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Preview: The Adventures of the Professor Lieutenant

The Adventures of the Professor Lieutenant



OR: HOW MANY SUBMARINERS DOES IT TAKE TO STABILIZE A GROUND WAR?



Updated: 2014-10-04T20:02:14.686-05:00

 



I'm Running Out of Material...

2007-10-18T18:08:48.094-05:00

perhaps it's just as well. i'm also running out of time here.

while my original tasking was scheduled for 410 days, my orders were thankfully cut for 325--which put me in theatre for 280. it seems that either my karmic balance remains positive, or my spirit guide slash guardian angel is intervening, because my sentence has been commuted approximately to time served. rah! i must be doing something right.

what does this mean? you will shortly have one less blog to check in upon, one less way to waste the interminable hours of the tedious american workday (my sincerest apologies, rehan). i may continue post-posting photos and body wash reviews, but we can all see how well that worked out in the first place. ah, well.

here's to good intentions!



Army/Navy Week (Baghdad)

2007-10-15T05:49:12.321-05:00

back in college, all those many long years ago, the first week of december--the week of the army/navy football game--was always the most anticipated of the autumn semester. i remember it especially fondly as the week of one of the few football games we conistently won during my tenure as a mid. it also heralded the close of the fall term, and was (is) cause for much celebration in the way of "midshipman hijinks." cadets and midshipmen try to kidnap one another's mascots, flight teams "bomb" noon formations with ping pong balls... and this generally good-natured hilarity carries over, upon commissioning, into joint activities such as the pentagon. hanging out in the desert leaves one not a little time for nostalgia, and since september i have been pondering how well-received army/navy shinanigans would be in a combat zone.

at usna, upperclassmen mercilessly punish the freshmen all year, but army/navy week allows the silly pledges--if not a respite--at least an oppurtunity to turn the tables. in early september milk cartons with the leavings of the back-to-school crabfest are placed in the overhead [ceiling, for my less nautical readers] and left to fester, awaiting the moment they'll be spilled into an unwary room. not one for wanton destruction, or offensive nasal offense, my personal favourites were waxing alternate-lifestyle pornography and hole punch holes into the deck [floor], and taking off a shower head and rigging it with kool-aid powder. then there were the midnight raids over the wall to hang sheet posters throughout annapolis... i was only caught by the police once, and only because a buddy fell behind and we had to go back for him; there we at least eight of us, so rather than call for backup, the kindly cop sent us packing.

perhaps i could band some navy brethren together, and we could sneak outside the wire at night to hang sheet posters on the road to baghdad? instead of the traditional "go navy! beat army!", i'm thinking that in light of my current situation "go navy! save army!" would be appropriate... maybe i could paint a huge bill the goat over the big first infantry division sign at headquarters? i still have plenty of time to plan, but right now all i know is: i can't wait to chalk up another win so i can engage in some celebratory fire!



Playing Dress-Up

2007-10-14T04:45:18.416-05:00

ah... october!

ever my favourite time of year, it provides such a vibrant confluence of fecundity and decay, pageantry and severity. the foliage, flashing to flame in late september, burns; the fragile ash leaves flutter to the earth, extinguished, to be ground underfoot; the crisp scent of death laces the cooling air, and a faint hint of iron on the tongue heralds the coming winter. limbs of skeletal trees pierce the sky, and we celebrate the souls of our regretted and unregretted mouldering by mimicking the nakedness of their bones, masking our own firm flesh.

i adore it, but that one hallowed e'ening most of all, when with all the rebelliousness of youth our lithe ladies tart themselves up like no other night of the year, while those not so saucily inclined exercise wit and ingenuity in the formulation of their attire. here i desire to note perhaps the most ingenious of all: the freshmen and sophomores at the naval academy. not yet afforded the privileges of civilian garb, their costumes are cobbled together from their uniforms, and some are just absolutely brilliant. a yellowing pair of whiteworks (the midshipman variant of the crackerjack) is readily modified into jedi robes; one of my freshmen actually cut head and armholes into his mattress, and paraded as his own perfectly-made rack; at the height of the popularity of the snl ace and gary cartoons, two fellows dressed as that ambiguously gay duo; the winter working blues (which are "blues" purportedly because every fifth thread is blue, and not black) are perfect for a johnny cash costume, and togas and ninjas invariably abound. one of the best outfits i've ever seen was a dinner dress uniform turned into a droog outfit from kubrick's a clockwork orange: fantastic!

sadly, the atmosphere here in no way resembles my dear northeastern americas. the heat of august has abated, though just enough so that the flies and mosquitos have returned. there is nothing deciduous about this climate, and what harsh vegetation there is looks little different from usual.

still! while i'm writing off 2007 as yet another year that never passed, i intend to keep my favourite holiday. to that end, i've decided upon my full body armor, green gloves, a purple sash, and a purple bandana mask. turtle power! i'm looking for a sufficiently long broomstick to complete the get-up... and rather quite curious as to the level of stir it will create. from what i've been able to tell, the army doesn't have much of a sense of humour.

of course, maybe i'll just dress up as an army officer, and forego all the issues... besides, a submariner pretending to be a soldier? that's scary.

(image)



CBS Day

2007-10-08T09:41:37.530-05:00

a quick little shout-out from the desert to my shipmates from my time aboard USS COLUMBUS SSN 762 (which i will forever remember in my heart as USS SHORTBUS POS 762)...

i hope your three day weekend was enjoyable.



