Saturday, July 30, 2005

Marriage Proposal!

Sixteen-year-old Omar has proposed! I'm sharing the warm moment, hoping all of you will see the heart and humor in this passage for me. The dear boy is smitten with me, and I delicately find joy in exchanges with him each day at the gate.

I am still unclear as to which point in Iraqi culture brings a boy into social acceptance as a man, but I'm confident my dear young friend Omar is convinced that he's equipped to make an adult offer and request of me. Omar is somewhere in the middle of the birth order of eight children and lives in the neighboring village to our base. He walks to his five-dollar-a-day job of trash cleanup and general gopher tasks. His one year plus of working with US forces on our base has done him well, and he now functions as the primary provider for his family -- father, mother, and four siblings still at home.

His broad smile fills his entire face. He acts as an unofficial interpreter for gate personnel whenever a contracted interpreter can't be found. He's respectful and articulate, and he has a great sense of humor.

Thank goodness the boy(man) is not any older than he is, or I might be tempted by the offer! Still it is so often music to my ears to hear him in that distinct Iraqi accent asking, "When we get married, me and you?" later followed by, "Come with me to my home in the village."

Sadly, Omar, I cannot accept. But a woman could not be more honored than to have a man(boy) of such heart offer everything he has! How could I find anything other than joy in this child who thinks I walk on water? Every happy wish upon him and his family. May he find everything he's looking for and much more.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Fox Chronicles

Trying to figure out how to create a "Fox Quotes" ticker box for this blog. He and his brother Jr are our faithful interpreters and the source of endless amusement and cultural "lessons." For more on that, check out the amusing and light-hearted "masturbation vs. crazy" story from a couple days ago. So here's the Fox Ticker from today...

We're driving in a Humvee back to the gate from lunch, and converstaion ensues between Sgt. JC and Fox.

Fox: There are people who respect me for my rank, and then there are people who respect me for me. I have no time for the first one.
JC: What do you mean rank?
Fox: Like cars or money.
JC: So, you're saying that if I had a BMW in Iraq I would be respected?
Fox: Yes, but [waving his finger] you don't need that here. If you went in the college, they would see your blue eyes and they would love you. You would have 400 wives if you wanted!
[everyone is laughing at this point]
Fox: You could bring them all back to America to live with you.
JC: I don't know what my wife would think of that!
Fox: She wouldn't like it? Well, it wouldn't have to be four hundred; it could be fewer if you want.
JC: I think somewhere after 10 or 20 it sort of wouldn't matter anymore!

We all continued laughing and went back to work. Amazing what glimpses of culture Fox gives us in every-day conversation.

Whole Lotta Nothing: Thanks, Matt!

Mary has introduced me to Matt at Whole Lotta Nothing. I'm flattered by the mention of the Sentinel page on his widely-read blog. Having now spent some time perusing his collection of note-worthy links and commentary, I highly recommend checking it out yourself if you haven't yet! And, by the way, Matt, it was a whole lot more than nothing to me!

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

View of My Room

Here's a view of my beautiful room. As you can see, I have done as much as possible to create a non-military atmosphere in my little sactuary. The guitar mostly sits lonely in the corner, but I get her out when I can. To check out more images of my adventures here in Iraq, visit my Flickr site. More soon!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Recent Goings On

My dear friends back home… many of you I have never met, but I still feel close to you. I feel the self-imposed obligation of fidelity. In a comment a few posts back, Randy asked me about the positive things, the things that keep me going, the things that bring smiles to my face.

I didn’t realize until he pointed it out how often my focus here is negative, tolerant, survival-oriented. Through comments from Randy, conversations with Mary and others, I’m realizing that the differences between here and “real life” back home are significant but not as numerous as I first thought. Here are some of the things that have made me smile, and sometimes even laugh:

  • It turns out that the Iraqi Arabic word for “crazy” is too similar to “masturbation” for a new learner to know: One of my soldiers was trying to shout “crazy” at some of the Iraqis in the hallway at the gate and mistakenly said the wrong word! The interpreters were rolling with laughter. The soldier kept asking them, "what, WHAT?!" After picking himself up from burying his face against the wall, Jr. (Fox's brother) finally responded, "You didn't say 'Crazy'; it's wrong word...[more laughter]'s what you do in the shower when you're alone!"
  • Every time I walk into the new Seattle’s Best coffee shop, my fun little Philippino buddy, Jericho, is singing to the blaring "Where is the Love" by the BlackEyedPeas. I finally told him that his English was good enough that he should stop just making the sounds from the songs and actually look up the lyrics and sing those! The next time I was in the shop, Jericho piped up even louder, but with the right words, as if to show me he’d accomplished the homework assignment.
  • The night shift at our office has been pulling pranks to the extreme of me finally wanting to take action to stop it. I spoke with the senior non-commissioned officer (NCO) for their unit and insisted that it stop. Several days passed with no token vandalisms taking place. Then, yesterday I walked in to see a lanyard-spider web, spinning from the ceiling fan with a 9”x 6” paper sign in the center reading: DON’T TOUCH MY REDBULL. Fuming, I started taking pictures and documenting time frames, only to hear the senior NCO laughing in the background. “You can take that one up with me, LT; just a friendly reminder not to mess with my Redbulls!” I had forgotten the it was me who initiated this one: I stashed his energy drinks in my office the day prior, just to ruffle him up a bit. I guess that should teach me to lighten up!
  • There’s a Hungarian guy who brings new employees to our office for access badges. I swear he can only speak about 20 words of English now, and his language skills have improved since he got here. I just had to deal with him again yesterday, struggling through the language barrier. I’m reminded every time of how humorous his name is to me, on top of other stranger pronunciations: Koochie (phonetic representation).
  • Have you ever heard of someone having a “shit list”? It’s the blacklist of bad people you don’t want to deal with if you can help it. A couple organizations on this base were REALLY getting on my nerves a couple days ago. After the second of the two sending their numbskull representatives, I walked back into my office, silently picked up a black dry-erase marker and wrote: “Shit List” (underscore); [insert pest #1 here]; [insert pest #2 here]. At least we got some laughs out of the irritation!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Swimming Pool and Exercise

Here's an overhead view of the pool and softball field on base. Today I visited the pool for the first time since arriving here.

I got this great idea, and it worked out pretty well: exercise on the Elliptical machine (low-impact cardio) for thirty minutes and then take a dip in the pool. It really helps that Pat was a high school and college swimmer, so he gladly provided the good company to set me more at ease while surrounded by all the men who frequent the area.

I realized something very important today. I have been very busy being bitter at the government and military for taking away key elements of my "free" life back home. I've harbored such disdain that at times it backfires. For example, today was also the first time (!!!) that I exercised since arriving in Iraq! I have been justifying this to myself in a belligerent pull against the Army emphasis on measuring quality of character by fitness -- to an extreme in many cases. I was so busy counter-acting the military emphasis on fitness that I forgot it had once been an important part of my life, all on its own -- for the sake of health and balance.

Here's to one more milestone, one more step in a healthier direction. More when I can.... -t

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Just Keep Swimming

My family and I have found the most eclectic shared collection of movie quotes and moments. We’ve made memories there, and reference them later in what would appear to be vague manner – except in looking around the room, we find understanding in each other’s eyes. All human beings have reached moments or passages in which we felt the only way “through” was to back out all together. The film Finding Nemo depicts a moment like that, in which the character Dory pulls herself through by singing. She sings to herself and Marlin, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” I playfully assert that so many of my days feel like I need Dory’s reminder. I happily embrace the smile brought on in recollection of the first time I heard her catchy tune and laughed – knowing how well the mantra could serve me most any day of my life.

I have failed to “just keep swimming” here at my duty station. Laundry is piling up in my room; I haven’t swept or mopped my floor in two weeks; remnants of packages and letters from home lie scattered about my 12’ by 12’ abode. It’s time to do more than keep swimming.

I will start with a modest climb, but I’m publicly announcing my intentions. I ask that my friends out there – many of whom I’ve too often forsaken during challenge in my own life – do what you can to hold me accountable to these: I will show perceptible sign of life in my blogging spaces (Sentinel47, Flickr) at least once every 24 hours; I will research graduate programs, with an intent on enrollment in a Fall ’06 program; I will gather the necessary supporting documents for application to these programs; and I will submit my applications, sending them no later than the 15th of October, earlier if necessary for meeting the deadline.

