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Run Aground

Updated: 2014-10-05T00:44:03.137-07:00




I haven't posted in forever, so I hope there is no one reading this anymore. If you have been reading this hoping for another skeptical take on Rustimiyan life, two points: 1) I am home so this post is my external internal dialogue, and 2) you really should get out more.I just spent two hours studying Clincal Head and Neck at McDonalds. That place amazes me. I had a coupon for a free Southern Chicken Sandwich with the purchase of a beverage. Mixing the Dollar Menu with coupons should be illegal, but they haven't closed that loophole yet so I spent a dollar six and got coffee, a sandwich, and a place to study for two hours. I did get alot of studying done, but I also had a lot of nagging thoughts that are coming together and I hope they will more by my writing them down.Young people, or people my age which is more youngish I concede, love to speak ill of McDonalds. "Super Size Me" is a movie that slanders this American miracle by saying that you will get high colesterol by eating super-sized meals three times a day. Really??? Duh. But many of my friends and much of America's youth has seized on this obvious observation of the results of excess to condemn McDonalds. By failing to condemn stupidity and excess, they are missing one of the major points that brings contentment and joy in life.McDonalds in my mind is not a symbol of excess, but a symbol of anti-Starbucksism. Let me explain. McD's has posted a billboard outside Starbucks headquarters in Seattle that says "Fourbucks is dumb." I don't think McD's knows how deep that is, but when I heard it I smiled for the next 45 minutes as I drove in to work. Here is why. Starbucks caters to the young, trying to convince them that if they just spend way too much on rainforest friendly coffee they will remain forever young. If you look at their lines, you will disagree because there are quite a few over-the-hillers who buy $4 coffee, but I have a different meaning for young. Young people are idealistic. They think the world can be changed. They are the fools who think their generation will be the one which finally sets the world right and avoids getting old. Yes, every generation since Adam has gotten old and died, but we won't. We are different. We are enlightened. We will hang on to youth forever. We can save the rainforest, drink organic coffee, have power careers and perfect kids, shop at JCrew, drive hybrids or SUV's or hybrid SUV's, save the environment, and be cool all at once. We eschew minivans, Wal-Mart, and McD's. We are open minded and caring even while we charitably pity (and uncharitably scorn) those who have given up on ushering in the eschaton. Those who drive their kids through the McD's drive through and shop at Wal-Mart will alternately be scoffed at for their unsophistication and hated for standing in the way of Youth's utopia.Starbucks seeks to perpetuate this stupidity as do many in the Utopian, Organic, Whole-Foods myth perpetuating industry. The world, they want you to believe, is not fallen and decaying, or it would not be except for the unenlightened. We can change it. Yes we can!!Most people have historically end up leaving the youthful phase when they get a job and get a family. Starbucks has pushed that age later in life than it used to be, but most still do grow up. Here is where old people eating breakfast at McD's is my beacon of contentment. When people realize that you cannot both feed your family and shop at whole food, or drink $4 coffee, or fit car seats in a Prius, they get angry. How many people resent their minivan? How many look forward to their kids being out of the house so they can again drive in their Priuii and drink overpriced coffee? How many go in debt by putting overpriced coffee on their over-used credit cards? They do this when they could be enjoying life by eating breakfast at McD's for a dollar six. How many people my age are angry because it has finally hit them that the minivan and snotty kids is as good as it gets in this life?But old people who go into McD's and wear their Wrangler'[...]

The End Is Near


Today was the last BUB (killer weekly meeting) that I will ever have to attend in the Navy, Lord willing. Now I just have one day and a wake-up, and hopefully no chances to do anything memorable. For a second I was going to get sentimental, but it is impossible to have any nostalgia after having sat through a three hour meeting. (One interesting note is that the Battalion Commander, who is also nearing his time to go home, ended the meeting by talking about three very optimistic meetings he has had with Iraqi Police Chiefs in the last week. One police chief, “who never has anything positive to say except about himself,” had an optimism that was notable to BC.) If I happen to get out of here on my birthday, that will be the best birthday present I have received in many years.