Sound Silencing

2007-10-05T16:05:08.139-05:00

it would be fair to say that--as a submariner--there is one sense that, far more so than the other seven, defines my perception of the world around me.

blind as a bat; how disarmingly accurate that phrase! sightless beneath the seas, submarines stalk their prey with the same deadly precision the flighted mammal employs. almost as if the whole of one's vessel becomes the hammer, anvil, and stirrup, the vibrations are felt in the gut (stephen would be so proud) as much as the ear... it's not unlike a tool concert, really.

a change in the rumbling of the reduction gears alerts one to a new ordered bell. the altered hum of ventilation fans signals the loss of an electric bus. active sonar whoops and whines the length of the hull, haunting dreams and waking hours. anything unaccustomed is cause for alarm and investigation--especially the slightest errant release to the surrounding environment. to that end, the submariner dons soft-soled shoes--the ubiquitous "sneaker" was never so appropriately worn [i rock a pair of stars-and-bars chuck taylor all-stars, myself]--and when passing through hatches keeps the handle in hand, closing it lightly behind him. rigging for ultra quiet is an actuality that involves the entirety of the crew not engaged in standing a watch going to bed; all unnecessary machinery and communication is secured...

which is why i want to strangle to like silence the thunderous clod sharing the other half of my trailer. i realize i shouldn't complain: i live in a trailer rather than a tent, furnished with a toilet and shower that i clean myself (to say nothing of the benefits of not needing to walk outside make water). these are luxuries in theatre, and i am indeed thankful.

but! i swear... this oafish brute is physically unable to gauge appropriate force for anything. in the midnight hours he launches himself bodily into his water closet; would then that we had to wee out of doors! a small price it would be. i was convinced of an evening that he'd pulled an emmett l. brown--only without the subsequent brilliance--and brained himself on the bowl. both entry and exit from his half are heralded by the shuddering whole, as if the trailer itself would weep, given more anthropomorphic plumbing.

if his cussed concussions continue, i am in danger of adopting the poor trailer's palsy, and in a shivering fit of rage beating myself a tattoo upon his bloody pate.

the rest would then be silence.

sweet, sweet silence...



The Legend of Zelda: In My Pants!

2007-10-02T03:15:12.761-05:00

POST-POSTED FOR 5 SEP 2007
on the topic of omnipresent adverts:

does anyone else see the irony in our nation of rebellious youth that refuse to be labelled being, well, labelled--or perhaps branded--by the products they endorse? probably the most obvious example of this phenomenon are the iTards, living their iLifestyles (even more ironically, oblivious to the fact that the product label they've chosen so clearly illustrates their preoccupation with self). for my money, those products would be more accurately labelled the myPod and the myPhone, or perhaps dispense with all dissembling and be called the mePod and mePhone.

don't get me wrong: i'm as frustrated with microsoft as the next guy. i was part of the vanguard in the anti-microsoft charge of the '90s, swearing up and down that netscape was a superior browser, refusing to code for explorer (for those keeping track at home, yes, that conflicts with my publicized age of 26. i also remember the advent of NESticle, the nintendo entertainment system emulator that allows you to play the old classics by using image files of the old 8-bit ROM cartridges; more on that in a moment. hush.). even today i employ firefox as my primary websurfing software.

here's the skinny: you don't really need a mePhone. there are already far more inexpensive products out there, sporting wi-fi and bluetooth technologies, playing media files, and rocking digital cameras--with the bonus of plenty of third party applications and SIM unlocking (allowing you to switch carriers on a whim, or install pre-paid SIM cards overseas), and without the headache of proprietary nonsense and licensing restrictions. i have one, and on my recent vacation spent a short amount of time unlocking it and adding some sweet hacks and apps (google maps, the ability to receive satellite radio from either major carrier, porn, lasers, a guinness tap). here we have finally reached the point of this post, where i explain how my life has been irrevocably altered in the direction nirvana:

i installed Pocket Nester, a NES emulator for windows mobile, and now, no matter where i go, i will always have that most influential rpg of all time, the original The Legend of Zelda, in my freaking pants!

it's my miniNES. it completes me.



Body Clock

2007-09-28T03:10:09.705-05:00

so here's something interesting i've discovered about myself:

whilst home on leave--due, i can only imagine, to jet lag--i awoke every morning at exactly six of the clock, ante meridian (a.m.). working the figures quickly, what with the east coast being -5:00 greenwich mean time (gmt) and the middle east being +3:00 gmt, this means i was waking every day at two of the clock, post meridian (p.m.). this is decidedly later than the start of my day here in taji. so what does it mean? it means i'm genetically predisposed to rise in the early afternoon... which makes perfect sense given that my best undergraduate and graduate work had always been done between the hours of ten p.m. and three a.m.

now, if i could only find gainful employment that would accommodate such a schedule; or perhaps no employment at all is the answer?

hm. i'll have to sleep on that...



Check. And Mate. Biotch.

2007-09-19T06:02:50.830-05:00

so...

i like to think of my chess skillz, as the kids say, as on the high end of mediocre, right? well, i have been here regularly handed my ass more handily than i think, perhaps, ever. seriously. the match notation goes a little something like this:

1. e2-e4       b7-b6 (A, O, BTW, HYA...)

"and, oh, by the way, here's your ass..."

one of our translators--the fellow whom i've been playing--goes by the name butcher (none of our iraqi mates use their real names for safety concerns), because, as he says in his light accent, "i am a chess butcher."

and how.

he was kind enough to offer that of his 30 american opponents, i was to date his most skilled "victim;" i believe this was meant as a compliment. holy. crap. i was completely on the run for the first two matches; it was pitiful, and embarassing. i finally fought him almost to a standstill in the third match, where we were down to kings and pawns, but his king was more active--so he ultimately would have queened a pawn and taken me yet again. that was the first match where he commented graciously that i "made [him] have to think."

i mean, honestly, one cannot even call this guy's mechanics mechanics because they're so elegant. our styles are remarkably similar, as he plays defensively like unto me, and it's almost a joy to watch him systematically dismantle my assaults because i learn so much; the key is retaining it. as black he fianchetto's early on the queenside and uses that bishop to control the pawn square (in the last match i stymied that diagonal entirely by blocking it with pawns, which kept the balance even)... and as white he's fond of using his pawns as battering rams to incredible effect. well, eventually it comes out--as he gleefully forces me into another kings and pawns resignation--that he's played competitively since before i was born, apparently even making it to the national finals in the '70s. here my bruised ego slaps a cold steak on itself, and i rally for yet another sound trouncing.

would that all contests of will were so gentlemanly and good-natured.



