Saturday, May 31, 2008

Pen Pals

So I have been trading letters with a little boy from Las Vegas. One of the guys out here got a box of letters from a school class and we all grabbed one and started writing back. Andrew and I have exchanged two letters. He thinks it is way cool. He’s gotten two letters from some far off soldier. I like writing him to help in some small way keep the heart of America in tune with the military. I know it’s not much, but I feel some heritage/link with soldiers from times long ago and writing back to the “states.”

My real point in bringing all this up is the change in technology has kind of ended letter writing from soldiers. Even at the most remote places here in Iraq you can get to email on some sort of regular basis. I am sure there are units that do not for security reasons, but most everybody has some connectivity back to the states and they can use email. I try to write the kids and the wife on paper, but I talk on the phone and email them regularly. Letters that take 2 weeks to deliver lose meaning. I can’t give current events because they are long gone. I’m not whining or complaining just commenting on how things are different now with technology. And then the Blog. Well that is a whole new dimension. I can talk with hundreds of people at once. No need to address a letter. I just write the blog. If you are interested you keep reading, if not you click somewhere else. I wonder if people are archiving these words like people used to store old letters from loved ones during times of war?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Training Day

It must be time for me to leave. I feel like I know enough to be dangerous. I usually try to help with the training of the new board members on FRI and as I sat thru today’s session I felt like I had decent answers for most of the questions asked (especially answers to questions asked of other people). It must mean I know too much and should be shipped out – soon. I tried hard not to share my opinion too often unless other actually looked for my input. I wanted to speak up all the time, but I’ve slowly learned it’s not always good for me jump in the middle of other people’s briefings.

I need to mention some buddies. Joseph and JR are two of the translators that we work with and hang out with all the time. They really are great people. I’ve mentioned some of them before. The pic below is of our trip home from R&R. JR is the one in civilian clothes. He had also been on R&R and we hooked up on the return trip into Camp B. I don’t have a good pic of Joseph. I’ll have to get one. We had a small gathering of and cookout for the MNFRC guys who are leaving soon. As always it was a good time to hang out together and break some bread. I’ll have to admit this one was quite a bit hotter than the last couple we have had. Joseph and JR helped with putting it all together and as I thanked them they asked for some WWW press...and just as the good Lord says – ask and you shall receive.
The pic is also a mixed bag of guys from the courthouse board members and staff that help us run things day to day.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Camp B - Resort

Here’s something I came across that I thought was funny. Most of these are true, but the internet in your room is a little bit of a stretch.

Resort - Oasis in the Desert
- We offer First Class transportation to and from the resort on our top of the line Black Hawk helicopters
- First class shuttle buses around the resort
- Most Rooms are located on the boardwalk with close access to all the wonderful ammenities
- Beachfront resort with plenty of sand for all the kids at heart
- Wildlife and bird watching just outside your door
- Internet access in your room
- Opportunities to view daily air shows from your doorstep
- We offer the best dining facility in the area and several other eating establishments which offer the finest American-style cuisine
- Free unlimited supply of Baskin Robin's ice cream
- Access to our large fitness facility available 24 hours daily
- Many classes to include dancing and aerobics
- Fun for all in our weekly karaoke or card game competitions
- Organized athletics for those who enjoy the spirit of competition and wish to build long standing friendships
- And best of all, we pay YOU to stay with us!
- Rates depend on yor duration and standing of membership
- This is an all-inclusive resort
- To register today, please contact yor career manager and ask for the Camp B vacation package with lengths of stay ranging from six to fifteen months!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Thoughts

On this solemn day – I’d like to reflect on the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who have bravely given their lives in defense of the United States and all it stands for. From the early days with General Washington and his Army in 1776 to modern times and the Global War on Terror, it is a long and distinguished history. Today we fight side by side with the Iraqi people in a struggle for freedom. There are forces that would like a dark curtain to remain over the people here, keeping them from seeing the light and looking past the fear. I pray our efforts result in a peaceful Iraq – soon.

