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The Desert Periscope



What's a submariner doing in the middle of Iraq?



Updated: 2017-11-11T23:48:04.732+03:00

 



Memories....

2007-08-21T05:26:08.099+04:00

(image)



Link Updates and Magazine Story

2007-04-22T02:30:45.751+04:00

Yes, I'm enjoying my time at home!

I've been periodically updating the Blogroll with links to other sandbox sailor blogs... be sure to keep reading them!

The March issue of the Navy League's Sea Power magazine features JCCS-1 as its Cover Story. Read it!




Going Deep!

2007-04-02T09:22:29.918+04:00

It's been a long few days of traveling, but I have finally arrived home. The excitement, smiles, and hugs have been wonderful as I've enjoyed the day with my family. But crossing eleven time zones in two days without more than a few hours of sleep has left me exhausted. I'll be crashing early tonight, and spend the next few days getting reacquainted with a normal life.

I have enjoyed keeping this journal as a record of my experiences over the past year. Marking time with a daily post was an excellent stress-reducing routine, and looking for interesting things to share helped pass time in an otherwise dull and monotonous place. I have had many more interesting stories than I could share publicly, I have made good friends and look back on this last year as one of the most rewarding times in my life.

As I am no longer in the "desert", I feel this is an appropriate time to bring this blog to a close. It will remain available, of course, as long as the information in it is relevant to future Individual Augmentees, but this will be my final post as I slip beneath the waves. I encourage you to continue reading the other fine sandbox sailor blogs listed in the blogroll to the right, especially The One Wire, My Desert Adventure, Sandboxrich, the Segredo Family Blog, The Adventures of Professor Lieutenant Soule, The Landlocked Sailor, Mission Iraq - Round 2, and Air Force EWO in Iraq members of the group replacing mine. I'm sure they'll appreciate having an audience and hearing any comments you have about their experiences.

Fair winds and following seas! Dive! Dive!




The Penultimate Periscope Post

2007-02-13T06:43:11.500+03:00

I've always liked the word "penultimate". For the uninitiated, it means second-to-last, and this will be my second-to-last post to the Desert Periscope blog; the last one from overseas. Expect silence for about three days and a final post once I'm safely home.

This morning we had a few meetings and we're all done except for a very long process of getting up early, taking a long bus ride, checking through customs, waiting a very long time (overnight in an air terminal), riding a very long flight, and finally arriving at Baltimore sometime Sunday evening. Due to my bad luck with my e-ticket, I'll end up in "Amazing Race" mode visiting the ticket counter and trying to find the first flight home (or anywhere nearby) and if I have enough time, getting a hotel room for a quick catnap before an early Monday flight. No doubt I'll be exhausted, but happy to be home when it's all over.

Most of the idle speculation among us is how long it will take before we're sent back here. Most of the younger officers see their return as inevitable. I am fortunate enough to be close to my retirement, and I'm sure the timing will work in my favor to prevent a return. It's not bad duty, really, except for the long separation from the family. That is something I really don't want to do again.

Off to finish packing and fly home!




A Load off my Shoulders

2007-02-13T06:42:20.716+03:00

Today was the first official day of our four-day checkout process. My boredom from the past two days (a result of early arrival to guarantee being here on time) was rewarded with a few hours of actual activity! Only a few hours, but boy were they productive.

In the morning, we turned in two full duffle bags worth of equipment that the Army had issued us (and turned in the duffle bags, too!) It was nice saying good bye to heavy armor, unnecessary mosquito netting, a trenching tool, and a lot of other things I never used. I did somehow manage not to lose anything in all that time.

In the afternoon, we were able to finally turn in our weapons. My arrangements with my Army officemates to help me clean paid off, as I didn't have to do any cleaning and was complimented for having a weapon so clean "It should be an example for everyone on how to have a clean weapon." I did fess up that I'd had some help, mainly because everyone else who was having to re-clean theirs was asking me how I did it. The best part about that turn-in is that I don't have to carry those heavy items around all the time or worry about having someone watch them. It's truly a liberating feeling.




