Monday, June 30, 2008

Moment of Truth

I just finished Michael Yon’s book – Moment of Truth in Iraq. I highly recommend it. He is a freelance journalist who has spent serious time embedded with soldiers here in Iraq. He’s ex-Special Forces and is not afraid to go out with the troops on missions. His book covers a wide range of time, starting in 2003 and then wraps up around Feb 08.

He sees a different side of the country than I do. He’s on the front end of the capture. But he’s got plenty of insight into how things are going and why the real stories of the war are not being told. He gives great insight into the Iraqi people and their culture and tribal arrangements. He talks of some successes and failures of our efforts to date. It’s definitely worth your time. It’s a quick read as well – with fast paced short stories. The book mentions his website as He talks about taking his camera with him, so there may be pictures there as well.

Maybe the most powerful aspect of reading this book was thinking I could have reviewed the cases for people he watched get captured. Some of the general circumstances he describes I have seen in the files and it was easy for me to relate to what he was saying. I’ve “interviewed” many many Iraqis myself and have heard the same thoughts and feelings being expressed even though I’m at the other end of the story.

Oh yeah – did I mention it was freakin hot here!!!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Shadows and 2nd Chances

As Chuck and I walked to dinner tonight, he points and says “look!” He was pointing at the Sun. We could look right at it because there was so much sand in the air to block out its blinding light and just looked like a bright moon. It was 5:30PM and the sun was not even on the horizon yet. Ahh the joy of Camp B. I think the high today was 125 or something close to that. One of the offices we work with (not the trailer I usually work in) has 2 small window units to cool the place. The machines just can’t keep up. The staff asked for KBR to come and look at it and after a quick inspection the response was – yep they are working properly. They are only made to cool the rooms 20 degrees cooler than the outside. So they get to work in 105 degrees vs 125. Something is just not right about that.
As I closed out my last case today I felt a sense of accomplishment. I know the job is far from done, and these hearings will go on long after I am gone, but I felt proud of what I had done. Today I think I was a little more lenient than usual. I’m reading a book about the insurgency here in Iraq (don’t worry that will be a full blown blog once I finish the book) but there was a story from the book that I thought about all day. The anecdote was about Gen Petraeus and once during his career he was accidentally shot by one of his troops in training. You might think that the soldier who caused the discharge of the weapon would have been severely reprimanded and the lower level commanders between Petraeus and the soldier also punished. Well he didn’t kick them out of the Army – in fact he challenged them with things that drove them to higher standards. He gave them a second chance. That phrase rattled around in my head all day. Sometimes you just deserve a second chance. Don’t get me wrong – I know many of our fallen soldiers and their families will never get that second chance because these guys took it from them, but with at least one guy today. I said – he deserves a second chance.

Who can afford this?

So I’m doing my daily shelf check of the PX (where you just walk through everyday to see what they have. There’s rarely anything new, but you have to go because you are bored and you never know they might have that one thing you’ve always wanted) – anyway – a few days ago they got in a shipment of Playstation 3 game centers. These things cost $395 each. As I walk by I’m saying who is going to buy all these things. They are expensive and the games cost $50+ each. When do they have time to play? Where do they play them since they have small living qtrs and even smaller TVs? And then one day as I walk by I hear a guy say, “What the Hell. My wife will kill me, but so what.” He grabs a box and a ($60) game of the shelf. I’m sure that purchase consumed all the disposable income that guy had for the month - just for a computer game. He has a wife at least and maybe kids to boot. But who am I to judge – I have my own expensive toys…but that’s not my point.
I’ve discussed in the past how I think the car sales guys on the base seem to me as predatory…claiming these good deals to guys who are far away from competition and many days away from even touching the cars they are throwing down big bucks for. Well I’m trying to decide if the PS-3’s are the same thing? I’ve decided it’s not the same. First it’s an order of magnitude difference in cost (a month’s expendable cash versus a whole years worth for the cars). And second the guy actually does get to have his toy right then and there. Some of the guys live in 4 or 8 man pods and I am sure they can pass the time with these things and have lots of fun. I even contemplated bringing my Wii (see I told you I had expensive toys as well), but when I saw the qtrs I decided it was not worth it.
Having said all that…I’m amazed, because today they were sold out. This large display was completely empty. Who knows, maybe they were just spending their tax rebate checks.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Here's a picture of my family wall. I've kept up pics and cards and art from the kids. It's my small window into the fam back home. They have sent a lot of art projects but I've only kept some of them up on the wall. I've noticed from the recent pics that the two littlest clearly have changed the most. But that's ok - I'll be home in less than a month and can get back to being the fun dad.
Chuck and I have been cleaning out the POD and getting ready to leave. He packed up a bunch of boxes and built a sort of wall. Here you can see that he has almost closed off his side of the pod. There is just a tiny crack where the A/C can come through to my side. In the afternoon it was getting hot. I let him know - and after he stopped laughing he fixed it so the A/C could actually get to my side.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


