Friday, April 29, 2005

Providence: Girl Time to the Rescue!

Providence has stepped in to intervene between me and my pain. There is another female officer in my "pod" (the city block-plus of trailers I'm in, of which there are over 30 on base), who I occasionally see in the latrine trailer. Her name is Teresa, and she's about the same age as me, intelligent, sensitive, observant and single. ...= hopefully we have enough in common to enjoy each other's company while gaining that rare "girl time" I need so badly.

So I spent the last post on my rant... then a few hours chasing down policy and procedure issues for my job... then to the post exchange (PX), the little store on base for supplies hygiene music over-priced dvds and footwear. Teresa was there. I haven't seen her in about a week and a half, and she was there! She's coming over tonight for an hour or so... just chatting over coffee. I AM SO EXCITED! If our plan actually takes place, I'm sure I'll post more about it, but isn't this great? I needed this merciful break.

Gender War

Ok. This is a rant. It probably won’t be very organized or polite, but at least it gives me a way to gather – and share – the thoughts that have been pounding on my mind over the past several days.

I am in Iraq as a service member in the United States Army. I am a commissioned officer with prior-enlisted (3 years) experience before entering Officer Candidate School. I am a professional. I am a supervisor and a subordinate, and I am a member of a team. AND I AM A WOMAN.

I don’t have a problem with the fact that I am a woman; many of my peers and superiors have a problem with the face that I am a woman. If they don’t see me every day for more than five minutes at a time, I must be up to something. If I’m not spending “social” time with other members of my military unit, well I must be spending it with someone else – how dare I! – oh, and by the way, whoever it is, we’re probably fucking!

The Army is supposedly a professional, mission-driven organization – with regulations and guidelines. I have no problem understanding that, and whatever problems I may have complying, I acknowledge having those “problems” – measured against where I think my values lie in the grand scheme of my life – outside the military.

Fraternization has its own definition in the military, more complex than any generalized definition: “inappropriate” associations between/among Enlisted and Officers, supervisors and subordinates, and (implied) males and females. The intent is to keep mission focus, and keep the rank and organizational structures functioning properly. By Army definition, this truly encompasses many potential infractions – starting/maintaining businesses together, loaning/borrowing of money, gift giving, and off-the-clock time spent in perceived or actual friendship/relationship-building activities. Intuitively, one can see that the highest visibility and most enforceable aspect of this is when the two parties in question are of opposite gender.

By sheer numbers, females in the military field far more “traffic on the frequency” of attention and requests for “inappropriate” relationships. We are still a minority in the military. The ratios get even more extreme when discussing commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and the uphill battle we face in establishing ourselves as professional leaders – against the backdrop of peers who can’t keep their “equipment” in their pants and want to blame us as a result – is daunting at best. I can do my job, be pleasant and professional, “get the job done” while still complying with all the rules – and male counterparts and observers find this strangely attractive; they feel compelled to pursue closer proximity. By implicit grandfather clause, THEY aren’t wrong for trying, but I would always be wrong if receptive to the advances.

HERE’S THE PART THAT REALLY PISSES ME OFF: I challenge ANY male in the military to field and filter as much attention as I get on a daily basis, while still functioning with excellence in his job and position – while NEVER falling to the temptation of incessant invitation! I have met very few who could/would meet the challenge. Yet, I and my female peers are subjected to such scrutiny by the very personnel who are supposed to be our allies, peers, mentors and subordinates. I field more attention and apparently genuine intent IN ONE DAY than most of these men field DURING THE ENTIRE DEPLOYMENT.


I haven’t fallen – yet. I am confident but shaken. I struggle daily with the lack of female interaction in my life, and I realize that against that void, the difficulty of staving off male advances is even greater. I am a touch-oriented kind of person. If I could just get a hug every now and then without thinking the other participant was making excuses for proximity – that would be nice. If I could spend an hour here or there sipping coffee and discussing life with another woman – God, that would be a breath of fresh air! So far, such opportunities are slim or not at all forthcoming.

And all of this is exacerbated by the fact that if “they” – that ethereal they – can’t see me, then I must be up to something. I must be f***ing someone. I must be…. Wagging my ass somewhere to get things done – because God knows there is no other effective method I could employ!

I end up locking myself in my room frequently. Letting my morale down. Holding my breath. Burying myself in “work.” Or physically going to the command center to participate in more mission planning and analysis, because at least there I am validated as a professional. I harbor bitterness for the bridge club of swinging dicks that gather just outside my door with no genuine invitation ever issued to me. Sure, they’re talking about raising sheep in Minnesota or the last hunting/fishing trip the took, but there’s no embrace. There are no outstretched arms. There is only silence: outside the circle of privileged masculinity.