K - U - Wait some more

2007-02-13T06:40:09.509+03:00

I wish I could have something more interesting to report, but today has been another day of doing nothing but sitting around and waiting. With a scheduled flight home, there's nothing I can do to move up the process, and only a limited amount of things to do until then to pass the time.

I have unpacked and repacked a few times, experimenting with ways of doing it more efficiently, and deciding it really doesn't matter. I have more stuff than will fit in one bag, and not enough to fill two. At least I have some flexibility in how to arrange things.

Tomorrow we'll get to turn in most of the Army-issued equipment, including our weapons. That will be a relief -- at present we have to either carry our weapons around everywhere or make sure we have someone guarding them. So even our time off isn't totally "off" since we're trying to take our turns playing lookout.

I'm still working on shifting my flight up 10 hours, but haven't heard any results yet. My wife had the great suggestion of an alternate airport with more flight options, and I may do that! After waiting this long to get home, there's no way I'm going to wait around all day at an airport stateside!




K - U - Wait

2007-02-13T06:39:25.158+03:00

Well, it's been a lovely, and boring, day in Kuwait. I've accomplished exactly two things, each of which took five minutes, and spent most of the rest of the time sitting around. First was a post-deployment health screening, where I got to officially complain about breathing the fumes from the burning trash pit at Balad. Duly noted. And second was locating my e-ticket itinerary for my flight home.

And that's where I got really annoyed. My flight into BWI from Kuwait arrives late enough that I can't get another flight home until the next day. Not a big problem; I was expecting that. But worse than that, they booked me on a flight that doesn't leave BWI until that evening! I'd spend almost 20 hours sitting around in Baltimore wishing I was home, and not arrive until late in the evening. And the most frustrating part is that another member of the same unit, returning to the same airport as I am, is booked on a nice early morning flight that gets in at noon! Waah!

I have, of course, put in a request to change my ticket but I'm not holding my breath. They may have had only one seat on the earlier flight, and by the luck of the draw (or perhaps alphabetical order) it went to the other person and costs me 10 hours with my family. Kind of goes with the theme of this deployment. One last little kick on my way home.




Thinking Out of the Box

2007-02-13T06:38:30.287+03:00

Woohoo! The first leg of the homeward journey is complete. Well, the first three legs if you count all the take-offs and landings today. But as the sun sets I find myself in Kuwait, after having bid goodbye to Iraq for the last time.

One of the local "slang" terms in the military for Iraq is "the sandbox". Even though there's plenty of sand here, it isn't "in the box" and is, therefore, a bit more relaxed.

Coincidentally, our aircraft stopped briefly at Baghdad on its way here, and the last time my feet were on Iraqi soil (concrete, actually) were very close to the first place that I set foot in the country over nine months ago. Back then I had no idea what I was getting in to. It was quite a different feeling having all the experiences behind me as I headed the other direction.

Now that I really have no possible way of checking my work email or helping my replacement out, it's safe to get my mind off the war and back toward getting home. I won't have much to do for the next two days other than watch TV, read, eat, sleep, and repeat. Well, that and 8 days' worth of laundry.




Homeward Bound

2007-02-12T12:33:08.423+03:00

If all goes according to plan, this should be my last post from Iraq. Although I tried to sneak out today, first on a scheduled flight, and later by Space-A, things didn't work out. For having the entire day "off" I sure don't feel like I rested. In order to try to go Space-A, I had to wake up at 4am just to sign up for a flight. When I did finally wake up, and headed off to shower, I returned to find my room locked (with my key inside) and my roommate/replacement off on a 5-mile run. Various attempts to get a backup key failed until he returned. By the time I finished packing and had lunch, it was time to go up to the terminal to try to catch a flight. By the time I got back from that failed attempt, it was dinner time. Only now, in the evening, do I have some time to kick back. Well, at least I'm not complaining about being bored in Kuwait!