The last of the JUN inbounds made it here today. He’s the Lt Col of the group. He’s a pilot and seems like a really nice guy. As I was helping him get settled today something funny happened. Right after I picked him up I asked, “Have you been to billeting?” (a place to sleep and a good meal – always first on the new guy checklist). He said no. So off we go to billeting. I warned him that some of us had to wait months for a POD. So in we go, I introduce him and mention the unit we are from and that he is permanent (not one of the MNFRC guys that comes in for just a week or so). They clickety-clickety on the keyboard a few thousand times (like the airline agents in the airport). They ask a few questions to clarify spelling. Then they bring over a key and a hand receipt. He got a POD day one. Granted O-5’s get a single POD and there are not many O-5’s here so that rotation is quicker – I get that. But then here is the real interesting part. He asks about sheets and bedding. I’m about to jump in and mention we can go buy some at the PX if he doesn’t have any (in his defense some of his bags are coming after him so maybe that is why he asked). But before I can say anything the guy behind the counter says, “Sir, your bed is already made up.”

I understand that things are different for the higher ranks, and I know I am an officer and things are easier for me than for the lower ranks, but the “your bed is already made” was a little over the top for me. Ahhh life in the military where ‘Rank Has Its Privileges.’

One side note – thanks to Jim for the car magazines. I don’t read them as much as Chuck, but I browse through the leftovers sometimes.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dinner with the Chief

One of the guys who works with us is a Navy Chief Petty Officer. He’s a very loud and proud kind of guy. When he’s in the room everyone knows and if not – he’ll make sure you know very soon. We had dinner with him tonight because by the time he gets back from R&R we’ll be gone. My room-mate and I kidded him about some of the construction projects. He built a smoking area type gazebo for the smokers (including him) and he was instrumental in getting our break/lunch room closed off. In the past it was just some tables in the sand and now it is a completely enclosed structure with A/C. So you get the picture he likes to build stuff. We kid him about the wood and that he ahem…“borrows” it from others. He says no it’s all from the scrap yard from KBR. He gets a lot of wood from the scrap yard. Well Chuck and I kidded him that we have drawn up plans for the next major project…we hope to build a roller coaster in the courthouse area. We have the perfect place for it and of course, we’ll just get all the wood from the scrap yard area. He loved it. He really got a kick out of the story and the joke. It may not be funny to you, but we all had a good laugh. MNFRC humor I guess. (Ihave a picture of him - but my bad internet connection won't allow me to upload it)

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Praise Him!

Tonight the worship teams for the various services put on a concert on the stage. I had seen it advertised and wanted to go. It worked out that I could make it and I really enjoyed it. There were multiple bands and choirs plus a short message from one of the chaplains. One of the bands played multiple Third Day songs so I was really enjoying that. Another played some Casting Crowns – also enjoyed that although it was little tougher for them to pull off.

The most moving moment for me was when three girls were doing an interpretive/worship dance. They moved around and performed sign language as some songs played. It was quite entertaining. One of the songs was “I can only imagine.” That one kind of got me sad. For those of you that don’t know that song is one of my favorites. It talks of a time when we’ll be in heaven and in the presence of God. What we will we do? Will we stand in his presence or in awe of him be still? Will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine.