Vindicated; Still Poor.

2007-09-16T00:38:28.706-05:00

in a previous post, My Dilemma: Balls Hot, or Boxers or Briefs: Extremities in Extremis, i made the claim that in the summer of 1997 i and my six fellows made male fashion history by starting a trend while hiking the appalachian trail that was to become a kilt revolution in the backpacking world, and which eventually trickled into the main stream. i am attaching an article from september second of this year that proves we--and most specifically i--are/am not a member of the lunatic fringe, so much as the lunatic pleated waistline.

please note the sentiments that almost exactly mirror mine own "vision of america without pants": each kilt is "designed on the premise that man is a prisoner in his own underwear," and at this specialty shop they sell not only cutting-edge couture, but also "freedom." indeed, these ideas were penned inside the trail logs for at least two shelters in the shenandoah valley that fateful, sweaty summer, and were likely reiterated several times thereafter throughout west virginia, maryland, delaware, and pennsylvania. the real catch stitch on this hemline, though, is the timeframe: the first utilikilt was crafted "out of an old pair of shorts in 2000," at the very peak of Freeballer excursions on the trail. coincidence?

hardly.

(image)



The War On Terror...

2007-09-16T00:23:15.975-05:00

should be declared won. six years ago.i cannot understand why we as a nation allow our leadership to use those four words as a method for fear-mongering, grand-standing, and especially for the justification of questionable decision-making.are we truly a nation at war? when i consider a nation at war, i envision a state whose populace in some very tangible way suffers the effects of that war--for example, the rationing of critical supplies such as fuel, or the concern for a beloved friend or family member placed in harm's way. are there lines outside our gas stations twice a week? do we drive more economic vehicles, encouraged to do our part? are we suffering a shortage of rubber or steel? how many of our citizens are actually related to a servicemember in this age of an all-volunteer force? [now, don't misunderstand me here; i'm not denigrating our populace for not caring about our soldiers and sailors, because that certainly isn't the case... on the way back to the 'raq, my group in the atlanta airport was met with a spontaneous and sustained round of applause and "welcome home!"s (we didn't have the heart to tell the crowd we were actually returning to theatre, and that our flight had simply been cancelled for the night). i'm just saying that of all conflicts in our nation's history, this in particular has the least tangible impact upon the average american.]indeed, the only aspect of this "war" that our country truly experiences is the propaganda machine.let's also take a moment to define war on the real front, as opposed to the home front. to my understanding, there exist two main theatres in which we are engaged in some action or other, tied somehow to this war on terror: iraq and afghanistan. i will not pretend to know anything about the latter, and will instead confine myself to a discussion of the former. what are we doing in iraq? we are providing security, and doing so by establishing viable border control teams, national police, and army units--all an effort to solidify porous borders, and quiet disquieted streets. what weapons are at our soldiers' disposal? the rules of engagement dictate the circumstances, which are few, under which they are free to engage the ambiguous enemy (largely because the enemy is so ambiguous). instead, we attempt to employ the rule of law, combating the all too ill-defined "terrorist" with crime scene investigations and biometric evidence, and processing the detained in the iraqi judicial system.and there we have it. terrorism is not an act of war; it is a crime, and we are combating it as such. what does that make our involvement? a police action.it was probably a mistake to watch the senate foreign relations committee while i tried to gather my thoughts for this tirade--now, seethingly infuriated by those [insert epithets of choice here], i'm sure this is one of my least well-constructed posts. oh, hell, while we're here, another thing that pisses me off: i'm disgusted with the constant sports analogies, as if foreign relations can be boiled down to the vagaries of little league. but, hey! the [bleep]ers just illustrated my point for me: here we are, "referee[ing]."so, it's not a frakking war! and, to our nation's leadership, this is all a game! we, as a whole people, should be ashamed of ourselves for so happily snorting this line of white they prepare for us; instead, we should look down, into the mirror on which the drug is powdered and aligned, and ask ourselves if we truly want to experience the paranoia it brings.i don't.so i say, chalk the damn thing up as a win and call our actions what they are: police actions augmented by policy decisions as to how we shall conduct foreign relations and national security in the future. it will take the unilateral card out of our hand, and force us to play nicely with our fellows and allies, imp[...]



The Straight Poop, on the Eve:

2007-09-10T04:44:06.731-05:00

when i first began this web log, i had every intention of peppering my little portion of the matrix with ones and zeros that--upon broad inspection--would resolve themselves into a series of caustic diatribes; these diatribes were to treat with as much irreverence as possible (for the which i am more than qualified) the myriad inexcusable deficiencies of, at the very least: the chain of command that sent me here on three weeks' notice with no one save my immediate superior expressing anything at all, let alone concern for my personal or professional safety or development (as in: neither my division head, nor the commandant, nor the superintendent contacted or met with me upon being assigned my mission--they were probably too busy spending the holidays with their families); the training we individual augmenters receive prior to deploying to a zone of hostile fire; the fundamental lack of proper leadership and management to which i've been privy, and have indeed been forced to combat to the best of my abilities with just two silly little captain bars; the waste, fraud, and abuse--in the form of monies and personnel--rampant in theatre; our, to my mind, poorly informed national security strategy; our entertainment press; and our nation's ruling class--er, government.here's the deal though: reading back through my posts, i am personally amazed at the change of attitude i have suffered at the hands of empathy and perspective. indeed, all of the things that most aroused my ire have fallen by the wayside as i've trodden this well-exploded path, finding myself arrived in a place i little expected.we can argue until we're blue--or red--in the face about the morality of our presence in this morass, and our reasons for leaping into it in the first place. to expound upon a cliché, hindsight is generally 20/20, if not better, but when everyone's watching the six, no one has their sights facing forward. no one, that is, save the soldiers, marines, sailors, and airmen who are depending upon the accuracy of those iron sights, not to mention the men, women and children of this torn nation.many times throughout my career i've asked myself the questions: why do i do it? why do i stay? first, there are the easy answers: i have been afforded amazing opportunities in both education and experience; i have seen much of a world i would not have otherwise; i was offered an incredible opportunity to give back to those whom i most owe at my alma mater, and a permanent change of station to the east coast that could have salvaged an ailing relationship. but, those are all superficial, and truthfully, largely irrelevant.blackhawk down was showing on the armed forces network the other night, and while it did little to ease my paranoia, it helped me to define that harder answer to the questions above. i do this not for god, nor for country, nor for any ideal, misguided or no; when mortars land and cars explode indiscriminately, such intangibles become even further removed. i do it, and i dare say many of my fellows would assert the same, for those standing to my left and those standing to my right, and i do it for the decent people sheltered, however poorly and however infiltrated by our enemies, by our thin line of green, khaki, white, and blue--by our thin line of grey. so, i would ask the blue faces and the red faces to please choke; a purple face would serve us better. here we are. here we can do good--good, to me, may simply be defined as one child less living in fear; something long ago taught me that the good of that one may indeed outweigh the good of the many, or the few. that's all i need to know.because we are doing good:i am attaching a letter from general petraeus to us troops, dated september 7, 2007. in it he makes a number of claims, and i give you my word of honour--[...]



Zounds! 'Scaped!

2007-09-06T08:46:04.630-05:00

POST-POSTED for 15 JULY 2007

um... yeah... so there haven't been any river posts of late for good reason: back in july, he and his little concubine, to use a completely inappropriate metaphor, jumped ship.

he was always an an acrobatic little feller, leaping to the terrarium lid and clinging on upside down, but it seems that once we emplaced the habitrail components inside, he was given enough of a platform to jar the lid, well, ajar. i returned to my office one morning to find him long gone, his fewmets cold as 120 degrees (the fact that he was ever the predator as opposed to the prey notwithstanding). [editor's note: withhold all comments about fewmets pertaining specifically to dragons; i'll be damned if river produced normal mouse droppings. in hindsight, i ought to have saved them: they'd've probably cured cancer. or cowardice.]

perhaps it's for the best; my little mononoke friend as like as not is probably largely responsible for the decrease in violence in our region (it was not lost upon me that his escape perfectly coincided with the positive developments).

he shall ever be missed, and will always have a little place in my heart--a place that he chewed out for himself with his little demon fangs.



There's No Place Like Home...

2007-09-04T21:40:52.106-05:00

and this is no place like it.

still, i've resisted the urge to paint my desert boots cherry red, adorn them with glitter, and walk about clicking my heels a la rommel. perhaps that'll be my halloween costume, although i do so have my heart set on wearing my full body armor with a purple sash and mask. how would a light colonel react to a "turtle power, sir!" do you think?

of course, while there is no place like home, my recent vacation from this, my vacation from life, granted me an opportunity to realize what things about our nation i truly don't miss at all; of course, the first few i've not been given a chance to miss, but that's beside the point:

1. ethnic and racial tensions, often realized in bloodshed
2. simple crime, often realized in bloodshed
3. religious conflict
4. political dysfunction
5. organized crime

the real kicker though, is the omnipresent advertising of the western world. perhaps the language barrier offers me a substantial buffer, or perhaps my tenancy on an iraqi military base prevents me from exposure to their real world, but here on the 'raq i am so sheltered from the bombardment of such campaigns that the first thing i noticed about being home was how annoying and frustrating is the constant violation of our visual and aural personal space. simon and garfunkel were a bit off base: like a cancer grows, my foot. after walking from point a to point b in the atlanta airport, i just wanted to find a dark, quiet space in which to sit in the semi-silence of my own weeping.

honestly, one doesn't realize how ubiquitous and insidious this advertising is until he's been deprived for a lengthy period. flyers, posters, signs, billboards, apparel, radio, television... there is always someone impinging upon our collective and individual consciousnesses. i am truly considering a subscription to satellite radio; i already dvr my nerdy television programmes so i can skip past the commercials.

then again, perhaps i ought to just calm down and have a coke. or is it pepsi? shit. without a catchy jingle, i just can't decide...



Back in the I.R.A.Q.

2007-09-04T02:14:42.662-05:00

i was planning on my theme for this post being the iRAQ, until i realized that mad tv beat me to that punchline ages ago. ah, well.

here i am, safe and sound as applicable, back in the correctional facility that is the phoenix academy, serving out the rest of my sentence. on the bright side, i managed to get more than halfway through before popping stateside for a breather, which is good, because i can only imagine the mindset i'd be in if i'd had to return with more than 50% of the deployment to go; "murderous" i do not believe would even begin to describe it.

to those of you whom i was lucky enough to see: thank you for a truly wonderful respite; from the first english department meeting of the semester to the bottle of bombay sapphire split but two ways on the cold and rainy beach, those fifteen days only reinforced how fortunate i am to claim such friends and family as my own. to those of you i did not see: had i not but a finite amount of time, our paths would have more than crossed; i apologize wholeheartedly. as it stands, i assure you all that you have priority for when i return from iran in a few years.

cheers!



