Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Pat Said

Oops! I forgot that Pat was in a place where he would be watching the blog and inadvertently put him in a position to hear me whining about work! Funny how quickly we traverse 8,000 miles in one way or other. Here is the response he wrote to "Falling to Pieces (Part I)":

I'm sorry Boss! I lost count of how many times I uttered the phrase "This has to be done by 1 July" to you know who. When I left I had the sinking feeling that this would happen. DAMN IT!
In his defense, the product was imperfect. But not that imperfect. It was workable. It could be done! All I can say at this point is Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit. Why is a simple vision so hard to communicate? These pieces of paper need to be in all of these windshields by this date. Easy, concise, understandable. Isn't it?
When you have an opportunity, update me on just what our young troublemaker has done to destroy the process. That way I can cool off BEFORE I see him face to face and do something that wouldn't play well on CNN.
BTW I miss you too.

Thanks, Pat. I truly look forward to getting you back here -- selfishly, of course. Enjoy every drop of that time with your family! Soak up the energy there and bring it back with you as a reservoir of home. The base will still be here when you return; no need to dwell on it in the mean time.

Falling to Pieces (Part I)

I have this collage of topics…Trying to provide some sort of marker as to where I am, where I’ve been and what is occupying my time and mind these last few days:

1. Lame-ass subordinates. There is a huge project for which my office is responsible, “non-tactical” vehicle passes. Believe it or not, there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 vehicles that fall into this category (e.g. Polaris ATVs, Ford pickups, Nissan pickups, SUVs), and my office is supposed to be producing all of those passes. We have three Military personnel, one interpreter, and 3 days left. About 500 passes are done. The program was in place BEFORE I left for my break at home; when I returned 100 vehicles had been registered over a period of almost four weeks, due only in part to people not turning in their registration, and more to the fact that my one subordinate sergeant does a lot of flailing and very little production. As an example, I have engaged the help of someone who is proficient with databases to design and implement the product promised me by my sergeant two months ago. Every time this guy who know what he’s doing fixes something that was poorly done, it is messed up just as bad or worse by 24 hours later – because this Sergeant just can’t keep his hands off stuff that he doesn’t know how to use! So not only will he not work, but he won’t get out of the way for someone else to do it either! I’ve been at the office 12-14 hours per day for the last couple days to try to recover the problem, register passes, produce and distribute them.

2. Claiming to know what you don’t. The afore-mentioned subordinate is expert at claiming knowledge in a sundry of computer and network related fields, but the only solutions he seems to find are accidental, home-remedy type solutions that no one else can fix without scrapping the whole project.

3. Network Administrator needs a new line of work. The network in my living area SUCKS! I have tried to create another entry on this blog at least twelve times over the past three days. Nothing. The network administrator is my favorite (afore-mentioned) Sergeant (see number 2).

4. I miss the support of Pat. We have this quirky little Ma/Pa, Good Cop/Bad Cop thing going on that bolsters our confidence with our two headstrong subordinate (mostly intelligent and driven) soldiers. We only had time for a four day hand-off after my return before he left for his two weeks in the States.

5. I’m still fuming about my favorite Sergeant. He’s ruining my network connection. I just paid for an upgrade in speed, and he’s squandering that potential advantage on poorly applied networking “skills.” He changed the IP address on the actual location of the network, but the service providers firewall tells outside elements that we’re at the originally “published” address… mumbo jumbo mumbo jumbo… as if to say, “I’m trying to sound like I know what the heck I’m talking about when I don’t, and I’ll keep doing it just to try to save what little pride I have left…”

That’s all. There’s much more. More from yesterday… more pain, more fear, more ‘O God, please get me out of here!!’ but that I’ll share later.

Still limping along with reading news and such. Trying to get to more commentary. I’m angry. I’m cleanly in my Damn the Man mode with too many words to write at this moment.

I call the photo "2FacedWar." Taken outside the school we're sponsoring on a Civil Affairs status. I see it split in half, a dividing line right down the middle, War v. Innocence, Hope v. Defense, Joy v. Disillusionment. I feel torn like that today.


