with that bomb. They will live if they are meant to.” Hence the phrase “imsh Allah,” which means, in essence, “if God wills it” follows nearly every sentence in a conversation. But whatever it is, this is a land of children with no fear. And maybe that is a really good thing. I suppose that if children ran away screaming every time we came by, it would be a sign that we were failing, or that the bad guys were near. Either that or they found another way to get pens.On a side note, one of the places we stopped today there were no kids. It was at a security station located on the side of the main road – route Tampa, the main road through most of Iraq. It was here that I witnessed what was probably the most disturbing thing I have seen since I have been here. With no kids to watch, I was being mildly entertained with a dog on the side of the road who had been nursing its puppy. Then it became hungry and started sniffing for food, which it found quickly and began devouring. And what a meal, it was. Complete with all the trimmings of a post-Thanksgiving Day meal, too. If, that is, your definition of “all the trimmings” means eating something that looks exactly like yourself. Seriously, you know a place is bad when even the dogs are messed up. It would be one thing if it was, say, a German shepherd eating a Chihuahua. But the “meal” for this dog could have been its twin. How wrong is that? Probably not as wrong as us taking pictures of it and showing to everyone, but still pretty wrong, I say. At least it didn’t get mad when I didn’t give it any candy.

Thoughts on being here:

Iraq. Just the name is likely to bring up several different knee-jerk reactions when mentioned. It has been a talking point of our culture for long enough now that the images it conjures can be as varied as the people talking about it. So, does coming here give me an “enlightened” perspective that is somehow more valid? Doubtful, but I can tell you what I think.

My original opinion on the United States coming here remains the same: it was the right thing to do at the time, and I believe that, although not perfect, the justification was valid. I wrote an entire paper on the reasons we came here and I still stand by the reasons given (I did get an “A” on it, anyway…). I will not go into those details here; suffice to say that George Bush led a country into doing exactly what he said he was going to do, and the public crucified him for it. I believe he was right, even in some instances when he may have been wrong (the whole being greater than the sum of its parts). However – and this is a big “however” – what we are currently doing here in this country as of November 2008 is, in my opinion, somewhat pointless.
Let me qualify something here: when I talk about things being pointless, I am not speaking from the standpoint of a liberal, bunny-hugging college professor who got his PhD in Smug by looking down his nose at those less educated. On the contrary, I speak of things being pointless from the perspective of a guy who has seen the inner workings of the United States Army in many of its forms and has come to know a great deal about how it operates. And the talking point to be gleamed from that knowledge is: it doesn’t.

Let’s take, for example, my current occupation in the beloved US Army: that of a Psychological Operations ATL (Assistant Team Leader). Our job in PsyOp is to first, analyze the perceptions of people; second, to then assess their vulnerabilities; and third, to use those vulnerabilities to persuade them in some way. Now, if that sounds high-speed or secret-squirrel to you, that’s because you are not where I am. Because I can tell you what that really is. It’s called “marketing.” Seriously, we are an advertising agency for the Army.

And how can that not be a good thing, you may ask? For several reasons, some of which are quite obvious when you think about them from a different point of view. Let’s look at where we are in this war: There is no defined enemy, per se; we are essentially fighting the equivalent of gangs who wander from village to village, staying with various relatives and friends. They have no base of operations or tactical command center to take orders from, they simply…exist. Much like a criminal who goes from town to town robbing liquor stores, these people do not operate from some pre-planned, maniacal scheme to usurp the great Satan; they just…do.

This leaves people in my position two options. One, we can analyze the perceptions and vulnerabilities of the bad guys (good luck), or we can do the same for the general populace and hope that their idea of security is the same as ours and they will turn these dudes in when they see them or find out where they are. Surprisingly enough, this works a lot of the time. But here is where I get to the pointless part. Earlier on in this war, PsyOp’s job was relevant; they gave out numbers of who to call to turn in a bad guy, they told the public who the bad people were, they even told the public what the Army was doing so they wouldn’t be scared. They did all of this while the Infantry was blowing stuff up and kicking in doors, so that we could “win the hearts and minds” of the general populace. Now, five years in to this thing, everyone knows who to call, the most wanted list here is probably shorter than the one back home, and everyone already knows what the Army is doing (which, even in the case of the Infantry, is centered around winning hearts and minds). To top all of that off, whenever the Army does whatever it does, it essentially takes credit away from the Government of Iraq (GoI) and says to people “yeah, we’re still running the show.”