One More Last


Today I took my laundry in for the last time at Rusty. The laundry contract ran out since the fiscal year is over, so a new company came in. While they were switching out washing machines the laundry facility was closed for three days. Accordingly, there was a long line to turn in laundry today. I am not sure if it will even be done, but I won’t wait around for it since I never want to wear my Army issue battle pajamas again anyway.

My Favorite Person in this Hemisphere


My replacement arrived yesterday. He is an Air Force captain. Because he will relieve me in five days, I think he is cool.

A Win-Win-Win-Win Situation


I might as well have won the lottery. Yesterday we change our clocks, and there was once again the embarrassing confusion about falling back that we had about springing forward. Word was passed and repassed about the day clocks would change with the last word I got being that the change would be two days ago. This means that I changed my clocks a day earlier than planned and thus got an extra hour of sleep two nights ago. And then last night the real time change happened and I got another extra hour of sleep. If you are reading this in the comfort of a home that you actually want to live in, you did not get the extra hour of sleep either last night or the night before. I do not mean to flaunt my well rested good fortune when you are tired from a normal night, but my extra hours did not come at your expense. Please, no hard feelings. Here is where jealousy and hard feelings might be justified – I will get another night with an extra hour because I will be home the first Sunday in November. So I will have had a 25 hour day AT HOME without having to have had a 23 hour day to make up for it. Before you try to make yourself feel better by bringing me down by point out that I have not really gained an extra hour since I am beginning the year in Eastern Standard Time and I will be ending the year in Eastern standard time so I didn’t really gain three hours, realize that there is a fourth win in this time switching situation. When I fly home, I will only have crossed seven time zones instead of eight so I will have less jet lag to deal with. This time change good fortune makes a year in Iraq worth it.

The Birthday Continues


I am being overwhelmed with cards, books, and snacks. Thank you for them all, even if you just did it to support Kate’s nefarious plan to force me to admit my thirty-ness. You win. I’m thirty. Or will be soon, Lord willing.

One packaged I received contained Organic Beef Jerky. I will be forced to get my preservatives and artificial hormones elsewhere – hardly a challenge for me. I note that the package says “best if consumed within three days of opening.” Not a problem. Another funny marking on a package of cookies I received: “Now better tasting.” Doesn’t leave much room for guessing what the research department found about their previous recipe. I am glad to report that the package is completely correct.

The Slippery Slope to Anarchy


Today I broke one of my cardinal rules. Because I want to be ready to go to bed at a moments notice, I do not allow myself caffeine after noon. That is, I know, a little conservative, but when it comes to being awake when you want to be asleep you can never be too far on the side of sleep. At about 1300 today the chaplain and the commo were walking out to go to the coffee shop and happened to ask if I would I wanted to come along. Being inherently cheap and well supplied with coffee by friends and family, I have not paid for coffee (or food) since leave – why buy what you already have? Even more than I am cheap I am perceptive (queue laugh track) so I knew that the chaplain and the commo were really asking if I wanted to “hang out” as the kids say these days. Friendship is worth paying for so I graced them with my presence.

I am always self-conscious when I order coffee at coffee shops because I cannot keep the tall, grande, and vente sizes straight. Also, the coffee aficionados order with such grace: “Tall skin mocha grande frappe with whip, add one shot espresso” or however they say it. I know that the baristas at the Starbucks back at the states sense that I cannot tell the difference between McDonald’s Special Blend and the Organic Eco-friendly Light Roast Summer French Blend from Ecuador. Even though I am the customer I am not right when I order. So I overcame my fear and ordered as best I could. I specified decaf when I ordered my double mocha over ice, and the third country national scoffed at me with his eyes in a barista way. The sneer was not as pronounced as I would have gotten in the states, but a coffee shop is a coffee shop and baristas have standards that apparently are international and span all languages. “No decaf, sir.” Iraq is not Burger King, and you don’t always get it your way. Besides, the chaplain and commo were laughing at me since their standards of sleep hygiene are not up to mine. I gave in and had caffeine, and the chaplain and commo were grateful for my company.