I used to sing that to my girls before bed time. I did it a few times when it was on the radio and then it became a request all the time. Riley and Mary just loved it. Anyway. It made me really miss them. Someday soon I’ll be back and sing that for them at bed time…maybe we can even teach little lu about it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Are you making a difference?

A second group of heroes showed up today helping our numbers get back to normal. Once again training ensued and we’ll get them off and running soon. I also got a package from my sister – wahoo. Lots of candy and a book. Thanks!

I heard from my cousin who is also in Iraq (via email). He’s a guard at another base. He loves his job and gets to interact with the locals. He sees a different side than I do. I see the guys who are detained and he sees families. I’m happy for him and that he sees the positive in his work.

A buddy asked me “if I felt like my time was worth it and if I was making a difference?” I say yes. It’s a small difference but one guy at a time I get to deal out American justice and due process. Stand before someone and state your case. I tell them every day – there are two sides to every story. So yes. I do feel like I’m making a difference.

I practiced for going home today by running a taxi. With the new guys coming in, I was making multiple trips back and forth from the courthouse. When I had an empty vehicle I would stop and pick up guys waiting at the bus stops. I’ve waited for an hour in the heat for a bus…so I hate to pass them by when I have an open vehicle. I can’t pick up everybody, but every little bit helps or at least that is my perspective. So – the taxi run for the kids and their activities…I’m getting back in the swing of things for that.

Friday, June 20, 2008


I helped one of the new guys get a blanket from the leftovers of the group that just left. He told me of how his standard govt issue sleeping bag was still on its way here in a truck or something. It brought me back to those first nights where I was in the same boat. Of course it’s no big deal to go buy a blanket for a few bucks here, but is was great to see the cycle start all over again. Ahh life on the other end of the spectrum. Tomorrow is court day one for them and we are winding down to our last few. I worked hard today to help them understand how to prep for the cases and what to ask. They’ll be fine, just the standard uneasiness of the unknown for them. I want to give them all the benefit of what we’ve learned but it’s just too much. It’s the drink from a fire hose analogy. They just miss so much, so we’ll have to make sure and re-attack the training stuff after a few days to give them the next level of info.
The other interesting thing will be watching them build a relationship with the interpreters. We’ve all built that relationship and trust and it will take a while for the new permanent guys to get to the same place. Enough blabbering about the old and new – yada yada yada

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Replacements

After many days of waiting some of the new guys showed up. Hooray! They get just a few short weeks and then they are the old hats. It also means that we get to leave soon. Wahoo. I had a day off today. Nothing special just went to the gym and then out to the office to check email and meet the new guys. Tomorrow I get to spend some quality time with them in training and helping them understand the crazy job we have. I watched one of the Marine Ospreys go in and out today. That’s the one that has a cool rotating propeller to perform both vertical takeoffs and then fly horizontally like an airplane. I was in good position to get a movie of the liftoff when – beep – the batteries died. Oh well. I’ll keep the memory in my mind since I can’t share the picture with you.

Time to get philosophical for a few minutes. I’ve been thinking a lot about sacrifices and the needs of the many vs the needs of the few. As I read the book about the failed hostage rescue in Iran and those that risked all to save just 54 I am honored to serve with those that were willing to step into harms way to save people like that. At the same time I consider my daily job here and the needs of the many or should I say safety of the many versus the freedom of one. I don’t have a major point, just something I’ve been pondering. It’s a recurring theme in some books and videos I’ve seen lately. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary, and that’s a good thing. I think many of the locals here need to learn that lesson. Unfortunately the enemy has learned it and uses it effectively against us with suicide bombers. Somehow we have to instill that same sense of sacrifice to do good in the country. They are working on it, but they have a long way to go.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Today is our 14th Wedding Anniversary. Unfortunately I will not be able celebrate in person with K. The best we can do is share a few minutes on the phone. But that’s OK. It doesn’t change how much I cherish her.

She’s the best. She’s my friend as well as my wife. I want to be around her and live my life right next to her. She’s smart (especially in Math), she’s funny, and she’s beautiful – the complete package. She’s a great mom and wonderful to my family. I plan to hold on to her forever and ever.