Why Is It...

2007-08-23T14:08:46.766-05:00

that my serious posts elicit little to no commentary, while my experiences and opinions with and regarding shower gel, voluntary rock and manpart interaction, and the going commando generate scads of chatter? have i lost a serious readership due to low output? did i never have a serious readership in the first place?

i mean, i practically insinuated that there may come a day when the armed forces of the united states may need to turn on their elected officials should those officials prove themselves enemies of the constitution; i even further intimated that such a day might be not so far off! what do you people want to talk about?! the age-appropriateness of my (albeit fictitious) relationship with one miss panettiere!

speaking of which:
happy birthday, hayden!

:-P



Gone Walkabout

2007-08-09T06:08:46.047-05:00

which, i suppose, isn't entirely accurate, as a true walkabout is a vision quest of a sort; i'm saving that for december. well, maybe next summer. i'm going to need time to find a shaman willing to follow me at a discrete distance for four days, and i'm pretty sure that vocation is in short supply, despite what world of warcraft would have one believe (sorry, scooter, i don't think you count.).

i have, however, or will have, departed, or may be about to quit shortly, my little corner of east asian, heading back to the severn shore (the severn run supposedly starts somewhere behind my backyard, which is totally cool having lived on its banks for four years)--at least for the next several weeks.

unfortunately, due to operational security concerns, i cannot be anymore explicit; see most of you soon, and i'll be back posting again sometime around early september.

you should all by this point be very used to long dry spells, especially with respect to my pen.
i know i am!



Speak the Speech...

2007-08-09T05:47:16.337-05:00

POST-POSTED for 20 JULY 2007

trippingly on the tongue; and what a long, strange trip it's been, especially for my tongue!

of all places in the world to employ my spanish, downtown baghdad was easily the least expected. arriving in the black hours of the night with no idea as to where i was headed, i set out on the streets of the iz in my body armour, toting a seabag and weapon, and looking for directions. depending upon the civilian i had in tow--who had supposedly worked personnel support detachment for the ambassador before, and therefore hypothetically ought to have known where he was going--wasn't working, so i approached some of the contracted guard force at one of the checkpoints we were failing to pass through. i wasn't expecting to hear spanish, so it didn't register at all. at all. three fellows later i caught a lo siento, or something, at which point my elated habla usted espanol? provoked an understanding; i'm sure my broken formal spanish fell jarringly upon their peruvian ears, but at least we had a small common vocabulary through which to treat.

it turned out that i was fine. i could pass any checkpoint and enter the embassy without issue; my civilian companion, however, could not. ah. bugger.

-----

i've also learned a small number of macedonian words from some of our subcontractors on phoenix camp, but the real experience has been acquiring iraqi arabic. stated flatly, arabic is hard. damn hard. there are all manner of sounds that we as westerners have no idea how to imitate, but for some reason my iraqi comrades think rather highly of my pronunciation... i can only guess that i have mark f. and doc t., and years of singing for them in every language other than english, to thank, not to mention one semester stumbling upon the peculiarities of normalized west saxon old english. þæt wæs god leornung!

passing through a checkpoint on the iraqi side, my bostonian YN1 desertmate attempted marhaba, which is "welcome," or "hello," in his northeast accent. imagine jimmy fallon saying "more harbor" to as much comedic effect as possible. the guard smiled indulgently, and was about to wave us through, when i followed it with masa' al hayr; the guard completely lost it, and paused for a moment to chat with us.

it's surprising how much favor one garners by simply making an effort, culturally. i am now known as "brother" to one of our local nationals, and the guard force is far more genial toward me than most other americans. pulling into our control point at the academy one evening, i spoke to the fellows on duty, and one actually said to me, "when you speak, i think you are arabic." i thanked him, shukran, to which he replied, "pretty soon we will be able to take you to downtown baghdad, because no one will know you are not!"

um. yeah.

shlon agul "rain check" in arabi?



The "Green" Zone...

2007-08-08T03:38:53.674-05:00

POST-POSTED for 20 JUL 2007is rather inappropriately named, if you ask me.since everything outside the international, or green, zone (iz) in downtown baghdad is termed the "red" zone, and since we received more than 35 rounds of incoming one day, i feel that the "aggressively orange" zone or the "painfully fuschia" zone would be more applicable labels. of course, those names could offer some emotional discomfort to the civilians, so perhaps green is for the best... i mean, there are some parts of iraq that are green, right? there are; i've seen them. why not too an urban isthmus bordered on three sides by the tigris, and four by strife? besides, the "raw sienna" and "burnt sienna" zones would perhaps be a bit melodramatic, and we need to save some original ideas for tehran. oh, hey, by the way, in case you have yet to pick up on it, i went to the iz for a few days! "why?" you may very well ask, and, honestly, i don't rightly know... i was attending the rule of law conference hosted in the american embassy, and being neither state official, nor lawyer of civilian or military persuasion, nor coffee boy, nor sycophant, i was sorely out of place. well, okay, i've been a coffee boy. whatever.the topic of discussion over the three days was basically: how can we (iraqis and coalition partners) turn this country around from a lawless insurgent state to a functional governance with fair and impartial application of the law to all parties?i formed the very distinct impression that most of the earnest attendees were and are daily frustrated by holding the untenable position between two dysfunctional governments fractured by ideologies and partisanship, neither with any real interest in solving this conflict other than the platforming and grandstanding that it offers. [editor's query: has anyone else noticed that "support the troops" has become a punchline?] other than that, i watched a number of political entities self-massaging themselves, calling for more funding and so forth. i saw the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, General Petreaus (yet again), the President of the Iraqi Bar Association, and the Chief Justice of the Iraqi Supreme Court... it was all actually quite disheartening, and i left with somewhat dim prospects for the future.the president of the bar association was the most distressing; the whole of his speech boiled down to a few brief talking points: 1) the US needs to stand up to it's responsibility to fix everything, 2) so that lawyers can live in prosperity. any concern for the general populace was overshadowed by the latter point. in fact, when an iraqi lawyer stood up and asked, rather pointedly i might add, what the bar association was doing to help him in his province, specifically in terms of getting the fledgling judicial system up and running, the president of the bar launched into a speech about lobbying for increased salaries. i was flabbergasted. we, the coalition partners, then proceeded to fawn over this fine fellow, proffering gifts and thanks for his "wisdom" of all things, and my flabbergast turned to disgust.the whole idea behind what i'm doing here at the phoenix academy is getting the iraqis to stand up and take care of themselves, and it seems like at the highest levels many still have no desire to actually do that--are depending instead upon americans to do it for them. with such attitudes, we'll never be able to successfully withdraw, and the regular folk with whom i live and work and for whom i have developed a great sense of empathy and responsibility will be doomed to this substandard of living for decades to come. it's rarely[...]