Happy Birthday to Me


One milestone toward going home has past (last haircut at Rusty today) and one is approaching. There is no conceivable way I will be home before my birthday, but even though I will be gone I have not been forgotten. I have received five birthday cards in the last three days. Some of these cards are from people who I would expect to remember my birthday – close family. And some are from people who I would not have expected - friends I haven’t seen in years and people from my church. In all cases, I am honored that people remember. Even more impressive is that the cards I have received are early – if I ever remembered to send a card to someone with unreliable mail I would end up using the unreliable mail as an excuse for sending the card late even though the reason would invariably be that I forgot. (One more benefit to marriage is that “my” cards are no longer late.) Thank you all.

The Worst Story Ever


This story is terrible, so if you want to maintain any hope in your government or its bureaucracy, just quit reading now.

Recently we had a new South Carolina National Guard unit RIP in, and with that came a replacement of the Michigan unit’s member of the TOC team. The new guy from SC is on night shift and is mostly quiet and on the older side of forty-five. I was walking back from breakfast at the start of my day as he was coming back from his pre-bed meal at the end of his day. I got to talking to him and he told me his story. I almost wanted to cry, and for a moment stopped thinking that being an IA is the most pathetic way to tour Iraq.

This soldier had completed the required twenty years for retirement with time split between the National Guard and the active Army. A short time after his twenty were complete, he contacted the retirement records bureau to verify something or the other and they informed him that they only had records of him serving seventeen years – three years of his National Guard time were gone. Since his career had a three year gap, he would have to serve three more years if he wanted retirement benefits. They assured him that this would not be a problem because there was an SC guard unit just coming back that he could attach to and spend the rest of his career without deploying – they were from the government and were here to help.

So he did. He enlisted. And they transferred him from the unit that would not deploy to the unit that is here now. That is bad enough that, if it had happened to me, they would have to take away any live bullets I might have for their own safety, but the story gets worse. When this guy retired, he was a captain who was on the path to promotion to major. Unfortunately, the portion of records that were lost were the portion that included his promotion to captain, so for all the Army knew he had served his whole time commissioned as a first lieutenant. The military has a rule that if you do not get promoted in a certain amount of time they ask you to get out of the military to make room for those who will get promoted. “Up or out” this policy is called in an unexplainable moment of simplicity and clarity in naming. So this soldier who had retired a captain, but for whom the Army had records for first lieutenant, was past the time for promotion to captain from first lieutenant. You are correct – this does not makes sense, but since they had no record that he was promoted to captain he could not be promoted to captain so to get his retirement he had to enlist and is now a sergeant.

Every morning when we do turnover, this poor soul gets an earful from the intel section master sergeant who feels that he needs to vent his family problems on some unsuspecting solder. (n.b. the venting is most likely the source of his family problems vice the solution.) This master sergeant does not know that the man he is condescending was and should be a captain. If there is justice in this world, they will find his paperwork and one day he will get a letter setting the wrongs right. Until then he has a story worse than an IA.

Perpetuate to Validate


When I arrived at my current duty station, there were seven (7) officers in the TOC: Terry, Bob, Dave, Jake, Angela, Selmer, and Mark. Currently there are three (3): Terry, Jake, and Lara. You would think that with a cut in the work force of 57%, assuming all officers contribute equally, would stress the officers who are left. I do not believe this is the case. The case, rather, is that tasks are created to match manning instead of the opposite. In at least one case, an officer who would weekly brief the commander and all of the staff with a brief series of slides left and with him left the slides from the brief – shorter and no value lost. Jobs are not made to accomplish tasks, but to fill time and make people feel like they are contributing to the team. In another officer’s particular case, her fifteen minute brief turned to minute and a half brief when her job was taken over by a moderately junior sergeant. I think the only reason we even include what used to be her briefing is so that she does not feel that she was just wasting her time (she was moved out of the TOC to replace another officer who left).