Stars and Stripes lists the number of US dead in Iraq at 4,080 (Thurs 28 May 08). Pray for the families of those fallen comrades.

God grant us wisdom and strength to continue to do what is right.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


When they did the initial standup of the courthouse area they bought some decent chairs. Enough in each courtroom for 3 board members, a translator, and some in the back for those that watch (like CNN). Since then (summer 07) we have really worn out the chairs. The chairs in the courtrooms now are all broken. Some have lopsided bases because the wheels broke off, some have lost arms, and many have just plain broken (seats separated from the base and guys come crashing down). I myself have fallen – right in the middle of a case – because the chair I was in finally gave away. Some might say this is because we eat too much in the DFAC. Actually I think we just bought cheap chairs and we are hard on them. Many of “full-grown” adults in and out of them with weapons slung on the hips and other stuff jammed into our cargo pockets. They are literally falling apart. We have some even cheaper chairs in the office area we work in. These metal folding ones collapse on a regular basis. They just aren’t built to withstand the punishment we put on them. You would not think it was hard to construct sturdy chairs…but apparently it is. Someone told me we put in an order for new chairs. I’ve watched the “new” chairs be used in other parts of the base. And they are worse. They are even cheaper metal/plastic type chairs that break as well. Too funny. Mighty US military and cheap worthless chairs. Such is life at Camp-B. Top-Dollars spent on some things and on others…not so much. As an acquisition guy I can’t help but see the “lowest bidder” versus “best value” issue here. Is it better to buy many cheap chairs or costly but durable chairs?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Home Crap Home

I’m back from R&R. It was just a few days, but it was fun. One of the best things was to just get away and be somewhere different for a while. There were a few extra amenities (a pool, some different kinds of restaurants, movie theater, a bigger gym, etc.). One of the best things was wearing civilian clothes. I didn’t think that would be much, but it did help to relax you and bring back some individuality that the military works hard to erase.

The travel completely stinks. There is just no way to sugar coat it. You hurry up and wait. Then wait some more. The one way trip took multiple days. The good news is I added another military aircraft to my list. The mighty Chinook (UH-47) was a new one for me. As with most military aircraft it seemed older than the hills and kept running by the hard work of the maintenance crews and a few taxpayer dollars in refurbishments. I passed through Buehring another time (the land of painted concrete barriers) – not much had changed there.

Since all I do is talk about food – you’ll find it interesting to note that I found the D-FAC at the R&R place to be one of the worst yet. The only really good thing was that they had fresh veggies and fruits and a good ice cream selection. Rocky-Road…YUM. Surprisingly the main food line there had less to offer than the standard fare here at Camp B.

Life back here appears to be the same old. It was nice to return to a familiar bed and pillow. It was nice to get back to the normal sounds in my pod as compared to a giant tent with a 100 other people in transit. Now it’s back to work to grind out the last few months.

Please hurry and grab your gear…so we can wait

As I sit on the plane (and enter hour #3) waiting for permission to taxi and takeoff…I decided it was time to type. The travel in and around the theater is difficult. You have to move on timelines that are very exaggerated. You show up early and sit forever. Transportation is slower than expected and usually uncomfortable. You move two steps forward then a step back. It’s what makes the joke of “military efficiency” laughable. I also realize I am on R&R. I’m the lowest of low priority. Things should happen quickly for those who need it and I’m in no hurry to get back. As soon as I return it’s back to the court.

As we boarded the C-17 for our next leg back to our final destination I felt back at home. AF people scurrying about. Familiar ranks and roles of aircrew and loadmasters. I was happy to see them and to be around them. It made me wonder what it is like to actually deploy and perform your mission. To train and prepare to do exactly the job you will do in “war.” Many airmen these days are deploying and filling the roles of other servicemen. Take me for example. What do I know of a battlefield threat? Yet I get to judge them everyday. I’m an acquisition guy. I take requirements, budgets, and specifications and mold them into a product for someone else to use in battle. But that is where I am, I’m happy to be a part of the bigger fight, and I try to make the best of it. But I am sure there is something much more satisfying in doing the job you are trained to do.