Updated 23 October 2005

Brash and irrational words of the past have caught up with me over the past few days. I've had strange occasion to consider the fact that these sentiments may fly onto the page quickly and salve my frustration at the time, but that the product remains "forever" -- to be discovered whenever and by whomever from that point forward.

I have noticed that I seldom return to my points of frustration and give updates. I seldom inform this same community who tirelessly ensdures my low points of the high points later on.

I love the liberty of venting into this place, but I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge that I have grown over the months since I started this blog. I don't feel so negatively about the people I work closely with anymore. In fact, each one of them has earned such respect and endearment from me, just by sticking with me through all my crap!

I know I'm not perfect, and I just wanted to finally apologize for negative things I've said. Over all, I know my attitude has improved, and I'm still working on ways to convey that through my writing. Thanks for staying with me through the growth.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Training the Iraqi Army

For anyone who thinks I see real action here in Iraq, think again. I'm not trying to diminish the relative threat at one of the country's largest entry control points (ECP), but I recently discovered that one of the guys I talk to frequently on my base has a blog too!!!

There have been recent discussions about the (in)competence of the Iraqi Army in taking over operations in their own country, the training provided them by the US Military, and what they're really doing to apply that training... Well, "Mastablasta" sees that action first hand. (I just checked out the profile page, and the "Recent Posts" column -- indicating recent posts in fall of '04 -- is deceiving: he is in the habit of posting approximately 1-2 times per week.) He is a member of an Advisor Support Team (AST) for one of the several Iraqi Army units located on our base.

He really brings to light some of the behind-the-scenes politics that you won't see mentioned in standard media in "Back in the Groove":
So even though it is their country, and their army will take over the security mission soon enough, many American commanders just don’t get that and refuse to relinquish any control to the Iraqis regardless of their proven competency...To take away the planning process or limit their ability to develop their own intelligence is without a doubt a step backwards, but they’ll recover quickly enough. The planning that we receive smacks of American officers “padding their resume” so to speak.

The development of intelligence that he mentions is one of the aspects of AST support with which I have occasionally been involved here. He's right. These Iraqi soldiers are not just droves of directionless tools -- they have command structure, staff officers developing missions, map and intelligence analysis, and discipline. Believe it or not, I know that the unit mentioned above begins a physical training (PT) workout everyday before 5 a.m. -- that is more than is being asked of American soldiers on our base! Don't tell me they're not quickly approaching the level of readiness we demand of our own soldiers.

The latter half of the same post gives a great description of a convoy movement, complete with IED (improvised explosive device) attack. I really think you'll find this informative and enlightening.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Music to share with the Community of Remembrance

I recognize, as Mary has shared, that there is a Community of Remembrance -- a circle of faith -- surrounding me while I serve my time here in Iraq. Kat has shared music that carries sentiments of that community, affirming the words of Bill Staines to me, "you take our love with you"; Ken expresses appreciation for heroes in his corner of the world, and generously includes me among them; Randy, a Vietnam Veteran and dear friend, has poured his heart into support and appreciation for "what [I'm] going through" in
comments on this blog, and that means the world to me.

To all of you, and everyone else I should be mentioning: thank you. Keep the fire burning. I'll be home soon.

By the way, this post was supposed to include an MP3 file of a song I composed and sing (Kat: help!!), and it's not looking like I'm getting the linking to audioblog figured out. I will get it to you somehow. I'm trying. It is beautiful, and it matches tone with this discussion of support and homeward looking. Thank you all again from the bottom of my heart.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Surreal Exchanges In Kuwait

I was on the way back from the US, caught in the quagmire of layovers and bus rides, plane hops and more bus rides. There is an airport/base in Kuwait called Ali Al Salem, where our travel group waited a few hours to catch a flight up to Baghdad. There was an outdoor break area, a holding tent, an abundance of stinky port-o-johns, a shortage of cold water, and WAY too much heat and sun. I had returned to the break area a couple times, seeing a small selection of the same six or seven Egyptian soldiers each time. On about the third visit, one of them held up a camera and asked in broken English, “Picture? I take – you picture?”

I must interrupt to say that the Army Intelligence program has ruined me. I trust no one. I hate to sound all “secret squirrel” (common lingo among the geek-ridden military intelligence community), but seriously – I’m paranoid.