John Paul Jones once said, “I wish to have no association with a ship that is not fast, for I intend to go into harm’s way.” I think that JPJ would have stayed in port rather than gone to war with the joint effort that is Operation Iraqi Freedom, 06-08. I once was offered by a Navy O-4 that he would show me how to brief my actions as a member of a staff so that the boss knew how much I contribute. It’s a rain check I still possess.

It Still Works


Yesterday we conducted our semi-annual verification of weapon function. – and once I brushed the dust off mine they still worked. We were each issued our five bullets for our pistol and five for our rifles. We all trooped out to the range and fired our five bullets and walked back. Some people decided they had to drive, but that is understandable since it is a five minute walk. There was a unity of opinion that Friday morning was the wrong day to schedule our five bullet shoot because that is the day of the big battalion meeting. Everyone ended up getting there on time, but breakfast was rushed (the things the troops in the warzone must endure!). The worst part was that I had to wear my sixty pound individual body armor which most “go outside the wire soldiers” wear every day. As I was putting it on it ripped the thumb drive out of my pocket by my lanyard and I lost it. At least it was my unclassified one.

In the Blink of an Eye


Yesterday was a day of incredibly good news. My relief has not only been named, but he is part of the group of unfortunates who are already in country. This Air Force captain should be arriving at Chez Rusty on September 30. If all goes well, I could be on a plane home October 10 and if all goes less than well October 16. (Let’s not discuss worse than that.) Either way, that is a win for the home team because I was supposed to be home around 22 November. There have been rumors about for about ten days now. Today it is official. In about two weeks I could be leaving Rusty instead of eight. That means that I could have four or five weeks at home that I thought were gone – an amazingly wonderful occurrence no matter how you slice it. It is also sobering and indicative of this entire IA process. This all started when I came back from a wonderful Thanksgiving with my mom’s family in Indianapolis and found an email waiting for me that hinted that an IA was in the offing. As the week went on rumors increased, but no word was passed. Then on December 7 at 1543, exactly sixty-five years to the minute as the USS Arizona was sinking in Pearl Harbor (too much drama alert), I got confirmation that I was the chosen one. Just like that almost a year of my life was gone. It wasn’t fair. There wasn’t any ceremony or gravity like I at some level expect at losing so much. Only my first level boss even told me or said good-bye in person. 2007 was just gone. Talk about life being like grass that is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire. When something like that happens you want to scream to the world that as an American I have a right to fair treatment. Maybe 2% of the Navy gets sent over here, and the number of junior officers with viable careers over here is much smaller. Most Navy people over here on IA’s are O-4’s who haven’t been selected for command and are hoping for the extra push to make O-5 or chiefs hoping to break out for senior chief. There are quite a few people from non-deploying Navy communities for whom this is one year away from home out of the past ten of their career and when they are done they will retire with four more on shore. Most of the junior officers in my job are pilots who HAVE some background in what I’m doing and have three years on shore so their tour is about 30% of their shore duty. My orders were for two year. They wanted 50% of my shore duty, and I had plans that I was actively pursuing to stay in the Navy. The pilot JO’s would still have two years, whole shore tour length, even after they finished. There were a hundred reasons I shouldn’t have been chosen. The bottom line is that this is not fair. If there is one thing I don’t like it is reality that isn’t the way it should be. When Kate and I went to a marriage seminar once, the speaker said that most unhappiness in a marriage comes from people dwelling on how things should be instead of being thankful for how things are. Fortunately, I have a nearly perfect wife who gives me nothing to be unhappy about, but it is super-easy to find those things in the Navy. They irk me because they are wrong and could be righted. Even now, the Task Force IA has put out guidance about how this jaunt in the desert should positively affect my career, but my detailer has essentially said “Sorry, Charlie,” on that one. Could be fixed easily, but it won’t be. It is a detailer doing what he can instead of what he should, and that is just the way of life. So today I am on the good side of unfair. It is completely unfair that I get to go home at eight months instead of the required nine while other people are staying for three longer than originally planned. It is arbitrary, and just like that f[...]