Hours and hours later we are still on the plane – engines running – waiting on something before we depart. I know the aircrew is as frustrated as we are. No one likes to be sitting around waiting…unless you are returning from R&R.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Happiness is a relative term

You know some people are just never happy. I heard someone say "there's nothing to do here"
I was really confused because I think the services guys have at least tried to set up many fun things to do. They have trips downtown. they have recreation things like bowling, darts, pool, a swimming pool, and many others. Some people are just never happy.

We had some visitors here. The "Survivor" tour. I guess some of the old hacks from past survivor series are going around to the bases. There was a line for people to see them and get pics and all. I don't watch the show so it was weird to me, but I can see how others might have some interest. But do I really want an autographed picture of people who can out-connive (making up words), scam and cheat other scoundrels into winning some money?

I spent a few minutes emailing buddies while on R&R. You forget how life just goes on for everyone else while yours is kind of put on hold. They travel, have kids, finish school programs, and all the normal parts of life while most of my life seems to be sitting still. The kids grow and K does all the hard part of keeping them mostly healthy and happy. But my life is kind of in suspended animation. I'm removed from most parts of your everyday life and live this crazy groundhog day existence over and over. That's a part of this war that is lost on many I think. When I return I want to the world to stop and take notice that I am back. But I know they won't. They'll just say - yeah we've been here working and living - where have you been? Thanks for your service. Please get back to normal soon. And I know I'm just on a short tour. I cannot imagine the changes for the Army guys who are on rotation 3 or 4 each 12-18 months long. Maybe this is just me and my - people are never happy.

watched the movie Vantage Point yesterday. It was good. Although I like most movies. It was a little over the top in believability but that's what we have come to expect. Anyway I was just HAPPY to see a movie on a nice big screen (but let me complain for a minute about the sound system...:)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Can I see your driver’s license and registration?

Traveling in a foreign country can be very interesting. As we toured the sights yesterday I was able to see many unique things. From the men in full man-dress to women in Abaya’s head to toe. We hit some local markets and shopping, some scenic views, a restaurant and then the fun really began.

On our bus trip back to the base we hit a major traffic jam. At first we think no problem, just a short delay. Then our driver takes the bus off-road…just to get around the traffic (and get us back on time I am sure). Then we merge back into traffic because we see a police snap-checkpoint (non permanent) set up in the middle of the road (a three lane highway). So we need to go thru the checkpoint.

I can’t hear the conversation because I was farther back and I don’t speak Arabic, but this was my interpretation from watching the hand gestures:

Police: Let me see your papers
Driver: (hands a single ID looking thing to police)
Police: (in a more direct manner) let me see your real papers
Driver: (hands another piece of ID looking card to police)
Police: (in a very harsh voice) No give me your drivers card
Driver: (hands a third piece of paper sheepishly to police)
Police: Pull over there with the rest of the criminals

Ok – so here we are – a minibus full of Americans on a “tour” through this arab country. Our driver apparently did not have his “papers” in order and our bus is forced to join the mass of undocumented workers on the side of the road in other large buses. This area is under massive construction (imagine vegas - desert and non-stop growth). So there are many foreigners here on work visas. I am sure many of them do not have the proper approvals. So as we wait in our bus on the side of the road we see these workers hoofing it down the side of the highway trying to jump on other moving buses past the checkpoint. It was quite comical (also a little crazy at this point because we don’t know how this will end). Our driver decides to leave. He’s going to go “work it out” with the police (after making a few phone calls on his cell to his bosses). We sit and watch more guys in colored jumpsuits walk around our bus and point at all the girls (especially a red-head who was sitting in the front). A few minutes later our “guide” also decides to go help his colleague “work things out.” Now we are really starting to wonder. Will these guys ever come back. It’s just us - the tourists on the bus now – no locals. We jokingly discuss just driving off…but we don’t really know how to get back (direction wise)…nor do we know what other stops might await us farther down the road.