Most of the problems we are facing here are no different than the problems we face back home, and if we try to fix them, it actually prolongs the problem. Let me give you an example. If I were to ask the average Iraqi “hey, how are things going for you and what do you think needs to be done,” they are going to tell me that they want more security, they want better schools for their kids, and the roads in their neighborhood suck and need repair. Well I’ve got a hundred bucks for you that says you can go into a city council meeting in Anywhere, U.S.A. and hear exactly the same complaints. But the funny part is that it doesn’t matter if you fix it or not, because those things will always need to be better; it will never be enough. The difference here in Iraq is we are screwed either way. If we fix it, people see us as still being in power and it invalidates the GoI. If we don’t fix it, people are pissed off and blame the U.S. for coming here and ruining everything (never mind the fact that we actually fixed quite a few things that people just weren’t allowed to complain about under Saddam).

One would think, then, that what PsyOp should be doing is teaching the Iraqi government how to do its own marketing to convince their people that they are doing the right thing and are large and in charge. Well, that’s what my idea is, anyway. But we are not doing that. What we are doing is walking out on patrols and interviewing people so that we can hear them tell us the same things over and over again. Handing out any kind of printed product at this point in the game has little effect because they have seen so much, and even if they hadn’t, it takes us a month to get it printed up and sent down here due to all of the red-tape we must march through just to get tangible work produced by our own people. The loudspeaker on our truck is equally worthless because the Infantry and Cavalry units have discovered, get this, bullhorns. They are easy to use, weigh about 2 pounds, and don’t require an entire vehicle to carry around or an engineer to run (because I’m pretty sure that our loudspeaker was built by Thomas Edison as one of his, uhh, early projects). A novel concept, to be sure.

Now take what I have just given you and extrapolate it into the rest of the Army. Except (and here comes the scary part) the Big Army works much, much less than we do. We of the small FOB tend to actually go outside the wire on a regular basis; there are several thousand soldiers and airmen at a few big bases in this country who not only never leave the base, but exist in one of those “limbo” environments where no one really knows what it is they do. Maybe nothing. Or maybe they exist and get deployed just so the rest of us who are doing nothing outside the wire can feel as though we have a big support network behind us.

I came here believing in what we are doing. And although I still believe that the US coming here was the right thing, I have had a change of heart regarding us being here now. In my own, humble opinion, we could leave this place five minutes from now or five years from now and it would have the same result for this country. The only difference being the result it would have in ours. I, for one, am still in favor of us pulling out of here and taking over Haiti. It’s never too late to make that place a tropical casino-island. Until, that is, someone else does it first. (To be continued…)

Iraqi Soil

Today, November 23, 2008, I finally stepped on Iraqi soil. The joke for the last few weeks has been that, although we have been here for a month, every time we have left the base I have been in the vehicle (either in the turret or in the right front seat) and have not placed my feet down outside the base. Well today that was fixed. I went on a patrol with one of the platoons (or “squadrons,” or whatever… I can’t keep this Cavalry thing straight) to talk to a few key leaders in the area and get an idea of what is happening.

And now that I have done so, I am confident that I am fully educated on the subject of Iraq, how things are going, what to do next, and also how much more valid my opinion is than anyone else. No, really. I think I could be President of the United States now. I mean, I think I have more experience than the new guy, anyway. So, why not? To be honest though, if you are looking for some amazing insight on the subject, it ain’t here. And by “here” I don’t just mean this blog; I’m talking about walking around this country. I’m here to tell you, there isn’t much going on here that one cannot figure out by doing a very small amount of reading on the subject. No, there is no substitute for being here, but I think that people expect this to be some crazy, exotic place with people completely different from themselves when in reality, it isn’t. In fact, what stands out to me the most here is that the differences are not what most American citizens would imagine, but neither are the similarities.