International Language


I have heard that a smile is supposed to be an international way to show friendship. I’m not so sure about all that, but I do know that food is a way of showing acceptance everywhere. It is very important for our troops out here to eat with the Iraqis they interact with even though it often results in the runs. Women going through the line at the DFAC often get larger portions even when they do not ask for them while some men grumble that they cannot get two chicken cordon blues (a very popular dish) even when they ask for them.

I am a creature of habit when it comes to food. Every morning I get the same thing: I go through the sandwich line which is a 24 hour operation and get a sandwich with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. I then go to the omelet line and get a cheese omelet to put on my sandwich. I’ve done this every day since I got back from leave. The first week or so I got looks of insult from the sandwich makers since I had refused their meats and cheeses, but they soon got used to it. Since the sandwich line is not busy in the morning I chat a little bit with the sandwich artist, emphasis on “little” since he speaks very little English. His name is something like Desaby and he is from India. Maybe. He now starts making my sandwich without asking what I want and he also has started putting on double tomatoes.

The omelet guys also recognize me and have my omelet cooking before I get to the grill which has the added benefit of making sure that my eggs are cooked the whole way through. Most days the head cook will see it’s me and throw in a little extra cheese. Breakfasts might be the only part of Rusty that I will truly miss.

Armed Forces Network


Armed Forces Network (AFN) is the military television channel that provides American television for service members and their families overseas. On all of the televisions in public places here (the DFAC, various lounges, etc) we are treated to AFN Europe which has the normal fare of news shows from each major network, sports, and the various what’s-happening-in-the-military-today segments as every variant of AFN has. The difference lies in the spaces that would be filled by commercials if there was any profit motive. These commercials substitutes tend to be either low budget affairs put out by military units stationed in Europe or recruiting spots with higher budgets. They do have the added benefit of making you appreciate capitalism. These low budget affairs range from amusing to disappointing. There are public service announcements suggesting that Europeans do not like rude drivers or rude people. There are security reminders to report suspicious activity. And then there are the Navy spots. Apparently COMNAVEUR has put out an open invitation for sailors stationed in Europe to break out their video cameras and embarrass the fleet. Today I saw a PSA encouraging professional reading which had to two sailors (who were only slightly overweight) at the base library to engaging in a reading competition of books of the CNO’s reading list. The winner of the competition did a victory dance wholly appropriate to the winner of a reading competition while the loser sulked in the background. It was disappointing, but not the most disappointing I have seen by far. The most disappointing is a spot promoting “the Sea Chanters” or “the Singing Sailors” or whatever the COMNAVEUR’s choral ensemble is called. This group of peppy, smiley sailors apparently sings show tunes to entertain European dignitaries who have the misfortune to be the Admirsal’s guests. Judging by their commercial, they really get into it: I have never seen sailors smiling so brightly or dancing so spiritedly from the waste up while performing hand motions to songs from Broadway. From the waste down they were in the military at attention; from the waste up they were performers! Just to emphasize their combination of Naval tradition with jazzy, peppy performance style, they are wearing the uniform that midshipman refer to as service dress bozo which is service dress blues (the black, double-breasted suit) with a bowtie in place of the normal tie. It was only worn by those who had forgotten to turn their formal uniform into laundry in time for formal dinners. If airing of this spot was limited to embarrassing the Navy in Europe I would not complain. Unfortunately, this promo is aired in our DFAC and is the only face of the Navy that many soldiers ever see besides mine. Soldiers tend to be a macho group who make up for any lack of brashness they may have with an excess of bluster*. The Sea Chanters are polar opposites of macho – let’s just call them a little too secure in their masculinity. So us sailors who have been abandoned by our service out in the middle of Army land have to deal with a service image of a bunch of smiling show tune singers. Thanks, COMNAVEUR. *This gross generalization is based on an application of the 90/10 rule. 90% of your problems will be caused by 10% of your sailors. 90% of the extra time spent tutoring will be with 10% of your students. As Shamus the carpenter/mason/shepherd proves in the famous admonitory joke, 90% of your reputation is determined by 10% of your actions. So it is with my perception of soldiers. Most are decent people, or as Sean Hannity would call them, “Great Americans”, but the 10% who stick out in my mind are brash[...]