Several readers have been leaving comments recently on how much they've enjoyed reading over the last year. Thank you all for the kind words. It has been a fun part of my routine and a great way of helping the time go by. I do hope you've found some other great blogs, including some of the newly arrived folks, that you'll enjoy reading. As for the Desert Periscope, I expect to end this particular journal when I return home. I'm still deciding whether to start another blog (and on what subject) or fade back into the void of cyberspace. Suggestions are welcome!

As a final note, during my 4 years at the Naval Academy, I had a tradition of playing Simon and Garfunkel's song "Homeward Bound" the day before I returned for leave. It's appropriate now as I begin my journey back to home and family, and I've got the mp3 playing as I conclude this post.

"Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thoughts escaping
Home, where my musics playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me"




Persona Non Grata

2007-02-03T22:58:55.969+03:00

One of the most common quotes I heard today was "Why are you still here?"  Apparently after a grandiose ceremony this morning where my commander gave me an award and I made a nice little farewell speech, people are surprised to see me coming in the office occasionally.  I did have a few final things to do, and am addicted to checking my work email just in case someone hasn't gotten the word that I've been replaced.
 
I did spend a good portion of the day waiting in line at the post office, having completed the second of the two categories of packing.  I'm taking advantage of free postage from APO boxes to FPO boxes, sending a footlocker of stuff to one of my friends who is the Executive Officer on a ship in San Diego.  (He was my roommate during my deployment two years ago, for those who remember those emails!)  I'll be visiting there within a week of going home and can just pick it up then.  It's all unimportant stuff, and saved me about $40 in shipping!
 
Originally I was supposed to fly out tomorrow, but that flight was cancelled.  Fortunately for me, I expected that cancellation and have booked backup flights the next two days.  So I'll hang out tomorrow with absolutely nothing to do.  Well, except make the final packing decision on what to carry home and what to leave here in Iraq, to my replacement's benefit (although he'll have to put up with a roommate for one more day).



Getting Short

2007-02-03T00:07:15.558+03:00

You know you’re getting really short when people start saying their goodbyes “in case I don’t see you again”.  And in fact, I am down to one final (long) meeting before all my duties here are done.  Again, the farewell is bittersweet.  I’m reluctant to leave an assignment with such great job satisfaction, but boy am I excited to be going home to my family again.

 

I’m working through all the various checklists of things I need to do, to make my transfer smooth and keep me busy, and am organizing my things into four groups:  turn in to the Army, mail home, carry home, and abandon in place.  So far I’ve got part 1 packed, and need to get working on the others.




Right Seat/Left Seat

2007-02-01T17:07:12.462+03:00

In the standard Army Relief In Place/Transfer Of Authority (RIP/TOA) process, they generally refer to two phases, "Right Seat" and "Left Seat" rides.  The analogy would be driving training.  You spend the first portion of the turnover process in the right seat, observing the more experienced person in the left (driver's) seat.  Then, about halfway through, you switch places.  The new person takes over in the left seat, with the more experienced person available in the right seat for some last-minute mentoring before departing.
 
I'm about halfway through my own turnover process with my replacement, and we executed our equivalent of the Right Seat/Left Seat swap today, as we moved files back and forth between our computer systems and he took over my desk (and my seat).  I'm now relegated to "guest" status in my own office, and have to reluctantly sit back and let him take charge of what was, up until now, my job.  Daily routines really get drilled into you over here (the only sane way to pass the time) so it takes a real mental effort to step back away from them.  But time marches inevitably forward, and it's time to let someone else have the fun and immense job satisfaction that I've had for nearly a year.



Airing My Dirty Laundry

2007-01-31T21:26:48.345+03:00

No, I'm not about to disclose any dirty secrets, or whatever the subject line is supposed to mean.  It's meant more literally.
 
This week is a series of lasts, and today was my last chance to turn in my laundry, which is collected between 9 and 9:50am on certain mornings.  Except that this morning, for some inexplicable reason, they decided to collect it at 8:50am.  So when I went to drop off my dirty duds shortly after 9, I had missed the deadline.  So I now have an increasing pile of dirty clothes to carry around with me to Kuwait.
 