So I gruffly responded, “Why?” When the guy looked at me with confusion on his face, apparently not understanding my English, I asked him in Arabic. Then he looked even more confused – Why is this chick speaking to me in Arabic?— responded in Arabic when he finally understood, resulting in confused looks from me – the upshot of his response being something to the effect of ‘you look good, and I don’t have any pictures of female American soldiers.’ I gave in and agreed, but stipulated that my name (on the front of my uniform) could not be in the picture. Now the roles reverse. He’s asking me ‘Why?’ in Arabic, and I’m telling him ‘Um, because I said so…What are you going to do with it anyway, sell it on the internet? …. You probably just want it to sell to kidnappers….’ Stuff like that. I still firmly believe that he did not understand a word I said. But he suddenly had no interest in taking my picture as soon as I said he could not include my name.

That was Part One. Part Two:

Apparently a couple of American contractors working at Ali Al Salem had caught most of the conversation and were quite entertained. I’ll call them Tweedle Dee and Dum. Dee was sitting closest to where I had put my foot up on the bench he was using, while Dum was standing, a little farther away. I caught Dee staring at my foot on the bench, when Bubba walked up. Bubba was about 6’3” and very wide, thick and gruff-looking. He still had a pretty-boy athlete kind of look to him, sun-bleached brown-blonde hair, messy in a purposeful sort of way, nicely shaped jaw line – asynchronous with his gruff demeanor. Dee started his commentary to Bubba before even looking at him, still staring at my foot, “I don’t know, Bubba [not really his name; I just don’t remember it], she’s got small feet. I’d still put money against it, though.” Chaotic banter ensued – I began to realize that they were discussing some ongoing bet regarding how large of a bare foot Bubba could fit in his mouth! I felt like I was in some frat house party scene in a movie. Dee started telling me how much Bubba would appreciate it if I would please take my boot and sock off so that he could try, with Bubba echoing his request, even going so far as to attempt to bribe me with a 1.5 liter of “ice cold” water. I guess he figured I was sick of the less-than-hot water provided us while in transit – and perhaps that I was a cheap sell. More commentary and persuasion… “fetish” mentioned a few times… video camera materialized in Dum’s hand, out of nowhere!... questions about whether my toenails were painted or not (yes) and what color (red)… and Bubba disappeared, presumably to fetch the ever-coveted ‘ice cold’ water. The second he was out of sight, I turned to Dee and said, dripping with sarcasm and gesturing, “And to think he was really this close to convincing me to do it!” Then I said to both of them, “I know your friend isn’t going to like this, but I’ve got to go, guys. See ya,” and I walked away. It was all creepy, surreal and triumphant – walking away, realizing that those sick overpaid former military bubbas probably had tapes FULL of such foot-age. Dozens of women travel through their location every day. It just kills me that they are making at least $80K annually – tax free – to entertain themselves by harassing service members in transit. Crazy. Surreal. Just crazy. So I watched my shadow getting longer and waited to board the C-130, bound for Baghdad.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

To the Moon and Back

So… Here I am, back in Iraq. I took my 15 days of leave at home, and I REALLY NEEDED IT. I am exhausted from the travel back, but work and life here are bouncing back to rhythm for me, having never changed for the people I left here in the interim. My boss even gave me an assignment within the first hour after I was on the ground!

I left my base on May 24th; spent 40 hours at Baghdad International Airport – living, sleeping, etc on the concrete slabs they have next to the runway (this is not uncommon) – check out temperatures here to get an idea of the conditions I’m talking about (general link since I couldn't get any specific Baghdad info to load at the time of this post); then another 40 hours in Kuwait – at least showers and a bunk were available this time; flight to Dallas, complete with 2 hour wait on front end for flat tire, one hour stop in Shannon, Ireland to refuel, and one hour wait on tail end for terminal availability, grand total of 18 hours; layover, flight, layover, flight and home!!! Left home early the morning of June 13th, same as above process but in reverse, ending with the sweatiest, most uncomfortable part. Strangely, I think that’s what is giving me an appreciation for being back to a place where I would otherwise never choose to live.

I was so grateful to see greenery, trees, grass, rain!, and loving faces of my family while I was home. They are so wonderful. More when I can…