After 5 minutes or so our guide comes back and says they are working it out. He looks quite disturbed and his demeanor and words don’t erase our concern for things going really bad here. But then 10 minutes later our driver comes back and we are able to proceed on. A few minutes later we learn the driver’s license was not so clean.

I was concerned for our safety somewhat, but mostly felt sorry for the tour guys. I am sure they will either lose the contract with the base or at least the driver/guide will loose his job. We were just a few missteps away from some international incident I am sure. I am also sure the girls in the bus didn’t feel too happy. But they did have lots of guys who were confident we could hold off the scrawny locals for quite a few minutes if needed. The base would soon “miss” us and track us down.

So it all ends well…no harm done and I now have a great story. Soon to be embellished by time and R&R beers.

No souvenirs. It all looked just junky to me. I am sure the kids will be sad. Oh well. They’ll be happy to see me right?

Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Cool One

It was nice to sit back with some buds and sip on an ice cold beer. They are overpriced, and they limit you to just a few each day, but it was a very nice change to the day in day out same old same old. I must admit the DoD has put some effort into making this place at least seem relaxing.

We bowled, played some dice, and shot pool. We people watched and listened to bad Karaoke. We ate more than we needed to and caught a few extra winks of sleep.

Today I hope to take a quick tour of the local area and spend a few hard earned bucks on worthless souvenirs.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Simple Pleasures

I'm now on my few days of R&R. I'll wait to mention more when I can...but after almost 24 hours of travel by all modern forms of transportation I was happy to hit the pillow in the wee hours of the morning.

So far I have enjoyed a few small things. A nice - LONG - hot shower, a soft couch, and some strawberries at lunch.

I'm off to have a try at some bowling with some buds. more later.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Long time readers of TEA will remember Pops, the Baghdad DFAC guy who shouted “99 types of wings tonight.” I have commented that we needed something like that here to energize things a bit. Well tonight it occurred to me we do have something similar. The guy who runs the cook to order grill station (hamburgers and steak sandwich) clangs his knife and spatula in a melody. But it’s more than that…it’s got a rhythm to it. Think of Japanese steakhouse mixed with a Grambling University drum line. It’s actually quite catchy. Although, I think he needs to work on an intro and a big finish. He just has the melody part down. Nothing else – repeated over and over and over. In case you were wondering, yes he usually does have quite the line at dinner.

Sorry I know it’s always food. I could just talk about the weather and say it’s hot all the time.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad

I just wanted to send out a note to my Dad – I love you and wish you a Happy Birthday. You taught me to be true to my word and to treat people with respect. Those lessons have proved invaluable to me as I deal with the things I see every day here in the Desert. I pray I can be the same example to my son. Thanks

Reader Mail

Some have commented and I need to respond:
#1 Gravel – but what about the rain and the mud you opined about so much in Baghdad? Excellent point. I agree mud is bad – but it’s temporary and the rainy season is short. The dry season is long. And I said I liked the packed sand. The loose sand – I agree gravel is better. So what do I mean with all this doublespeak? Small amounts of gravel in areas of high traffic and loose sand…otherwise it’s just a waste (of taxpayer dollars and resources). Just my opinion. Others say differently.

#2 Food – all you do is talk about food? You are right – that’s all I talk about because it is all I can talk about. I try to protect the good guys and keep the subjects away from things that could be used by the bad guys. Sorry - food it is.

So let’s talk about food for the day. Apparently we have an ant problem because people left some food in a room or rooms too often at the courthouse. So the courtrooms are now sans food items. Grrrr – I need snacks. Also if you are a Camp B news junkie you’ll have heard about the complaints of guards working without food. Of course the story was overblown – but anyway – the solution is being put into place. This week for lunch we had a more cafeteria style serving where we had a few large containers and our guards served it onto a tray instead of someone else making the food hours prior back at the D-FAC, packaging it, and driving many small Styrofoam containers out to us that would sit out for quite some time. I liked the new plan. Mostly because it is hot food. Thanks to my father that is one of my issues in life – eating a hot meal versus cold one.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother’s Day

To all the Moms in my life - HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!