Party Time


Thursday evening several of the EWO’s on the FOB went to a party on the other side of the FOB where there is a contingent of NATO folks and some Aussies. They are involved in training the Iraqi Army staff at there Military Academy / Staff College that is on the FOB but on the other side of the fence. I felt very adventurous going over to “the Iraqi side” even though it there are Coalition Forces who live there, including the Marine Master Sergeant who invited us.

The Hungarians were in charge of cooking. There was grilled meat and grilled cheese, onion, and tomato sandwiches. I would not have guessed that it was ethnic had I not know it was before hand. The rest of the party involved talking to the Americans that I knew from my side of the fence while the NATO people talked with the people they know. If that sounds anti-climactic I have been accurate.

Next The Leaves Change Colors


Lows in the 80’s, highs barely north of 105. Football on Armed Forces Network. Fall is in the air.

We’ll Call It Market Research


Stereotyping is BAD. Although very few people reel at the fact that Heineken sponsors Wimbledon and Budweiser sponsors NASCAR, every American knows that only Klansmen and other white males stereotype.

Thus you will understand that, even though this vignette occurred over a month ago, I’m still processing it. I was sitting in the TOC, a large open room where all conversations are public. I hear, “I’ve never been on food stamps – my daddy was white.” The woman who said this must have noted my minor cardiac arrest, but rather than offer asprin, she said to me, “Sir, you probably don’t even know what food stamps are.” “Of course I do.” “How?” she asks. Now everyone knows what food stamps are, and I was slightly taken aback that she would question my cultural awareness. However, saying something like “Some of my best friends were on food stamps,” would not help my case since I have no credibility as a member of an oppressed class, and I have never asked any of my friends if they are. I sarcastically responded, “Oh, I’ve heard stories about them.” She thinks this is hilarious and typical of a white person, so she turns back to the person to whom she was originally talking who has heard our whole conversation and says, “He’s heard stories about food stamps.” I, wanting to know the proper, sensitive way to show that I have knowledge of food stamps in the future ask, “How do you know what food stamps are?” “My mamma’s black.” When you know you can’t win, don’t take the conversation any farther.

Even though stereotyping is BAD, it can be funny when the stereotype fits too well. Chief and I were out doing some last minute maintenance at 8:00 with just the crew of the truck, a sergeant and two privates. We get to chatting and the sergeant volunteers that he was pretty upset when he found out he had been assigned a female gunner (evil, and I don’t approve of that viewpoint), but he says, the first time she came out to the truck she was carrying the fifty caliber machine gun and the extra barrels, no small feat. Before they got on the road the first time, he asked if she had checked her head space and timing, standard machine gun checks, and she snapped back that she knew how to operate her @#%$ machine gun. The sergeant clearly approved of his gunner and her competence. She lit up a cigarette, and since I feel like an old man around most soldiers, I felt compelled to give her a hard time about it as I do for all soldiers under twenty who smoke. I asked her how long she had been smoking, and she said since she was eight. I gave her that “are you kidding me?” look and she said that was nothing – she had started dipping when she was four. Her brothers started her on cigarettes, but her dad started her on Red Man. Is anyone surprised that she came from Okiefenokee, Georgia, population 200, rather than Manhattan?

My Tour In Iraq Through The Eyes Of A Specialist


One of the new companies in my battalion is a National Guard unit from South Carolina. One truck was going across the FOB to the Duke shop for the first time, so I rode with them to make sure they got there. One of the soldiers riding along was a specialist, one of the lowest enlisted ranks that is usually made at 16 months. They are a little nervous about Lieutenants, or Captains as they tend to call me (same rank different name for Navy and Army).