The Things I Get to Do Here...

2007-08-07T23:58:20.698-05:00

are sometimes actually sort of groovy.

i've been working to establish and certify a helicopter landing zone (hlz) for our little compound. i started by obtaining the regulations for a proper naval air field, assuming that regulations would be necessary. silly me! it's iraq! see, the next thing i did was dig out the army regulations so i could reconcile the two, and it turns out, hey!, there aren't any! at least, not really any of which to speak. no standard lighting configuration, no required surface--asphalt or hardtop--and no expected markings in retro-reflective paint. so, it looked like all would be easier than anticipated...

not so much.

the red tape has been a nightmare, but i finally landed some birds at night. hurrah! now all i need is a name. i'm thinking soule navy air field blank, but i have yet to come up with a proper "u" word; i so want to put up a sign that reads "s.n.a.f.u."!

(image)
birds on approach.


(image)
birds on the deck.


(image)
blackhawk profile.



My Dilemma: Balls Hot

2007-08-07T12:27:28.603-05:00

this post is subtitled
Boxers Or Briefs: Extremities in Extremis

mommy always used to reinforce the importance of wearing clean underpants: that wisdom has many and varied applications throughout every stage of life, from childhood, sneaking peaks up girls' skirts or skinning knees in jeans, through adolescence, "pants-ing" others (perhaps being "pants-ed") and entering the dating scene (hopefully being "'pants-ed'"), to adulthood (more with the dating scene, still somewhat with the pants-ing, and largely for the unforeseen trips to the hospital). you simply never know who is going to see your drawers, or whose knickers you yourself might see.

this is no less poignant in armed conflict, and indeed in many respects may be more so; the last thing you want to be worrying about when your medic is patching you up is whether or not he's judging you because of your choo-choos and duckies, or because the choo-choos and duckies haven't been washed in a fortnight.

which brings me to my dilemma. no, not boxers or briefs. that's easy! briefs. i want certain extremities under as tight control as possible, minimizing cross-section, and therefore enhancing survivability. see, it's the vests that have the ceramic plate reinforcement, not the pants, and i do not believe an athletic supporter variant is in any stage of research or development.

here's the issue:

ten years ago this june, i went backpacking with my mates in the shenandoah valley. early on in this expedition, during one of the many switchbacks--get this--switching back, and forth, up the still majestic appalachians, i became aware of an uncomfortable sensation. this feeling was aggravated by the moistures of humidity and sweat, and the constant rubbing that accompanies the simple motion of placing one leg in front of the other. i believe this is called chafing, but i defer to my more medically knowledgeable readers for clarification.

needless to say, the bloomers didn't make it. i didn't even bother to drop the pack; i whipped out my trusty bsa pocketknife and sliced them out from under my shorts. ah! the blessed freedom of ventilation! some of my comrades did likewise, though admittedly with less pizzazz as they made the call the following morning before setting out, and from that moment on our little troupe went by the name The Freeballers.

[editors note: this actually precipitated the brief, faddish popularity of hiking kilts. i'm not kidding. check hiking lore from the late nineties and early aughts.]

examination of the appalachian trail shelter logs from 1997-2002 will yield entries penned by permutations of the original group, trafficking under their proper trail names, but also that very same collective name.

[editor's note: for our more youthful readership, a "trail name" is like a "gamertag". you earn one "outside".]

anyway, back to my problem:

have i mentioned that it hits 135 degrees here? no, not kelvin, and thankfully not celsius, but good, old-fashioned fahrenheit... and, hey, that's freakin' death valley hot. so what to do? brave the briefs and suffer the sweat, or live free and die perhaps not so hard?

wow. i don't think i can top that last sentence.
i'll leave you in suspense...



July Fourth...