I don’t think any of you would ever ask for proclamations from me, nor would that particularly feel comfortable to you. I’m attempting to take steps in asserting the next phases of my life. I can gripe and complain in this electronic space from one end of this deployment to the other, but ironically, that behavior locks me in to such a focus on the difficulties, that I never surmount the challenge. I become the one thing I keep swearing not to be: defeated by this beast (the Army, the war, the government – you get the idea).

Enough said. Time to shut up and do something. The laundry is calling my name, and I’m anxious to post some of the pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks. “See” you all again soon.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


The Gate has seen a change of command: the artillery unit providing security there – conducting searches, manning towers – for the first few months of the year, has rotated to a new mission for the next few months. Alpha Battery has taken Bravo Battery’s place. Not us, boy! Our little foursome will stay in our little cubby-hole office for the remainder of our deployment.

That change means that whether we like it or not, we and a few other personnel blessed with staying in place are the resident “experts,” most familiar with the Gate area. The problem with that is that knowing doesn’t necessarily mean we are consulted on any of the issues the new guys don’t know.

I have an ego, but I don’t need someone to ask my permission to run their own damn operation. Nonetheless, I’ve had plenty of opportunity for anger over these new bubbas flubbing up MY portion of the operation or in the very least, my safety and the safety of the other men who work on my staff.

Our gate is supposed to be the most secure in theater. Our gate is one square kilometer of stand-off and obstacles, vehicle lanes and personnel processing. There are BIG “guns” next to the main highway to deter unwanted traffic; there are automatic weapons in the towers for spotting and warning shots against intruders. NO ONE SHOULD BE ABLE TO BREACH THIS PLACE.

But twice last week, two days apart, a ten year old boy wandered his way through the maze of obstacles and observation points, ending up at the central part of our gate area: my office building. He had a smile and a mitt full of incense bundles, claiming to want to sell them. He should have been stopped, questioned, turned around -- but instead he ended up in my hallway, with my open doorway and open air seperating the five feet between us. HOW THE F--- DOES THIS HAPPEN?!?

It could be a probe. The kid wasn’t a neighbor kid from the village next to the base; he was from a central district of Baghdad – outside of walking distance. It could be a sort of reconnaissance to determine the possibility for sneaking a suicide bomber into the compound. These could be the markings of planning stages for a terrorist operation.

We questioned the kid, tolerated his smart-mouthed remarks about 'Where's the money?' and such, and turned him around. We put him back out on the highway to find his way back to Baghdad the way he came. Forsaking my emotional response that would be typical to a "lost" child in the states, I turned my attention to the very serious security breach allowed by the new battery of soldiers whose sole purpose is gate security.

“Do YOU know that blast radius of a suicide vest??” I questioned the Sergeant in charge, “If this kid was rigged, we would ALL be DEAD right now!” That was the first day. I was away from the office the afternoon of the second occurrence. I was livid that apparently not enough attention had been paid the first time to prevent it from happening again.

It’s fixed now. I choose to believe it’s fixed. I waved my arms and jumped up and down and grabbed the attention of any superior officer I could – this has to be stopped. The right people know about it now, and the gate has been crawling with officials reviewing security measures on the point. I choose to believe enough has been done to keep us safe, but I’m still on edge.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Catching Up

Well, well, well… It has been so long since my last post, that I’m not sure where to start. A combination of so many things has been my excuse to stay away from posting on my blog – none of them individually sufficient to be excuse not to post.

Until a little over a week ago, I was religiously in the habit of calling and/or e-mailing home EVERY day, or at least every other day. My distraught family pointed out to me that I had faithfully done so since mobilization in November, and in so doing, set an expectation that left them wondering if I had been hurt when I didn’t keep up with precedent. My poor mother! I spent the first ten minutes of my first call in five days assuring her that there would never be a need to be that concerned, afraid, worried – that, in fact, if so much time passed, she should just get mad at me because it was certainly a sign that I was neglecting my commitment to stay in touch with home and nothing more or less.

I’ve been distracted by the bombings in London and elsewhere, by the overwhelming sense that we can’t possibly be doing anything here in Iraq to deter this mess. What does the world out there think? I really think we bit off more than we can chew.