We got down the shop and I start working on installing my little system. This red-headed South Carolina specialist walks up and says in his slow South Carolina way, “Sir, what rank are you?” Since I’m the only person with two bars as my insignia who calls himself a lieutenant on the FOB, I’m used to this question. “I’m a lieutenant, but I’m still an O-3 like your captains are.” Confused look. “Oh, I’ve never seen an officer do mechanic work before. I thought captains are supposed to be company commanders.”

If it weren’t so innocent and accompanied by the same look of confusion that I daily experience over my current job, I would have thought he was trying to be mean.

Redneck Autobody Shop


The civilian contractors have two vehicles to get around the FOB and transport things like their laundry with. One is a little white Nissan pickup with red flames painted on the side, and the other is 2005 black Suburban. There are many of these types of vehicles with exactly the same paint scheme. All of these vehicles are less than four years old and are trashed. There is very little pride in ownership most likely due to their being no ownership. None have ever been washed, and KBR probably thinks it’s cheaper to buy new cars than bring out another civilian to change the oil.

The Suburban that the contractors have is in notably bad shape: the passenger side back window and cargo area window are both broken out. Today when Chief and I showed up at the shop, two of the contractors had a large piece of plexi-glass that they were cutting to replace the broken windows since rainy season is getting closer. They had finished putting on the cargo area piece of plexi-glass with self-tapping screws and were caulking it silicon. It was an improvement only because it was so bad before.

Chief, who used to be a Navy hull tech (person who makes things out of sheet metal and plexi-glass, among other jobs) and who is a bit on the obsessive-compulsive side about things looking nice, took over the job because the contractors had not made very good cuts and the plexiglass looked jagged and unprofessional. In Navy plexi-glass school they teach the score-and-break method for shaping plexi-glass which is fine for straight lines but is not good for making replacement windows for Suburbans. I am quite proud of myself for coming up with an idea that the professional doers (as an officer I’m a professional supervisor unlike the chiefs and contractors) of using the Dremel Tool. I even cut the window much to all of the chiefs’ chagrin and did quite a nice job even though I was an officer using a tool.

The window that I replaced looks better than the back window that the contractors replaced. Even Tank, a contractor whose parent’s naming ability fits their son’s size and mentality, said I did “good.” I think that is just evidence that he’s been in Iraq long enough to have low standards for the word “good.” Honey, when I get home we’re going to get a car to put on blocks in the front yard so I can fix it up with plexi-glass and self-tapping screws. It will look “good.”

A Matter of Perspective


Yesterday a bomb went off next to one of my trucks, a not uncommon event. No one was hurt, but the guys who were in the truck were fairly new to theater so it was a memorable experience for them. Part of my job is going out and gathering some data when such a thing happens, and as long as no one is hurt, it is one of my favorite parts of the job. Soldiers tend to be much more talkative and expressive after their trucks get blown up so it is easier to get to know them since otherwise I am one of the outsiders on battalion staff.

One of the junior guys in this truck was all grins, as you could imagine you would be if you just escaped from death to safety, and he was also completely soaked through with sweat. From the top of his blouse to the soles of his boots he was soaked through. In a grinning voice he said to no one in particular but also to anyone who may be willing to hear, “This is great: I’m so soaked no one can tell I wet my pants.”

I thought this was funny because I’m pretty sure if my truck got blown up I’d wet my pants. So would you. Or at least we would fully understand if someone did. Before I could even laugh, his squad leader busts through in a near perfect impression of the XO in the movie “Down Periscope”* and yells, “Start pushing,” so the soldier starts doing push-ups. As near as I can tell, the squad leader thought saying “wet my pants” in the presence of an officer on battalion staff was unprofessional while dropping a soldier who is covered in sweat and had nearly been blown up was redeemingly professional. I know better than to interfere with these things because Army logic and Navy logic on these matters diverge.