I bought Mother’s Day cards soon after they were on display (a very small display) at the PX then mailed them out in plenty of time to make it to their destination before today. I ordered some flowers for K, and then I tried to call on the special day. But you know it just wasn’t enough. I didn’t feel like I did enough to reward K on her day of pampering. She works so hard to manage the little ones even when I am around, much less when I am half a world away.

My sister and niece have been in town visiting her and the kids for the last few days. Today they went into the big city and saw some sights prior to them flying out later in the afternoon. When I talked to K I could tell she was worn out. Maybe I’ll have a makeup Mother’s Day later in the year when I can do it right. Yummy breakfast and some special treat all the kids get to help with – that will have to be my new plan.

We had a special dinner for Mother’s day – it was seafood night, but that throws off the whole week because now what will they serve on seafood night? It’s all confusing.

Gravel – I have mentioned before that the new guard force that works at our area has been working to change things and make it better/different. Well they are putting gravel and sandbags down to make some nice walkways. There is debate amongst the board members about the benefit of the gravel versus just walking on packed sand. I’m a packed sand guy. I never knew how much I missed grass and sidewalks till you spend considerable time without them.

Food supply list update: We got sugar back but then ran out of bagels/breads and orange juice.

Friday, May 9, 2008

What a great weekend!

My weekend starts on Thursday. When we finish our cases for the day we don’t have to review for the next because we honor Friday as the local custom for a religious day and don’t hear cases. I’ve mentioned this before. Well anyway that afternoon allows us a few minutes to do some other tasks that get neglected during the week or just knock off early. After dinner most of us watched a movie in the MWR lounge. Then I was able to sleep in…till 7ish. Next up is a slow breakfast where we told the same stories over and over and shared frustration on the job. Then back to the POD for a few hours of relaxation before the weekend is over and I’ll head back to the courthouse and the new week starts mid-day Friday.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to whine. I just want to give you insight into the daily life here. My job is not physically taxing…it is clearly a mental marathon. Seeing the same kinds of things every day and trying to sort through the cases to make independent assessments. Others have more difficult tasks and my job stress is nothing compared to those that go in harms way everyday with bullets whizzing by. Make no mistake about it they have the tougher road. I live a life of luxury with A/C, hot food, and a soft bed. But my fight is a never-ending battle of sorting truth through a not so clear haze of information.

Here's a pic of some of thr crew loading up in our truck one morning before heading to work.

Our thoughts are shifting to the next group and how we can set them up for success and make things better for them. More on that some other time. It’s time to shower up for the new day.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Change (the order form)

Finally someone who wants to help. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of process improvement. At least of making an attempt to make things better. Last week all the permanent board members met and discussed things we wished were better with our jobs and the process. We came up with many ideas – some easy to do and others much harder. And then last night and again today I met with some people who work on the base that may actually be able to provide some of those changes – Hallelujah. I know things won’t change over night, but I hope we can set some things in motion that will make it better down the road. (They are all process stuff with our courts - not standard of living morale kind of things).

I’ve developed a theory of why we suddenly seem to run out of food items in the D-FAC at what seems like a random intervals. I think the food order form only has so many slots – and the number items we need is larger than the slots available. So somewhere the supply clerk (could be ex-PFC Wintergreen from Catch-22) has to decide what item to not order. Sometimes it’s Dr P (yikes), sometimes it’s milk, once it was cereal, then there was lettuce for a while, currently it is – Sugar. There was no sweet-tea for dinner tonight. Just un-sweet. I’ve mentioned this theory to others and they all agree it is plausible. Just tonight I mentioned it to Matt (he and I have been sitting on boards together recently…so I’m making a shout-out to his folks). Anyway he agreed my idea had merit. I’ll keep you posted on the support behind this theory.