2007-07-05T01:13:58.567-05:00

is a day for overt patriotism, celebrated through flag waving, decorative explosions (does anbody else see the irony in that we celebrate our nativity with devices invented by the nation that some would argue is our greatest rival, both militarily and economically?), and the indulgence to excess (ah! so american!) in staples such as processed tubular meats and apple pie.

i have of late, and wherefore i know not, found rather that my personal patriotism takes quite a different turn.

i find myself reflecting upon my oath as an officer in the armed forces, which i first took on July 1st, 1997:

"I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and the I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter, so help me God."

i have sworn this oath four times now, and each time i pause with greater gravity before speaking those words with ever greater weight.

i think we must all agree that the definition of foreign enemies is--generally--readily apparent, but what of domestic? what, exactly, constitutes a domestic enemy of our Constitution? i would argue that one who willfully makes an effort to circumvent its inherent system of checks and balances is just as guilty as any anarchist bent to o'erthrow its governance. how, then, should we react to the manipulation of congressional districts such that a 98% incumbant re-election rate is the norm, establishing an entrenched congressional body with little to no turnover? how should we react to that body polarizing itself between two extremes and baiting the populace with meaningless motions meant only to discredit the opposing faction, and which fail to address the true ills that plague our nation? our political parties have fashioned the chambers of congress into modern-day coliseums better suited to the antics of the gridiron and the theatrics of professional wrestling than to discourse and legislation. how should we react to a member of the executive branch that denies his membership, and instead aligns himself with the legislative... but only when it serves his or her personal agenda? how should we react to the head of the executive branch knowingly upsetting the delicate balance of the judicial, or employing the presidential signing statement--a document that in no uncertain terms states that the laws of our nation do not, in fact, apply to him--to circumvent the very document that affords him his privileges?

should we be merely insulted that our intelligence is so discounted, or deeply troubled? our Constitution was crafted as a living document, and we as a people must keep it so lest it be forged into the chains that shall bind us.

these are just some things to think about--and by thinking we honor our forefathers and their intent for this nation in the grandest possible fashion.

of course, hayden panettiere at the capitol isn't too shabby, either.
yum.



Flight of An Intruder

2007-07-01T00:14:53.220-05:00

there i am, secured in my body armor to the internals of a blackhawk helicopter, face all squooshed by the unyielding straps of the helmet and weapon still in the armory at taji--so any attempt to look badass is thwarted outright. here i'm just cargo.the return to taji from balad was a morning flight in broad daylight; initially i balked a bit at the prospect, as i had to this point only flown in rotary wing craft at night, which significantly reduces one's visual signature (the helos fly with no lights on, so they're almost impossible to see; our wingmen on those flights were just creepy shadows against the black sky). i then realized that if i'm to be shot out of the sky, there's really not a damn thing i can do about it, so i got over myself and placed my camera within easy reach.northern and central iraq seem to be an eclectic mixture of the pennsylvanian and hawai'ian landscapes that are my roots, only severely flat as opposed to rollickingly hilly or stabbingly mountainous. date palms and orange trees in neatly ordered rows blanket the countryside, which is then chequered by irrigation ditches and pasture for livestock. it's truly quite beautiful. if it weren't for the lack of ocean, i dare say one might even come to love it here (the royal navy qualifies their "to a willing foe!" toast with "and sea room!" and with good reason).submarining requires at the least the same levels of intelligence as flight, and a like ability to mentally image spatial relationships... and, honestly, submarining is really just flight translated into a different medium, where our control surfaces create the lift not accomplished through buoyancy. i would venture to offer that a huge portion of submariners are those whose eyesight precluded entry into flight school (evidenced strongly by the fact that usna submarine accessions dropped markedly upon laser eye surgery being approved for midshipmen prior to commissioning). that being said, had i the required vision i still likely would not have chosen flight as my career path; but, if i were to choose, i'd pick helos over jets every time. i imagine there's very little difference between machs 1 and whatever at one's normal jet altitude... whereas in a helicopter one becomes intimately familiar with the terrain (and oftentimes ground forces) o'erwhich he soars. so cool. the above video isn't terribly exciting until you consider that it's footage of our wingman that i shot--personally--with my canon digital elph S230 at about 150 feet off the deck during our flight... over northern freaking iraq. the godawful pan down about two thirds of the way through way my attempt to exhibit how low we were flying. quite the experience, i must say, especially given that you never know if you're going to come under fire. my first helo hop to taji, now months past, had me within 30 minutes of being the bird that was shot down ("hard landing," as reported, with no serious injuries on board). this flight our landing time coincided with what had been a mortar attack the previous morning (no personnel injuries, to my knowledge; just equipment). this is still nowhere near the level of threat some of my fellows are under; my buddy in mnf-w, who good-naturedly invites one and all to get bent, comes under direct fire more than he'd care to admit, i'm sure."stay safe" is our theatre-wide sign-off.[...]



Traditional Iranian Food...

2007-06-29T08:45:18.517-05:00

apparently includes french fries.the other highly controlled environment we were able to experience was an altogther too brief trip to a supposedly traditional iranian restaurant, the ras al nasa. the architecture was fascinating, though as is the case--from what i can tell--with just about every edifice in the middle east, the effect fails upon closer inspection due to everything being somewhat of a slipshod facade. mortarwork is typically uneven, and any marble is generally a sheet laid over, as opposed to fitted blocks; perhaps i've been poisoned by the cathedrals of medieval europe, and the wonders of the ancient mediterranean world that i've been lucky enough to visit.those of you who well know me, and my passion for experiencing new cultures (especially their foods!), will understand just how eminently disappointed i was when i ordered at this restaurant and had my repast arrive with papas fritas (arabic for "french fries"). i was seriously crushed. additionally, the fare was quite similar to the food we eat at the phoenix academy on our "iraqi night." it made me consider just how fortunate i am living in so close a proximity to some of the people of this nation. it's an experience most servicemembers will never get.the atmosphere of the restaurant was cozy and relaxed, with large plush semi-circular booths furnished with pillows... and murals that make bambi seem much less traumatic. see the below photo series for a mural of a buck shot in the gut and spitting up blood in front of his mate and apparent offspring. makes for grand dinner conversation...after dining, my AK1(SW) mate and i took shisha on the little pier behind the restaurant. it was really quite pleasant despite the oppressive humidity (iraq is tpically about 15% humidity or so, so the 125 degree weather is significantly more bearable). we tried the grape and strawberry blends, of the which the grape was far superior, but the double apple we smoke in taji is still the best stuff. this is where the two hour total for the trip is incredibly insufficient... a nice smoke alone should last one an hour at the very least. granted, it's not mai tais and margaritas in one's private beach backyard on the mokulua loop in kailua, but then again, nothing ever will be. it's rough peaking at age 24.[...]