An example: when asked what they are concerned with, most Iraqi citizens will answer with “security” or “our children’s schools” or even “the condition of our roads.” Boy, that doesn’t sound at all like someone on Colfax Avenue in Denver, Colorado. The sad part is, even if you gave all of it to them, it wouldn’t be enough and they would want more. Just like home.
The flip-side is, the differences aren’t quite what the average American citizen would expect. For instance, did you know that people here will actually go out and plant a bomb in the road to kill policemen, rather than just shooting at them like in the ghettos of New York or L.A.? I had no idea, and quite frankly I find it appalling. I mean, what do they think this is, a war zone? The nerve… Seriously though, the things people hear about like Sunni/Shia conflicts are vastly overplayed in the media. I would bet that the violence between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland is more based on religious differences than the crap going on here. The vast majority of contention here would be more closely compared to inner-city gang violence than historically-based religious conflict. It’s more along the lines of “there was a guy in the next village who killed a guy in our village, so we hate them.” “Oh really? When was that?” “About ten years ago.” So…we have kind of a Hatfields and McCoys thing going here… Honestly, how do you deal with that? It’s the equivalent of someone from San Francisco offing someone from Texas and the entire state of Texas then holding a grudge against everyone in the state of California. Which, now that I think about it, they probably do. Damn queers! Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah, Iraq is a weird place, man. I mean, I was talking to this Sheik named “Case” and a bunch of guys brought out some chai tea for us. Ok, first of all, guys? Dude, you know that’s, like, a woman’s job, and stuff, right? Second, this chai stuff is pretty effing good. What did you put in it, cocaine? Seriously, this beats the crap out of anything at Starbucks. You should maybe sell this stuff internationally. I will run your marketing campaign.I think I had a point somewhere in there, but it probably got lost in the back of my brain after inhaling this chocolate bar. We are pretty starved of stimulation, so that may have put me over the edge and everything after this point could get really weird. Tune in next time when I talk about how bad guys are caught using our super-secret detective skills. “Do you know who did it?” “No. Well…maybe. It’s my brother.” Until then…

“I will shed the sins and struggles I have carried all these years…”

November 20, 2008. The words from the Brad Paisley song “When I Get Where I’m Going” are ringing in my head today after playing it. That phrase in particular struck a chord with me today for some reason. I realize that I carry a lot of guilt over past mistakes and wrongdoings in my life, especially when it concerns relationships I have been in. Most of them, I have known from an early point that they would not work, but for some reason (on a couple of them) I have kept it going, anyway. Why do I do this? And, more importantly to you, the reader: why the hell am I talking about this on a diary about being in Iraq? Aren’t I supposed to be telling stories of death-defying bravado and stopping terrorism? Or at least a story about some monkeys jousting from tricycles? Yes, I am that in tune with my readers; I know the questions before you ask them. However, this all ties in to me being here. How so? Glad you asked.

Coming straight from my gut and being as honest as I can, there is a large part of me that came here so that I could “get right with God,” so to speak. Yes, I do understand that, in the larger, Biblical sense of spirituality, only faith and forgiveness can accomplish that task. One may only attain a relationship with God by accepting His love and asking for His forgiveness. However, a big part of one’s relationship with God is also being right with one’s own self, and what it takes to be at peace in that arena is different for everyone. The alcoholic would benefit from a long trip to the mountains with no booze; the thief would gain from spending time in a place where material possessions mean little; one who is desperate for attention would do well to have a time of little or none of it, etc. The point being, I do not feel right about my place in the world, and have not since the loss of my love. It’s not that I haven’t experienced happiness since then; quite the contrary. It is simply that the world – and specifically my place in it – doesn’t quite make sense to me anymore. What better way to find my way than in the middle of a war zone, taking place in a land where civilization began?

Yes, I had already been in the Army, and yes, partly the reason I came back was because I was afraid of being called back involuntarily. As true as all of these are, a major driving force in my return has been the search for a bigger meaning and my place in all of this. I have always believed that the best way to “find yourself,” so to speak, is to focus all of my attention on others and on something much bigger than myself. I started to lose sight of that in these last two months; the horrible training and the even worse leadership had brought my moral to a new low. But the line in that song, talking about shedding all of the extra weight we carry on our shoulders, rang more true for me here and now than ever before. By coming here, I have shed everything extra in my life; I no longer have a phone, I can’t meet any women or carry on a relationship with the ones I know; the only possessions I have can mostly fit on my back and in my hands, and all of them are some kind of green or brown and somehow relate to either taking a life or saving one.