But even if I never had the chance to launder anything again until I got home, I think I'd still be happy.  Now that my return is a virtual certainty, it's very hard to disappoint me with anything.  Even very bad internet connectivity and a very busy schedule as I turn over with my replacement (poor excuse for lack of a post yesterday, I know.)



Grin and Grip

2007-01-29T21:51:27.474+03:00

Every time my officer in charge sent out an update of the schedule showing who would go home when, it was accompanied by a caveat, "Subject to immediate and violent change without notice," as well as a warning not to be too excited about going home until you were shaking hands with your relief.
 
I haven't quite made that handshake yet, but my replacement is on an airplane as we speak, and before the night is out, I expect to be making that important handshake that really locks in the certainty of my imminent return home.  I am, of course, in a great mood and looking forward to a busy week of turning things over to him, as well as packing my bags.  Soon... so very soon.



Thoughts on the Surge

2007-01-28T21:47:31.626+03:00

As I digest what will hopefully be my last Sunday dinner in Iraq, I figure I should answer the few of you who have been asking me what I thought of the latest surge plan.  I'll start out with a few disclaimers.  First, I have no special inside knowledge into what's going on here.  I'm basing my opinion largely on what I read in news reports.  Second, I'm not an expert, and my opinion is just that, an opinion.  It's probably wrong, and many people much smarter than I are working the problem.  Third, as an active duty member of the military, I've sworn an oath to obey the orders of my Commander in Chief and I will continue doing so.
 
Now, a few thoughts about the current plan:
  • The U.S. Military can be expected to succeed at any particular task assigned to it.  Specifically, the 20,000 extra troops sent to secure areas of Baghdad can be expected to complete that mission successfully.  Personally, however, I don't know what that will get us.  Will it buy us time to proceed with more reconstruction? Create jobs? Make life better for the moment?  Yes.  But that improvement will only last as long as we stay, and I don't foresee our country collectively having the stomach to stick it out as long as it takes.  And any gains we make will be undone when we leave unless the Iraqi government steps up.
  • In light of the above point, it is good to note that this is not a military war.  It is a political one.  Iraq, and the insurgents, have very little organized military power.  Unfortunately, the media and anti-war politicians are helping the insurgents get their message out by wavering in their support and encouraging opposing forces to continue attacking.  In particular, the current move in Congress to pass resolutions opposing the President are a horribly bad idea.
  • The Government of Iraq is more disfunctional than the U.S. Congress.  And they aren't getting any better, and won't, until they are in extremis.  The surge will do nothing to put more pressure on the Iraqi government.
  • General Petraeus, who was just confirmed as the top General here, is the Army's counter insurgency expert.  If anybody knows how to succeed here, he does.  He should be given a chance to implement his doctrine.  I think we'll know by mid-Summer whether we're having any success.
  • The Iraqi Army is slowly growing and slowly getting better.  You can't build an army overnight.  You can't rush the process.  Yes, there are deep problems with it, but the media highlights the few exceptions to the generally good news coming out of the transition teams.
  • The Iraqi culture is utterly different than our own.  If it turns out that this policy fails, it is not a failure of the US, but rather a choice of the Iraqis: in particular, their government.  If they choose to perpetuate their culture of violence and sectarian divisions, there's not much we can do to help them, and we need to back away and let them figure it out for themselves.

 




Technical Difficulties

2007-01-27T19:24:29.785+03:00

Those of you looking for a post yesterday were, obviously, disappointed by the lack thereof.  The dish I share with a bunch of other people went down (and still is down) so I've got limited ability to post updates.  Compounding that, apparently Yahoo Groups, which distributes the mailing list, apparently had some sort of database crash two days ago and is backlogged delivering the old messages.  Fortunately, I'm down to single digits for days in Iraq dealing with these issues. 
 