Did I mention that Brandon also read the Fiery Gates – and he said he liked it as well? So it must be a good book – two of us liked it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cinco De May-o

As I was daydreaming today of Chipotle (the restaurant – not the peppers) it occurred to me that today was 5 May and I should have Mexican food for dinner. I checked the menu while at work – pork chops, baked chicken (always), and some other non Mexican dish. Hmmm – that’s not what I want. I did notice the “taco bar” on a side dish menu – so there was some light at the end of the tunnel. I strolled into the D-FAC eagerly looking for a surprise. Maybe the food servers had realized that 5 May was important to us Mexican food lovers. As I rounded the rack where I get my tray and spied the main course line I was rewarded with what looked like a Mexican buffet. Beef enchiladas (not my favorite but a good backup) was first…hmmm better take it in case there is nothing else. Some baked chicken (standard) and then some pork chops and finally some fajita like meats. They had Spanish rice and some refried beans, but no taco bar like I wanted. I surveyed the hot sandwich line. Nothing of interest. I went to a second hot food line and they had the same but also had some chicken quesadillas (more like a fried chalupa) – ok I’ll take two of those. Then my next option was the salad line – sometimes they have taco meat. I found some nacho cheese – but no tacos. Hmmm. Oh wait they usually have a 7 layer dip at the other end of the salad bar. So I head that way. Then out of the corner of my eye I spy – the taco bar – in a not so usual spot. Well my plate was already full…but I really wanted the taco meat. So I piled it on top. Then back to the 7-layer dip for some “toppings.” Some people added Near Beer for a special touch of celebration – I just enjoyed a DP like always.

It wasn’t Chipotle…but it was enough.

Finished a Ted Dekker book – The Martyr’s Song. It was good. Not the normal Dekker suspense and much shorter. But it was recommended as the first to be read if you were to start the series. Next up Inside Delta Force (back to the war novels J).

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stone Soup

I had a chance to talk with the USMC general that leads the Task Force I work for. He was out at the courthouse area (he lives at some other base and was just here for a visit). He did a re-enlistment for one of the troops and spoke a few words about how important our mission is and gave a motivational speech. I found his words to be helpful since I’ve often wondered who really cares about what we are doing here. He helped to put things in to perspective and that we are the front lines in a strange way. He gave some good Declaration of Independence references to remind us of why we do this and that we want the locals to see us do this to help lead by example. He remembered me from the CNN piece and made a few comments to me (he was here leading the CNN guys around that day). He was curious if my family had seen it. It was a fun minute or two kidding each other about it. He stuck around for some pictures and chatting with the troops after the impromptu ceremony.

In the morale department…we recently had boxing night. They do that regularly here…and allow people to sign up and have a series of bouts on a designated night. They also had a recent talent show. I didn’t get to see either event because I was busy with work or something. But I wanted to say it’s nice that they try to have some different things to make life fun for the people.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


The weather had been bad for many days. As we were sitting outside shooting the breeze and listening to the gentle hum of the generator...someone looked up and said "OH - it's starting to clear, I can see a star" So we all stare up and say - yep there it is. (See how boring it is here sometimes).

Still haven't seen the CNN Video. We've tried to load it up a couple of times but about 10 seconds in it always seems to fail. Oh well. Someday we'll see it.

K sent me some of my Simpsons DVDs a while back. I watched an episode last night - "A Streetcar Named Marge" Anyway one of the subplots of that episode was Maggie in a daycare and the babies have a parody of "The Great Escape" - It was hillarious as I thought about my friends here and their attempts to escape as well. Maybe you just have to be here to appreciate some of that humor. But Maggie and the rubber ball and the playpen punishment is the best.

Sorry for no blogs in the last few days. No luck with the internet sometimes. Jeffy - you will be happy to know I was able to share our Rim-River-Rim in one day story tonight. It was a good one (as always). I get a lot of mileage out of that story. If you don't know that story you have to buy me a beer and I'll tell it (preferably one with alcohol - unlike tonights drink of choice).