Monday, August 29, 2005

Post Script

p.s. If you haven't checked out my images on Flickr lately, try it!

Where is My Exit??

The days seem more difficult now. Any of you who are still frequenting my blog or checking your blogroll for indication that I've posted... I'm sorry for any scare I might have caused. It's not my intent to leave people hanging, and as a friend back home pointed out to me -- for some of my blog readers, posts are the only means you have of knowing I'm still okay. I have a number of topics that have rolled through my mind but haven't made it to print. I'll try to cover most of them over the next couple posts...
I got SOOOO fired up in a phone conversation with my Mom last week about accomplishing this next personal/professional goal of mine. I'm trying to get off my butt and actually research programs and apply for entrance to graduate school in time to attend Fall 2006. Ha. I'm intimidated, and I haven't even started contacting references yet! I'm saying all of this here in order to make myself publicly accountable for following through. I need this. I want this. I want it so bad I can taste it.
Family seems to go in and out of concern that I will experience "success" strongly enough while on active Army status to want to stay with it. Success in my job here has more or less been established. As a junior officer, there are an inordinate number of influencing exchanges directly between me (and my staff) and the decision makers and ranking commanders on the base. I don't think I believe in this war. I can see the "battles" and often make sense of the many many "little" things -- infrastructural improvements (repairing what has been broken over the last 10-15 years), civil affairs interactions with the people, health care for many who didn't have it before, and warm moments between service members and the Iraqi people. Let me be clear: none of this will change my mind about finishing my time in the Army when I'm done here. It is my intent to resign my commission as soon as possible after returning home from deployment. I have reached everything I ever intended to accomplish with the National Guard and more.
This is completion with honor, regardless of setbacks and surprises along the way. I have served the contract I signed, served my indenture. I don't intend to quit (in heart and mind -- actually leaving is not an option) before the deployment is over, but that is where some of my struggle lies. I'm struggling to keep heart and passion invested in the things I do -- because that is how I have grown to want to live my life -- when the things I do right now involve fighting this war. And ironically, my job actually does affect the safety of the place I'm in.... so I feel compelled to keep investing my all, if for no reason other than my own safety and survival.
I am in no crisis. I'm feeling a strain against my nature, against my heart -- but I know I have the strength to learn valuable lessons here, soak in another year of my life (because it passes whether I'm "invested" or not), and keep my eyes on the finish line.
Coming home when I can.... -Sentinel47

While I was sleeping...

While I was sleeping, ten dozen bombs bellowed, five hundred more died – including the four hundred most people won’t count – a water pipe broke, some power went out, some soldiers were shot at, some soldiers ate chow; a mouse’s dead carcass proliferates odor throughout my small office; the mayor has moved. Some soldiers went home, some visit, some stay; the server goes down; throw darts at the network manager’s face. My flowers have died now, two weeks and still counting; I salvaged a bookshelf to give myself space. The August sun hot, the wind even hotter, but those of us “seasoned” say ‘It’s getting cool.’ My little man Omar is set on a wedding, but all I can think of is him back in school.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Mail Call!

My thanks to the ever-constant shower of packages and letters received from home lately. I am in frequent contact with immediate family members to give feedback about the special items they have sent... but if my family isn't sure I've noticed, let me clarify: I NOTICE!! It's an awesome feeling to know how very present I am to you "back home." It is the closest I can get to actually being there and in fact feeling like I never left. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

I want to draw attention here to the items I just received two days ago from Randy and Yvonne: THANKS, YOU GUYS!!

Note on this one: "It's hard to send a hug, so I sent a big kiss instead."

There was also a CD by Selah, a card, and a light-up "stress" toy that looked like a cross between a squid and those toys called "Koosh" balls from the early 90s. The toy was called "Lite-Up Squirmy Wormy," with the attached note:
"When frustrated or just good and mad you can squeeze the life out of this or throw it at someone.
P.S. It probably won't break any windows."

Pictures of the "Squirmy" turned out pretty cool-looking, so I'm inserting them here in series.
Even though I felt like a kid playing with this thing, I think that's what we need every once-in-a-while. Thanks again, Yvonne and Randy, for remembering me. Every piece of home that comes my way makes such a difference to me! The "Squirmy" gets to be my torch from home for a while. Hope this brings as many smiles to you as it did to me.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Pleasantville, Iraq (Part I)

If you haven't seen the film Pleasantville, I would only recommend it for the sake of its visually artistic qualities. The cast of this 1998 film is substantial, starring big names such as Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy and others. There seems to be agreement that the film was a social commentary about prejudice, most say specifically about the Civil Rights movement, referenced in the film by segregation of "Colors" from everyone else -- it's just that "Color" meant Not Black-and-White, instead of Not Caucasian in this plot, where a modern-day brother and sister get sent to a 50s sitcom. In Pleasantville everything is "perfect" until the brother and sister's knowledge of the outside world -- on many levels -- pollutes the contented naiveté of the town, bringing the enlightenment associated with questioning our assumptions. I make my reference to Pleasantville here because the film depicted an interesting catalyst for crossing over from "Normal" to "Color" -- sexual enlightenment -- or promiscuity as some would call it. I'm not really endorsing the film here; I thought there could have been so many other ways to tell the film's message... but I do have something to say about sexual enlightenment and liberation in Iraq, particularly in regard to women.