I watch each little facet of researching, chasing, exploiting testimony from my vantage point – asking myself if one more “terrorist” off the streets really means there won’t be another right behind him building another home-made bomb, killing more of his brothers and mine. We have our own human targets we’re tracking here, some much more dangerous than others. Sometimes we’re finding them – “winning” – and sometimes they’re evading us; however, it seems either way presents a real-life game of Risk. People are dying. People are DYING!

I have several more posts to put up, trying to catch up on happenings here. For those of you who had been seeing comments from me on your blogs, I apologize for my recent absence. I am now finally working on catching up with my backlog of personal involvement and awareness in the bloggosphere. Thank you for staying with me on this journey. I’m strong, but I need the support. I really need it. Thank you all. More soon.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

I am a LIAR!

I'm going on 36 hours since I promised my dear friend Mary that I would post... show some sign of life... assure 'the world out there' that I'm not dead, that things are indeed still plodding along rhythmically in this hell. I promised that I would post before my tired head hit the pillow. I LIED.

The Apache crash last week crushed me. I'm still trying to figure out why, but that's not why I've been away for so long. Two people died mid-air before any semblance of their bodies hit the ground. The military asserts that it could have been mechanical difficulties -- that we don't really know. I believe they were shot down, shot out of the air -- the mighty warrior Apache -- with the wing-man aircraft at close enough range to witness the mission fail in flaming defiance.

I had part(s) II and III, etc, of craziness with my (least) favorite menace subordinate. I decided to take the reigns, restrict anything and everything he can do on our equipment. I informed my supervisor, asking his guidance, to which he asserted his confidence in my leadership and my ability to have a plan to fill the on-going need of automation assistance. Within 2 hours of having the big conversation with John (the menace), my software was down, and my go-to backup guy was in Baghdad on intel business. Access Badge appointments weren't possible; we were turning away anyone at the window needing to apply for or renew their badge. Bear in mind that these are badges for the entire base, that no other office does what we do and that we see significant traffic every day.

Everything that could go wrong did.

Thinking I was doing well as a leader to keep my soldiers productive while trying to find someone else to trouble shoot the situation, I sent them to fuel and wash our vehicles. The washing station is at our unit's headquarters building, and the deputy commander decided to interrogate them as to why they weren't at their office. Partly out of fear and partly out of gleeful opportunity to expose any faults I may have, John announced to our second-in-command that our software was down. He wants to be indispensable. He wants to be the only one who knows the answers. I know he isn't, but the rest of the unit is suffering under the illusion that he is the guy who has fixed everything in the past. Good for them that they have the liberty of a greater distance from the issue; they don't have to deal with asking the only guy around, only to have the problem worsen.

It's not unusual to have problems for a few hours now and then. I would have told my supervisor. The news just sometimes travels faster than my intention to pass it on myself. In minutes the DC had jumped down John's throat, jumped on my supervisor, and my supervisor had called me to find out what "the problem" is. I was so confused that it took me a minute to get my bearing. He proceeded to direct me to get on the phone with whoever I had to in order to get this fixed, expressing significant doubt at the prudence of cutting John off from the project when he could probably fix it -- IF I WOULD JUST LET HIM.

As I was hanging up, John walked in the door, and I had to have sit-down conversation number two with him, asserting my desire that he have opportunities to learn AND to practice his communication and collaborative skills. (I'm being nice; he has none.)

I'm going FREAKING INSANE -- GOOHH. (Picture Napoleon Dynamite here; it's one of the only things I can laugh at right now.)

Go-to guy gets back from Baghdad. He pulls an all-nighter on the equipment and like a super-star comes through. THE EQUIPMENT WORKS AGAIN!

I pulled all-nighter number two inside of five days. I got a bunch more of the ridiculous vehicle passes done, printed reports, planned my weely slides for my report today... but needless to say, I'm really really really tired.


I'm off to work again (this is after a 1.5 hour break to shower, blog, and let my body breathe out of the body armor). I miss home. I miss this place here in the bloggosphere. It feels closer to home. Don't lose me, you guys. I'm still here. I count on you all to be "there." You're all with me everywhere I go in this place. Thank you. From the bottom of my heart -- Thank you.