That is the raw essence of life. That is human nature stripped down. This is me at the simplest level I will occupy, probably for the rest of my life. It is liberating and scary as hell at the same time. We laugh and joke about it, but the possibility of death lurks not too far back in everyone’s mind here. The possibility of every phone call made home, every email sent, and every package received being your last puts your brain in a place it has never been. Sure, that can happen at home, too. But here it is a thought that is right there, lurking. Waiting. The bad guys are right outside the wire. There may not be many of them anymore, but there are still a few, and let’s be honest, we all know it only takes one. This forces your mind to think in ways it never has. Even on a subconscious level, you prepare yourself and you prepare those around you. You drop little lines to your buddies “if I’m gone, just remember this…” or “hey on a quick, serious note, be sure you get this to my family…” No one wants to spend a lot of time talking about it because they’re afraid of jinxing everything (I don’t care if there is no basis for it whatsoever, I guarantee even the most scientifically minded person in the world would become superstitious in a place like this), but everyone wants to say…something. And we all do, even if it is our own, strange way.
Which brings me back to my original point: in coming here I had hoped to purge myself of a few demons by tackling something much larger than myself and in so doing, hopefully feel that I had done something worthy with my life. I now see, even early on, that I was wrong in believing I could do that. I know now that coming here has not made me worthy of life and not “cleansed” me in any way; what it has done is stripped me down to the bare minimum. It has forced me to reevaluate life from the most primal level by taking away the freedoms and luxuries of normal life. The silliness of relationships is fading into my memories even as I write this, only two and a half months in to this deployment. I see now that this will not answer any questions, but rather silence the dull roar of complexity in my brain. Much that is regarded as important becomes less so when you wear the same clothes every day and instead of checking to see if your hair is ok before your date, you are checking to make sure you have your M4, ammo, water, and night vision before you go out the door. And also when you have to go to sleep to the sound of two other dudes snoring all the time, but that’s another issue…

Yes, I long for the normal life again where I can think about other things. And by no means do I believe that this is a cure-all, or that it will fix my problems. But I realize that this will change me, hopefully for the better, in a sense that my priorities have shifted. Yes, I would still love to meet a woman and have children with her. But if or when a crazy one comes along whose personality shifts from day to day and hypocrisy is her middle name, then I will no longer be upset about saying “goodbye.” I will simply know that she needs to go find her own war to fight in. We all do, sometimes more than once.

MRAP mission to JBB and “training” (Written on November 19, 2008).

November 13, 2008. After finding out from our HQ that it was to be our team tasked to go handle a situation with some MRAPs at JBB, I talked my team leader into staying behind so he could work and I took our PsyOp Specialist to help me take care of it. What I thought would be a five minute operation (I was told to “hand off the keys” to three MRAPs and that was it) turned in to a two-day operation involving more headache and stupidity than I thought possible.

It worked like this: our team had the keys to three MRAPs, which I was instructed to give to the transportation unit so they could load them on trucks and take them to FOB Speicher where our HQ is located. This would allow the other teams to pick them up as well as get all of our drivers trained on them. However, when I arrived at JBB, the transportation people looked at me like I had a weiner growing out of my forehead; there was nothing whatsoever scheduled in terms of moving these vehicles. And what was more, the locks had already been cut off of them so that they could be moved. This meant that my entire reason for being there was pointless. Never the less, I decided to try and get them moved, anyway. The people who ran the MRAP yard (where our vehicles had been sitting for over a month) kept reminding me how bad my chain of command “screwed me over” by dumping all of this on my lap. You see, most of the information required to request a movement of vehicles like this is privy only to a command element. So, why didn’t I just pick up the phone and call them, you ask? Here’s where it gets fun: A) I didn’t have their number, B) if I did, the only type of phone they have is a secure line (SIPR net) and the MRAP yard doesn’t have those and C) even if they did have them, they are down most of the time. Or no one answers. Needless to say, I had to pull a lot of things completely out of my butt to make this happen. Which is great, because it’s only about 3 millions dollars worth of vehicles that are now… somewhere. And they may get to their destination… sometime. No matter to me, as I did everything I could do, and with the help of some seriously great civilian contractors I managed to get everything on the right track. They saved me, for sure. At any rate, after about 20 hours worth of hair pulling it was all set. I hope.