So I’ve gone traipsing through all the blog haunts I could think of in an attempt to retrieve information about a reference made by Mary in a recent phone conversation we had. The problem is that I’m not sure what the exact wording of any of it was; I only know there was some article or initiative regarding liberating the women of Iraq by sending them sex toys, to introduce to them methods of self-appreciation already known and practiced among men for centuries. I find this amusing and noteworthy for two reasons. I've split the post and addressed them separately:

1. Did anyone ever think that maybe the American women soldiers might appreciate something like that?!
Ah… you think I’m joking. I’m not. Healthy, adult, already partnered women have appetite and needs during periods of long separation, just as their male counterparts do. There’s some unspoken – sometimes verbalized – acceptance of practice in the male community to “help oneself out” – “rub one out” in the men’s room, the shower, or wherever else clean-up supplies might be close at hand. Of course, not to be lewd or anything, but many of us have been culturally conditioned to understand that men are entitled to the occasional bathroom stroke of the ego. I and my female peers, on the other hand, are far more likely to be ostracized for any marginal suggestion that we have the same so-called needs. In terms of mechanics and freedom of movement, the bathroom stall is a little less conducive for most of us to address our egos! At any rate, I think women stuck in this oppressive, suppressive man-world could use a little “liberation,” for the sake of everyone’s sanity. I think we could use a few accessories to aid occasional contentment in the privacy of our own rooms!

Don’t get any crazy ideas – I’m not condoning group involvement, extra-marital affairs, or otherwise breaking any standing orders – there is currently no policy regarding possession or use of sexual accessories. I only ask the same entitlement to self help be granted to women that this community is already affording its male members – take pun as you like.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Technical Difficulties...

Mixed bag these days... I little tech problems, a little "me" problems, a little sadness -- aka resilience practice -- with challenges for our family back home. I'm still here. For many of you, I've been watching posts from you, composing responses, and hoping to publish this week's spurt of reflections and updates. Thanks for being there! Here's to another day... --Sentinel47

Sunday, August 07, 2005

My Boy Omar

"OmarCloseup" -by tommi

everyday delights
with him
"beautiful" sounds
so much more
in this language --
love in the eyes
of a teen-aged boy
ah, to be so innocent again!
innocence in the midst
of chaos and war
war in the midst
of hope and love
love in the eye
of the duststorm

- by tommi

Body Count

It's been a frequent topic of conversation between Mary and me that the casualty count in Iraq is conspicuously lacking report of Iraqi civilian injury and death as reported in US Media. Seldom have I seen so much as an estimate, acknowledgement, or cumulative report of Iraqi civilians.

That tells me that we're not telling ourselves the truth about what's going on over here. It makes the "war" easier to digest if we're not actively aware that over 23,000 civilians have died in this country since 2003 (Iraq Body Count). There is a scientific study found on this site. It appears to have been compiled and reported by people from Oxford, but I'm not exactly sure. I have included the links here for you to see for yourself.

Please give me your thoughts on this. I'm curious as to what anyone else sees in these numbers, or even in the study itself. I am a mathematician with a great interest in statistical analysis, complete with awareness for how numbers can be "tweaked" to say what one wants them to say. But can you really "tweak" 23,000 from otherwise negligible numbers? Tell me what you think.


Speaking of Port-a-Johns...

Spinning off from Pat's humor in my recent post and comments, "Voices at the Gate," I find myself wandering through thoughts about these dirty (necessary?) so-called latrines lately. During one of my necessary trips to the "John" today, I was perusing the stimulating reading material left on the walls. I imagine we have all seen the overused "For a good ____, call _____" and sometimes a number to call. I saw such an assertion today that was so funny, I nearly lost my carefully-perched balance.

It read simply: "For a good F***, call 1-800-GO-GUARD."

After Mary (The Power Decades) and Pat's (Six More Months) recent banter about getting "screwed" by the military -- specifically the National Guard -- I thought this grafitti summed it up nicely!

Jenn: My FAVORITE Sister!

"ant" by Jennifer

Here I go... as promised... sharing some of my sweet sister's photos. Jennifer has a blog that she maintains called "Digital Photos: Life Without Words." I'm posting here in order to share her handful touching works -- in part to motivate her to POST MORE! She has such an artistic eye, and I find myself thirsting for more of her beautiful photos. Hopefully you all feel the same.

I love you, Jenn. Hope to find you again soon...

Break for Beauty: Eric Payette's Photos

"Sharlene et Andree -- Anne"

I simply must take a break to admire the beauty of Eric Payette's photos. That link is specifically to his "Portraits" set, one of many intriguing and beautiful sets. I was moved by his "New Mom" set -- portraits of his wife and new baby, for everything I could ascertain.

This is all one more great example of the sharing opportunities provided by Flickr, an excellent FREE photo-posting service. Stay tuned for my best efforts to compel my sister Jenn to do more photo posting of her most awesome pics... that and more in the next post!