So my query, my shouting out to the masses involves a request for information, a qualitative survey: Where else is this happening? I am hereby calling out to peers and scholars to identify such places, if for no other reasons than: 1) to help others like me understand we are not alone, and 2) call the violators out publicly in order to demand a reckoning. MY SISTERS AND I DESERVE AT LEAST THAT.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Million-Dollar Asphalt

I've been thinking about what my more candid commentary was in the States, when anyone would ask me whether I thought it was good that our military is in Iraq. The question would often be followed -- sometimes before I could even answer -- by an assertion of some kind alluding to the great progress of society and the great acceptance and gratitude of the Iraqi people for the support we're offering their government and economy... hmph. No Shit. What country would NOT be grateful to a donor who poured billions into their economy??!

So, is that really all there is to this? What is the measure of "success" in Iraq? More importantly on a personal note: what measure do we have of "completing" the job, SO WE CAN GO HOME?

There is a 1.5 mile stretch of road inside my base that is being re-paved right now. They're not using the standard practice for surface improvement, usually costing a few thousand dollars... No, this has to be Asphalt -- you know, black top? So many of us chuckle to ourselves wondering how soon the first planning official will recognize the stupidity of asphalt in Iraq in the middle of the summer. The project is costing the Army $750,000!

The irony is killing me. How often do we hear about all the lofty social and infrastructure improvement plans for this country? And yet, there are still resources to pour 3/4 of a million dollars into a beautification project for a Coalition base! I wonder how many mattresses could be bought for these families with no beds with that money? How many schools could we build with that? How much medicine could be purchased and distributed with $750,000?

At any rate, I have a difficult time believing social and economic improvement are the driving factors of our presence here. Hopefully time will tell.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Iraq Commentary: Economy and Social Currency

Closed the office early today at the Gate. As it turns out, my interpreter, Fox, loves pizza. So my Master Sergeant (MSG) and I took him for pizza at the "food court" here.

On a side note: yes, we do have a "Pizza Hut" here on base. However, the cheese is different, everything that should be "fresh" on a pizza came from cans, and it just doesn't taste the same. But pizza is pizza (or "pizz-er" as my friend Bob would joke about some east-coast dialects), and tasting good in this place is all relative anyway.

We ordered the pizza and got it a few minutes later from the pick-up window and then walked back to the living area, the "pod." Sitting on the deck that was built by the guys in my unit who I antagonistically call the putt-putt bridge club, a very interesting 90 minute conversation ensued.

Two main observations I made: economy in iraq, specifically the exchange rate, Dollar to Denar; and the social currency of extra-marital (ahem) activity.

Exchange rate: Fox related that sometime in the last decade and a half the Iraqi Denar exchange rate against the dollar was approximately 1:4, that there were aspects of a Saddam-style regime that stabilized and enriched the economy relative to the rest of the world. Today, that exchange rate is 2,000:1 (Denar to Dollar). Stop for a minute and imagine that! I am looking for more articles and commentary on what extent of influence Coalition Forces presence in this country will "positively" affect that situation. What frustration must be felt by the educated and formerly "living comfortably" portion of the population in this country!

Social Currency: There were plenty of just reflective comments among the three of us about relationship and marriage. Fox's social values caught my attention on one important note, though. He said that when considering a woman as a life partner, he would under no circumstances continue with her if he became aware that she was not a virgin. He even went on to say that he would go so far as to purposefully test her, asking that she consider having sex with him -- the consequences being to reject her if she said 'yes.' Wow. Both the MSG and myself questioned him on this.... challenging the social logic of this constraint (or lack thereof). For example, how exactly does a woman become not-a-virgin, anyway? She would of course have to have sex with a man who would himself then no longer be a virgin. Fox added that it is not uncommon for young Iraqi men to go to "the bad houses" to feed their sexual appetite, and that this activity is more or less condoned but not discussed. There was no resolution on the inherent conflict of this topic. No hositility, mostly detached acceptance of social differences. But Fox asserted finally that this was in fact a representative opinion held throughout the Iraqi social structure. The challenger in me says yeh, um, I wonder what the women think of that?!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Bunker Down

So... being a rebel at the moment. It's 11:15 a.m. and the base was just hit with rockets about 35 minutes ago -- multiple locations of impact. Sirens go off, everyone is supposed to put all their protective equipment on (ha! that's what we wear at the Gate all day every day, anyway); and you move quickly to the bunkers. And you wait. And you wait. And at some point, there is an 'All Clear' given, and all units must account for all their people.

I'm obviously not in the bunker.

Hmph. I was late on producing the slides for the meeting that will take place at 1 p.m., rockets or not. So I'm in my room making final touches. No overhead cover, no bunker, no protective equipment. Just the "tin" roof over my head.

And all that, just to be able to say I was a rebel for one day! Fate be damned. Remind me to comment on the General's visit and my chain of command's failure to acknowledge my existence -- let alone importance -- unless it is a feather in THEIR cap for a VIP visit! (bitter? me? never!)