I have truly procrastinated as long as I can in cleaning my room for my relief's arrival.  I'll spend the good portion of my day off tomorrow doing that.  Or perhaps even tonight if I can't log on to the internet!  Perhaps the outage is a message from above!



Contact!

2007-01-26T17:00:53.329+03:00

Every time the phone rings these days and I hear that it’s a call from my boss, or our unit’s headquarters, I’m always paranoid that it will be someone informing me that something happened to my relief, and that I should plan on hanging around another month. I’m not sure if that’s pessimism or cynicism, or really what the difference is between the two. I guess I’ve just gotten used to surprising news regarding this deployment and I’m still trying not to celebrate too much until everything is really certain.

Fortunately for me, the contact from headquarters today was from my relief! Lots of simple questions that I was more than happy to answer, but more importantly, evidence that I’m still on track to make my way homeward. It’s hard to stop me from smiling these days. Other than that highlight, I kept busy doing important things, with a small cleaning break, but I’m still procrastinating the major cleaning until this weekend. Literally the last minute, as I’m hoping my relief will show up on Monday.




So close I can taste it

2007-01-25T09:19:43.477+03:00

I mentioned in a previous post that the menu at the DFAC rotates on a 20-day cycle. I realized today that I have less than 20 days left of eating Army food! That brings a whole new meaning to experiencing the same meals I’ve had for nearly 300 days previous. I can look at that glob of noodles and tomato sauce I had for lunch that they claim is lasagna, and savor it as the last time I’ll have to eat it! Or at dinner, hope that this is the last T-bone steak that I will attempt (unsuccessfully) to cut with a plastic knife. Mmm. I’m already coming up with the list of restaurants I want to visit after returning to the real world.

I’ve continued to procrastinate preparing for my relief’s arrival, but time is running short, so I really should get focused on that soon. With luck, I’ll also be able to sell him the TV and some other comfort Items I’ve picked up to make my stay here more comfortable. And he won’t make me reassemble the bunk bed I took apart. There are some advantages to turning a room directly over to someone instead of having to vacate it and get it inspected.




Acting Presidential

2007-01-23T23:18:47.293+03:00

It's interesting how much politics is in the news these days, a few weeks after the new Congress has convened and years before the next Presidential election. I've lost track of the number of candidates who have declared that they have formed exploratory committees. Actually, I saw a brief segment on a news show which told how to get the form declaring such to the Federal Election Commission. It's free (the news show said it cost a 39 cent stamp, but mail's free from over here!) I'm debating sending the form in so that I can run for President. I wonder how many votes I could get...

The other Presidential thing in the news is tomorrow's State of the Union address. It'll be 5 in the morning here when it's broadcast, so I don't think I'll watch it live, but I feel a constitutional duty to catch one of the many replays tomorrow. Supposedly he's going to talk mostly about domestic policies rather than the war. And given my relocation in only a couple weeks' time, I'm in the mood to think domestically as well.




Light at the end of the tunnel or oncoming train?

2007-01-23T00:54:19.027+03:00

Time always seems to go faster when deadlines are approaching, and this week is no exception. I have among the best deadlines possible... getting work done to get ready to go home! And, of course, I'm running out of time to do it. I'm working later than I have in a while (on an unrelated upsurge in things to do) and the need to start packing and cleaning and moving things is barreling down unmercifully.

At least I don't have TV to distract me. The AFN signal has been out at my trailer for the last two days. I'm not sure who I need to contact to fix it. But I better get it back up in time for this week's American Idol episodes!




Quid Pro Quo

2007-01-21T23:55:10.776+03:00

Today was a relaxing day, although I spent most of the evening tutoring one of the soldiers in my office in his Algebra course. Remember "completing the square"? Or the quadratic formula? I had to bang it into his head, but I think he finally got it.

I've been helping him out for several weeks, now, and he was asking the other day about getting me a gift certificate or something as way of thanks. I insisted he not spend any money, as it was my job to teach, but today I figured out a great way for him to pay me back. Turns out as my fellow sailors are checking out in Kuwait, they're running into problems turning their weapons in clean enough. And since the only thing most of us know about cleaning an M-16 was learned almost a year ago and we've had little practice since, they're getting them rejected. So I told the soldier to help me clean my weapons when I get ready to go home, and we'd call it even. It's a good trade of expert skills to help each other.