To say that all of that sucked even more of my already low motivation out of my body would be an understatement. And I paid the price for my ambivalence over the past couple of weeks. After going to the range with our team, the team leader became rather pissed off that I had not been training our young soldier on some relatively simple tasks, and that I was not up to speed on a couple of issues, either. He was right; I had lost so much drive due to the last two months that I put no extra effort into anything at all. I faulted myself (and still do) more than anyone else, and so it was that Playstation 2 Hockey would have to go on hold for a bit. Back to the physical fitness regime I had stuck to in Colorado and back to being a mentor to a kid who has a lot of potential to be a great soldier. Check that, he is a great soldier; he just needs to be given the tools which can help him succeed no matter what path he chooses to take his career. That is my job to do and since being in country I have failed miserably at it.

The one part that bothers me about all of this is that my team leader is in much the same boat as me; a former active duty infantry guy who is less than impressed with the Army Reserves. He is an intelligent guy, but a number of the things he got bent out of shape over, guess what? He’s not any better at it than I am. Granted, two wrongs do not make a right, but I prefer not to be treated as a child by someone who can’t do the job right, either. Where my screw up counts is that his job and mine are different, and I said early on that I would take it upon myself to train our guy up. I had not. Nor have I done everything he has done in his job. I think the issue is that for the last two weeks, I have been doing a lot of menial crap-work that has kept me from doing what needs to be done. Spending 5 days at JBB to un-screw a command issue and 2 or 3 days burning trash does not lend itself to a lot of training time. I realize now what needs to be done, but I must put my foot down in regards to other tasks –especially those that are not mine – when they come my way if it impedes my ability to do what is right. That coupled with the fact that most of what he was pissed off about are things that he is unable to do any better than me (and the fact that he is in worse physical shape than I am) put me in a foul mood yesterday. But today is a new day; we are training, Iraq is slowly slipping into chaos around us, and I have a machine gun. It’s gonna be a great year.

JBB Trip and New President

And so it was that TPT 1277 (that’s us, by the way) took its first trip to JBB (Joint Base Balad, formerly known as Anaconda). JBB is the second biggest base in Iraq, only slightly smaller than Camp Victory in Baghdad. We were looking forward to going, as here at FOB Paliwoda the amenities are pretty scarce. The word was that the PX at JBB is pretty big, so thoughts of movies, music, coffee makers and DVD players were on our minds. What greeted us was what I will refer to simply as absurd. JBB is in no way reflective of the country it is in; it is bigger than most Army posts I have ever been on, with more luxuries than I ever had at places like 6th Ranger Training Battalion or Ft. Benning. Two PXs, both containing more crap than one would know what to do with, and two Recreation Centers, each of which having a nicer gym and movie room than any base or military facility I’ve ever seen are at each end of the base. There is also a movie theater, food courts at each PX, and dining facilities capable of feeding gourmet meals to thousands a day. Because, you see, JBB is home to somewhere around 35,000 military personnel as well as many more civilians and TCNs (Third Country Nationals). But here’s the kicker: only 6,000 of those ever leave the wire. This means essentially that the rest of those people’s “deployment” consists of living a life of luxury, collecting a tax-free paycheck, and only enduring inconvenience in that they are away from their families for a year. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I am grateful that these people are there doing what they do. It is a great service to their country and they should be proud of what they do. However (and this is where it becomes difficult to describe to those outside the military), what is incredibly aggravating for those of us who live without the basic luxuries and go out in to the cities and towns (where there are quite possibly a good number of people trying to hurt us) on a regular basis, is to see these people who work 6 hours a day in an air conditioned room, going to movies and having every luxury of home talk about being in a “combat” zone. And what is even worse is how many high-ranking people there are at places like that whose sole purpose in life is to go around and correct people on their uniforms. Because that is what I want to have after riding around in a machine-gun turret all day, is some fat, out of shape sergeant major who sips coffee all day telling me I should put my cover on. Hey Sgt. Major, would you like to go for a ride? Yeah, I thought not. Suffice to say, we hated JBB and couldn’t wait to come back to our little corner of the world where it takes less time to walk to the dining facility than it does drive to the one at JBB; where it takes longer to put on a pair of boots than it does to walk to the Post Office – which is only open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Probably because the guys who run it are out on patrol the other days of the week. My kind of place, I say.