As Chief and I walk to the next truck in the group to gather the last of our data, she asks what that was all about with an incredulous voice. As has become my most common expression of body language living among the Army, I find myself shaking my shaking my head and shrugging as I recount the story. We are both bemused because Navy professionalism dictates that treating someone in a way to let all around know exactly who is the boss is highly UN-professional and could be called abusive of one’s authority. I say that this is a matter of perspective, but deep down inside in places that don’t get published on the internet I do not feel that way. I can’t say that, of course, but I will mark this down as one more event in my “Navy Appreciation” log which grows longer every day.

*I forget who the actor was, but he was excellent at playing the short, everything by the books as they are written in his head, disciplinarian to the point of comical autocrat who had a chip on his shoulder but no respect.

Cold Desert Nights


I’ve heard stories about people freezing to death at night in the desert after almost dying of heat stroke during the day. If you’re outside in Baghdad, that is not the likely. It stays hot outside all night. Hot. Inside the weather is not as predictable because inside weather depends on third country national air conditioner repairmen. Last week it was warm but not terrible. Someone decided that good enough was not and put in a repair request.

The third country nationals came through. It is now cold. The reason being that while TCN’s do a great job at repairing the air conditioning unit, they don’t know how to install thermostats. I’ve heard rumors that there is one in the building, but I can’t believe that it is connected as my room temperature at night is sub-Arctic and I have never walked past our air conditioner when it is not running full speed. Last night I slept with two blankets, a sheet, my sleeping bag thrown on top, and a knit cap. The knit cap was a gift from a family in my parent’s church that when I originally got it did not think would be useful, but that I now find very useful. Thank you.



I left my second pair of Navy issue glasses, a pair that wouldn’t be too ugly if it weren’t for the frames, on Chief’s desk when I went home on leave. I came back and she somewhat apologetically said that my glasses were missing a nose piece. I didn’t really care since I left them on her desk and she only has one pair. She is a little particular about clutter, so I’m at fault for leaving them on her desk.

Since I have gotten back Chief has taken more and more of them, one piece at a time. First it was a screw that held the lens in, then the second nose piece. Right now they are lying completely disassembled and oddly enough Chief hasn’t complained about them cluttering her desk at all.

Making a Room a Home


Yesterday I put a bit of personal touch in my room. One of my companies was leaving so a sergeant gave me his mini-fridge. I have zero need of a mini-fridge since it would only encourage eating between meals, nevertheless it was free. I set it outside for about six hours to defrost, and it is now in my room… acting as a nightstand. It has been plugged in for about a day now and has not cooled down at all. Again, I’m not too concerned because I needed the night stand and have no real need for a fridge. If it cools down I won’t have to walk the twenty feet outside my room to the community fridge. If it doesn’t I have a night stand with about two cubic feet of hermetically sealed storage. It’s really a win-win.

Fall is Coming


We just got a TV with cable in our TOC, the battalions Tactical Operations Center. The Armed Forces Network plays football games not in real time, but continually. I think you could watch college football three days a week out here, and if you didn’t look at the scores ahead of time you could stay entertained. Oh the curse of constant connectivity and the internet, taking away the joy of football and cable by giving the scores in real time when cable is replaying! The first game I saw was Navy vs. Temple. I’m usually more of a naysayer when it comes to Navy athletics since I see them competing with academics, but being over here in the midst of the Army makes having a good Navy team a benefit. We won, and Army lost to Akron. There are lots of things I will present as arguments of the Navy’s superiority to the Army, but football isn’t one. Thank goodness Navy won though, because if Army had won and Navy lost I would hear about it all week. Instead, on this one issue, there has been blessed Army silence.

New Shoes


I got the shoes delivered that I bought on line, a new pair of Asics 2120’s. At first I thought they were too big and didn’t fit, and then I measured them next to my current shoes which have worked quite nicely and they are exactly as big. Imagine: two pairs of shoes that are both the same size and mass produced by the same company turn out to fit the same. In a fit (note: pun) of pro-Navy feeling I bought the shoes that are blue and gold. Now I’m afraid to wear them outside because I know once they hit the moon dust outside they will turn an off-gray shade of brown like my current shoes. I’m currently debating whether to carry them to the gym or just save wearing them until I get home.

Such goes the excitement and newness of Iraq.