Voices at the Gate II

Here are a couple more quotes… I was trying so hard to remember them when composing the last post and couldn’t, so here they are now.

Me: Fox, that’s a nice shirt. I love that color [lime] green on you.
Fox: Thank you, but it’s the same shirt I wore yesterday. I hate wearing the same thing all the time.
Pat: Me, too!
If you don’t get the humor, remember that we will wear some configuration of exactly the same “outfit” every day of our service here!

For the next exchange it’s necessary to understand that the usual duty uniform for the inside of the base is just top, bottom, and soft cap. For the gate it is body armor, helmet, and the basic load of ammunition – averaging 25-35 extra pounds of weight per soldier.

“Customer” of our officer [quite put out at the inconvenience]: I hope we can get this all taken care of this time; this is like my fifth time down here, and I hate putting all this stuff on.
Me, standing there in the same uniform he’s wearing [mocking]: Yeh, me too. I know exactly how you feel; this is, like, my two hundredth time coming down here!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Voices at the Gate

Favorite quotes (and context) from the past couple days...

"Ochay!" -The Turkish Guy, attempting to say "okay" in such a way that even Fox and Jr (our Iraqi interpreters) found humorous. In response everyone on my staff has adopted the word as replacement to its original.

"It's not that way. You just want it to be that way in your imaginary mind." -Fox, in response to my assertion that a good portion of the Iraqi population would step out in front of a bus to cross the street, saying simply "Insh Allah"(God willing/God's will be done), instead of waiting for the bus to get out of the way.

Pat: One more item on my list of things I don't enjoy about Iraq -- the smell of a port-a-john on a 120-degree day!
Me: What else is on the list?
Pat: Let's see... the smell of a port-a-john on a 90-degree day!

"That company is just mad f***ing whack!" -Sentinel47, in response to a contractor with what must be a record number of security risks and just-plain-stupid people.

Jr: I would like to go to the gym, but I can't. [base policy does not allow interpreter access]
JC: Why is that?
Jr: Because I am in the hell... jail, hell, [our base]... it's all like being in the hell.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Trying the Music Thing...

I'm trying out the music thing. I'm convinced that I'm not doing this using the same method that my friend Kat has used at Keep the Coffee Coming, but I hope it works. My brother James introduced me to SaveFile in one of his posts on Food for the Brian. He posted an original song there that you might enjoy, so check it out while you're at it.

Here's an original piano composition that I wrote and recorded while home on leave from Iraq:

"Lakeshore" by tommi

Faces Of Iraq

the children, they smile -- some barefoot, some sandaled. Four sisters and a brother cling tightly to the lanky bringer of candies and hugs, the pale-skinned stranger, the soldier, the man. Mother steps aside a moment, allowing her daughters and son to receive a permanent impression of manhood, of provision, of courage.

Don't think for a moment that these children feel pain. They don't remember the "Saddam Time"; they may never have had running water or power or clothing with tags. How is that a lesser condition if it's the greatest they've ever had?

And now the greatest is growing. The school in the village is being improved: more air conditioning, more desks, more supplies. If the teachers refrain from selling them for personal gain, then these children will see an improved educational environment this fall.

I wonder what their experience will be 10 years from now... they will be recognized by their society as adults, half of them married, half of them working to contribute to the family home. I wonder if they'll be glad the Americans came, provided, and left? I wonder if the country will sustain the momentum we're trying to pass on? I wonder if they want it?

I wonder if they'll think it would have been better if we never came at all...

I hope not. I prefer to think "we made a difference to that one" applies here. I'm willing to bet my friend Tom (pictured) thinks so.

Tom is a soldier in our unit, participating with the Civil Affairs mission we have received for infrastructural improvements on the local school. So far I have been given the choice of whether to go out or not (participate with the mission), and I have refused. I'm torn -- between giving these mothers and children just a little something more and risking that two-mile stretch of road between our base and the school -- something I promised my mother I would never do unless ordered. I'll keep you posted. -t

Someone Else Should Do It!

I know I've been away a couple days... Shut my computer down for a day and a half to swap hard drives, fell a little under the weather, and just plain stayed busy. I'm back... here's more from the Gate:

Had to laugh (and grimace) when reading Pat's "NIMBY" post regarding the syndrome of "that's a great idea; why don't you talk to [insert name of someone other than me here] about taking care of that?" HA.

Additional note about the 12x15' office space, one Humvee, four Army personnel, and two interpreters (and a partridge in a pear tree)... We just had one more Command-directed interpreter added to our group. So now we have THREE interpreters and frequently have to take multiple trips to the gate just to get all of us to our place of work! Hey, at least we're not walking!

Pat and I agree that it's a great idea to make sure that we parade past the main headquarters building for our unit, just to make sure they see we have to use the gunner hatch to get enough room -- unfortunately, doing this the last three days has brought nothing since our parade seems to take place at the one 60-second interval when no one is outside! hmph. Frustrating, yes, but somehow we all still manage to find humor in it. More soon.