Yet Another Blogger

2007-01-21T00:11:19.951+03:00

I decided to spend a little quality time with Google and uncovered another blogger with JCCS-1. Like a significant number of our officers, he appears to be a pilot with a call sign of "Stimp." And according to his blog, My Desert Adventure, he likes to run a lot. At least he gets a lot of interesting blog entries from his (daily?) jaunts. Probably a lot more interesting than my updates on what TurboTax is telling me today.

Speaking of TurboTax, I realized today that my 5-year-old son has to file a tax return since his college fund yielded some nice (reinvested) dividends. At first I was annoyed at having to pay additional tax, but after crunching the numbers, it appears that since most of the amount was capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate, including his income actually ended up saving us money! Go figure.

Anyway, I've added Stimp and Barbie's blogs to my blogroll link on the right! Go visit them and tell them how much you appreciate them being here. And know that I appreciate them (and all the incoming group) much more than any of you! Hah!




Lack of interest

2007-01-19T22:38:46.371+03:00

I spent a bit more time today finishing up my taxes, and had a frustrating realization. Apparently before I accounted for my pitiful amount of bank interest, I was in a lower category. But thanks to rounding in the tax tables, adding in $6.11 of interest from my checking account resulted in an additional $5 of tax. As if that 2% wasn't already pathetically small, the government gets most of it! Oh, well.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few tax credits I didn't know I would be getting. Apparently, thanks to the fact that only 3 months of my annual salary were taxed, I qualified to get a credit for a portion of my IRA contributions. And also, I'm apparently being refunded some amount from the phone company billing excise taxes or something for the past three years. More money! I better enjoy it while it lasts, since the new Congress plans on raising taxes on the rich, and I'm probably one of a large group of people that never knew they were rich until Congress told them.




Spring Cleaning

2007-01-18T18:31:28.208+03:00

As I've started work through the administrative checklists for heading homeward, I've realized one of the first things I need to do is make some room for a roommate. While most people over here have to share their third of a trailer with someone, I've been fortunate enough to be ranked high enough to get my own room, which I'll hand over to my replacement. We'll have to share it for a week or so during the turnover process, but that's a much better situation than the Army units who routinely move out of their quarters into tents for their turnover period. (Their philosophy is that they'll sleep on the ground if they're on their way home, and I would agree it's a great philosophy.)

In order to keep the side of the room I tend to stay on uncluttered, I've used the other side as a storage area. I'm debating whether to try to clear off the other side completely for my relief, or do the easier task of just moving out of the uncluttered side and moving myself. Or perhaps I could plan ahead and actually pack up a lot of my stuff over the next week instead of waiting until the last minute. What, me procrastinate?




Out with the old, in with the new

2007-01-17T17:24:05.373+03:00

Today was one of the more exciting days of my time here, as I finally got a name associated with a relief! That makes my imminent return home all the more probable. Like a well trained sailor, of course, I'm bracing myself for the (some would say inevitable) news that they've changed their mind. What's worse, if something happens now it won't just be a generic "we didn't have anyone" decision, but it would be getting personal. I'm remaining hopeful, of course, but they keep telling me not to truly celebrate until I'm shaking hands with my replacement so I'll keep my celebration muted. (And update my counter with a more accurate return date.)

Speaking of new people coming over, another member of JCCS-1 has joined the blogging crowd. The author of The One Wire is an F/A-18 pilot, cut from the same tough-guy mold as your favorite characters in Top Gun. Except his call sign isn't nearly as cool as "Maverick" or "Ice Man." He's... get this... "Barbie." I suppose he must have a sense of humor to admit it. Be sure to check out his blog and add it to your daily reads! His counter was at 2 when I stopped by this morning, so he needs an audience!