That's all for now. Off to the meeting in body armor. Thank God for "mortar certified" buildings!

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Back-dated journal: 12 January 2005

[Written at Camp Atterbury, Indiana; 5 days to departure for Kuwait]

Near tears, or something like that… it’s more the “army version” of what that means – nothing externally to betray my emotional difficulty. Feeling a little Closter phobic, and there’s nothing to be done about it. Except return to my “private” room in a cinderblock building. That shares a bathroom with the stranger on the other side of the wall. The walls of which leak cold air worse than the worthless Mazda I left at home. Alone. Bored. Nowhere to “get out” to…

I tire of
Brown and tan
Men in uniform
Men Uniforms
Sleep deprivation more sleep deprivation too much caffeine
Not enough exercise but pretense of exercise

Missing home
Missing affection
Oh… the affection – the thoughts come pouring in on that note.
I’m tired of negative attitudes
Pointing out things that are negative, for which there is no means of change
I’m tired of manic-depressive, bored, mid-life crisis people who find nothing better to do than vent every fleeting observation that enters their minds for the sheer sadistic goal of recruiting company to their misery. It sucks. That is a mild statement.

It doesn’t help that I make a habit of listening to music that is slightly on the melancholy side by most standards, probably just because I see stuff that is “too positive” or “too perfect” as extremely unrealistic and, therefore, undesirable. On a side note, the “melancholy” material also tends to have more distinctively sophisticated instrumentation. I’m a sucker for instrumentation.

I miss high heels. Swimming suits. BBQs.
Dancing. In real clothes. Sexy clothes.
I miss the couch. And the huge livingroom TV.
I miss Seamus Heaney’s poetry. And reading it to people who care.

I miss having a fucking passport and using it.
I miss not using the fuck word in order to emphasize what I’m saying.

I miss mimosa drinks on holiday mornings. In pajamas. In the family kitchen.
I miss the Uptown Caffe.
I miss playing my guitar. And playing the piano.

I miss wearing whatever I want around the house ----- and whatever I don’t.
I miss late nights and late mornings. Card games with the family.

Photo contests. Property walks with the family.

Expressing my real thoughts – and (god forbid) real feelings on any topic.

The piano. The piano again.

I miss taking a bath or soaking my feet when my muscles are sore.

Playing tennis.
Playing doubles with the family.
Watching Jennifer play tennis. Watching Abe teach Jennifer.
Watching James attempt to kick my butt at tennis. And losing. But laughing anyway.

I miss the fire pit. And the volleyball court.
I’m sure that by the time this is over, I might even say I miss the mosquitoes, but I won’t go that far yet.

I miss my jewelry. Especially my rings.
Comfortable, not thousand-eyelet-lace-up shoes.

Hypocrite. I am. Shouldn’t get so irritated at others for being negative and then do it myself. But this is a rant. To myself. And theirs isn’t. Theirs infringes on other people’s space. This doesn’t.

I don’t feel bad. This makes it better. And maybe someday when I’m famous this will be considered important historical documentation. Then again, probably not. On either count. But the rant is good. It settles the mind. So there it is. One more day of five hundred and god knows how many more…. May they pass quickly.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Gate and Me

Ok, so it's not really Baghdad per se where I'm located, but you get the idea. By most standards this is a suburb, and that's descriptive enough for me. Our post gets hundreds of workers from the local population commuting to work among us daily. I work at the entry point, the passage point from outside of post to inside where it's "safe."

The gate, the gate the gate... took rocket rounds two days ago. We were simply lucky that of the three rounds only one detonated and that no one was injured. I found myself lying on the floor of the tin building located at the gate, body armor, helmet, pistol... and exchanging jokes with the others (all of us were on the floor) about wondering how much good our weapons would do against an enemy who was firing from miles away! I found myself wondering what I would do if we got hit -- who would be last on my mind -- what regrets I had -- and whether I would have the constitution to be a leader and take care of the people who might be hurt, bleeding, and alone in those critical moments.

I write all of this with an awareness and respect for the myriads of others who actually conduct missions "outside the wire" on a daily basis. I don't patrol; I don't hunt for bombs; I don't shoot people... but the "bad guys" mixed in with the "good guys" all coming to work in our lovely safe compound lay eyes on me every day. And I get that feeling that I'm a stationary target, hands tied, waiting for something to happen.

I lost the first version of this post. New at blogging, what can I say? There will be more positive things to say over future posts. There will be celebrations and reports of BBQs and "socials" and spending time with new people I've met. But the gate happens every day, seven days a week, and it's there, emitting white noise in the background of every other story I tell.

The first several posts I put out will be back-dated posts of electronic journals from January onward, when I was still in the states for mobilization training. I invite you to share this experience with me; comment; be one of the ones carrying the torch back home; I need the backstop.