Three Hour Tour

2007-06-29T05:39:15.400-05:00

actually, more like four.during our sojourn in qatar, one of the highly controlled environments into which we were allowed to venture was a little morning jaunt into the persian gulf on a traditional iranian dhow. leave it to me to get trapped in the desert for a year, and yet still find a way to put to sea! huzzah! like unto melville's ishmael, the sea "is my substitute for pistol and ball," which is rather fitting as i had to turn in my weaponry before departing iraq. also, on any given day there, i'd love to shoot a not uncertain number of people... none of which are local nationals, i might add.the vessel pictured below is not the one on which we sailed. although in design the two were much the same, this, despite its state of being repaired, was far more pleasing to the eye, and crafted largely out of what i might only guess to be teak. of course, neither was outfitted with sails, as would be most proper--god forbid a waterborne vessel require some measure of talent to get underway.during the course of the voyage, we sputtered out of the harbour to an uninspiring little peninsula where we dropped anchor for a few hours, swam in the dreadfully salty gulf, and dined upon supposedly traditional persian cuisine. the most picturesque moments were actually within a few hundred yards of the pier, as you can see in the photo below.of course, any shot we had at atmosphere (or being inconspicuous, for that matter) was irrevocably shattered by reggaetton--a horrendous puerto rican rap--blasted so loudly i felt we ought to take on ballast so we could ride closer to the waterline. anybody observing our movements would have been unsurprised to see the vessel pitching erratically on hydraulics. the music was supplied by one dumbass soldier, and thankfully there was eventually a mutiny of sorts, once everyone got calle chulo!ed out, and we shifted to less aurally offensive fare.in addition to the disappointing lack of local culture, there was also a disappointing lack of local flora and fauna (except on my plate... there was plenty there!).fishies! in a sphere!i got crabs!yum.honestly, the whole excursion could have been an hour shorter, at least as far as the at-anchor portion was concerned; there's only so many times one can pee in the ocean before it gets dull. i mean, the biggest buffer in the world, right?! one's effect on pH and salinity is so localized, minuscule, and momentary that it hardly bears thinking about.i feel confident that i could have at any point submerged the dhow, but i was unable to solidify a plan for surfacing, so i disappointedly kept myself from systematically staving it in about the ribs. sadly, i was even further unsuccessful, this time at conjouring a storm and marooning the craft indefinitely on a tropical island. of course, tropical islands seemed rather in short supply, and i would have been quite the pointless professor without a mary ann (you know there were shennanigans there!).the most entertaining aspect for me--and i'm quite sure my senior chief mate and i were the only two to notice we were making far too much way moments before this--was slamming into the floating dock during our landing. whee! i am toying with the idea of starting some video blog entries. we'll see if i can stomach being trendy... i'd hate to be, like ford prefect, so hip i couldn't see over my pelvis. [...]



Qatari Nights

2007-06-27T11:36:38.297-05:00

so qatar's camp as saliyah is an interesting place to say the least...

it's more or less the middle eastern military post equivalent of las vegas, and apparently what happens in qatar stays in qatar. unless you pick up a disease; that travels back to the war with you.

troops are allowed three alcoholic drinks a day, which really, after five months being dry, quite does the trick. i'm pleased to state that i celebrated my 26th by setting three sheets to the wind (it's easy to exceed the limit with the proper assistance of one's friends and countrymen). of course, some folks take irresponsibility to an whole other level, like the fellow found face down in a toilet with his pants around his ankles in a perverse sort of genuflection; with a couple of shipmates looking out for him, this soldier failed to produce his own name, and then in some unidentifiable eastern european accent slurred a cheerful, albeit somewhat pained, "my pants, they come up now, ya?" i nearly sharted i laughed so hard.

here's where i comment on the massive difference between the army and the navy in terms of our liberty policies: it's part of naval culture that we can define the line between hedonistic excess, and prison, and then proceed to tread that line narrowly, but deftly. we're used to pulling into a port, getting cut loose, and thoroughly debauching ourselves--but with a weather eye out. one needs must be mostly sober to stand duty, after all (only mostly, though. it's not like a shut down reactor can cause any serious problems.). we also take care of one another. personnel on leave to camp as saliyah are not allowed to depart the premises without an escort, and the only real opportunities to experience anything of the nation are highly structured, chaperoned tours. as sailors, my mates and i (we rolled four deep from phoenix, hoping for a bit of trouble), were disgusted by the restriction. anyhoo, my point is that all the other soldiers in that head laughed at their fellow in distress, so it was sailors that picked him up, put his pants back on, and walked him to a rack. navy taking care of the army again? anyone see a pattern here?

nobody on leave to as saliyah wears a uniform, and rank effectively disappears like a furtive couple into a bunker for some heated fumbling in the humid dark. rank then comes out of the bunker with scraped knees and/or sand in her shorts, gives good order a high five, slaps discipline on the ass, and grabs a beer before heading back in for more. staggering.

i'd like to close with a shout-out to a slender young thing i saw my last night there. this girl, god bless her, when packing her rucksack--for the desert, mind you--said to herself, "hey, maybe i'll get some time off. i should take my leather pants!" awesome. especially given that she was effectively lap-dancing--to a disturbed (the band, not the adjective) song--on her [i must assume] lover with moves so no-shit professional she almost made me blush and turn away. almost.

the part i couldn't understand was how bored he looked.
stupid bastard.