But in between our driving to JBB and coming home, apparently our country elected a new President. I had heard something about them doing that… Heh. Seriously though, it has been interesting seeing the reactions from people in the military. I have been slightly surprised by how many have been Obama supporters, to be honest. Then again, as I have come to realize in the last few months, my entire time on active duty was spent at a very unique place; the rest of the Army in no way reflects what I experienced there (most of which is not for the better), political stance being no exception. I came from a place where about 98% of the soldiers were staunchly conservative. I am learning that this is not at all the case in the rest of the Army. As for myself, I have become rather ambivalent about the subject since coming here. No, the guy who won did not get my vote and I would rather have seen the other guy win (even though I am not a big supporter of him, either), but I’m just not too excited about caring right now. Personally I think Obama is a whole lot of fluff and not a lot of substance. However, a lot of what a President is – as I am learning even more so being over here – is the face of a nation. And for the last 8 years we have had a hyper-active cowboy who takes no grief from anyone driving this monster. Maybe putting a different face out there is an ok thing, even if it is just for show. Perception is, without a doubt in my mind, about 90% of reality. The world has viewed America for the last few years as sort of war-mongering. I don’t believe that this is true, and I could argue endlessly why I believe that it isn’t. But if most of the rest of the world believes it, then for better or worse it is perceived as being the truth. Possibly having a complete sissy-pants as President for a while will change that. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: everyone will think that Americans are a bunch of sissy-pants by proxy. One, I believe that the American soldier, not the president, has proven recently that to be untrue. Part of the reason we are doing well over here is because the Iraqis finally figured out that Soldiers aren’t going to give up just because they don’t have air-conditioning and Playstation (joke’s on them, we have both!). Two, if that perception does become reality, then we will then elect, by landslide, the next Ronald Reagan just as we have elected the next Jimmy Carter this time. Now, aren’t you glad you stopped by this blog for a super-keen explanation of how things are going? I bet you are. I know I’m excited. Let’s go raise some taxes, I’m psyched.

Third mission…

November 4, 2008 (election day). We protected the band! No really, they actually had us on QRF for the 1st A.D. Army Band, which played in downtown Balad. Quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I have ever been a part of, to be honest. Had I been blown up trying to protect the band, boy would I have been pissed. I really thought we were going to take fire, but miraculously, we had nothing happen. Except for the band itself detonating explosives without telling anyone else about it before hand. Hey, I have a good idea, let’s make a loud boom in the middle of a concert in a country wracked by IEDs. Good thinking. Oh well, I can’t complain too much, as it was a boring day and it really wasn’t too hot. I’m not looking forward to the summer. Tomorrow we head to JBB for some… reason. I have no idea, but I’m going to the PX and buying some useless crap! Oh and also maybe find out who the new President is.

Second mission…

November 1, 2008, we took our first trip in to the city center of Balad. And oh what a thriving metropolis it is. Actually, it really wasn’t too bad, and seemed much the same as many other large towns in third-world countries; dirty, trash-laden, and teeming with people who seem to be going…nowhere. Seriously, do these people not have jobs? Uhh, no. That’s why they are in the state they’re in. I did get a kick out of the amazing amount of free-roaming donkeys the town seems to have, though. That’s a new one for me. I’ve seen elephants used as fork-lifts in Thailand and giant sea turtles in Costa Rica cruise right on up to a restaurant, but never a gang of donkeys cruising through the streets.

First mission…

Today, October 29, 2008, TPT 1277 took its first successful mission. By defying danger and cheating death, we drove to Al Baab and did…something. Not really sure what, because I sat in the truck and pulled security while talking to Bernadette (outgoing TPT member). Mildred and Rosemaire walked into a village and talked to some locals. This was after a short trip to a market place near Balad to drop off a trailer full of… contraband maybe? Sure, we’ll go with that.

At any rate, it was our first actual “mission,” and everything went smoothly. So far our time here at FOB Paliwoda has been pretty tame. We can hope that it stays that way, as excitement would probably mean bad things are happening. And as it stands now, the area of Balad seems to be progressing quite well.

We are currently working for the 3/2 Cavalry unit of the 101st Airborne Division, but they are getting out of here within the next few weeks and being replaced by a Cavalry unit out of the 25th I.D. So it will be interesting to see how they do things, as well as if they can maintain the peace that has, for the most part, been established.

FOB Paliwoda Stories

Twist has sent me a long blog of stories from different days that he has spent "over there." I have not edited these much at all, but will post them in order.... He wanted me to share them. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did.