Here’s to Poppy!!
I Love You.

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I’m not in charge of that many people or resources…but there is something different about the job when you have a sense of ownership. Over the last few days I have felt different about what happens to us. People look to me to be the one in charge. There is no major change in the day to day process or anything like that, it’s just in how I feel about it really. For instance checking email: I feel a need to check the work email a few times a day to help keep info flowing. Before I could count on others to shoulder that responsibility so I didn’t sweat it. I still don’t worry about it much, but there is a difference in care factor when you own something.

Packed up box #2 to ship home. I think that will get most of the stuff that I don’t want to carry back. The rest I will just leave for those behind me or just throw away. Today is flag day as well as the Army Birthday (or at least they celebrated it at dinner with extra good food – carved meats, seafood and steak, and cake). I noticed Tim Russert passed today. I liked him. I didn’t always like his politics but I thought he was entertaining as a news guy. Speaking of news…it is interesting to watch the negotiations for the extension of UN resolutions and Security agreements between US and Iraq. I certainly have no say in it nor do I have any special insight, but I can see the long term effects of both positions up close and personal from my vantage point. Back to my original point…ownership changes the way you think. The leaders of the country can see that and want to take the next step.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Let’s clean up this place so we can have some coffee

Now that we are in-between groups of permanent board members (old guys gone and new guys not here yet)…I decided it was a good time to clean up the office. I don’t think some were as excited about that prospect as I was. With many hands we made light work of it. One of the guys was more of a stuffer into places and he told me he just making things disappear. I said no – look in this drawer – it’s still here. Brandon went behind and cleaned up a few things he just stuffed into the drawers. At least if gave us a laugh. I used one of the old crews drawer organizers to try and organize all the food we have on our snack table (it kind of worked). We also cleaned the outside of the new SUV as best we could. It needs an industrial inside cleaning, but we don’t have access to vacuums or anything to do stuff like that. As part of the cleaning we unpacked the remainder of the Boca Java coffee we got for free. They have a special offer to military troops for free coffee (they are up to 5 million cups for the troops). We sent them some info and they mailed us mucho coffee. I think it was 25-50 pounds of coffee. We are set for a while. It’s really good stuff too. They get donations from people and then use that to ship out free cups of joe to the Troops. They included a picture of their break room and the walls of memorabilia from all the troops. They sent us a list of the personal messages from people who donated money for the coffee. It’s always neat to remember there are millions of people who do support the efforts of the soldiers. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that and just focus on the reports of all the bad and news that’s been “spun” to show one bad apple in the barrel of good. Anyway this is a long winded note of THANKS to BOCA JAVA …give’em a try sometime.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Ask and you shall receive

Yesterday I mentioned my headphone issue. And today a buddy gave me a spare set. God is good. Another normal Wednesday, nothing really important to share. I got in trouble for speeding today. You remember the new SUV? Well I was driving a little faster than I needed to at the courthouse. I was trying to get out of the way of a big bus, but the guy who told me to slow down didn’t see that part of the equation. No biggie. Just funny. Weather was nice today. It was hot, but clear and not too much wind.

There is a pigeon’s nest that is in the vent fan area of one of the trailers we walk by everyday. I always looked up and noticed the pigeon (mom I assume) sitting on the nest and wondering what she thought of this crazy place. Yesterday she left…looks like an egg is still there but it’s too high up to see for sure. Could just be the remnants of an egg on the edge of the nest. Oh well. I’ll have to find something new to wonder about on my walk to the D-FAC.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


This message is not intended to encourage anyone to buy me headphones.

The set I use to listen to music while I exercise has a short in the wire to so I get one ear to work constantly and the other is only intermittently. I’ve dealt with it now for a week or so. I have browsed the PX (out of stock) and the Haji shops (what we call the local guys who set up outside around the PX). They have some but they want $15-20, just for a small set of earbuds. I’m hesitant to pay that much for some silly off-brand fake. I’m holding out for the PX to get re-supplied then I will spend fewer dollars on new ones. I have some headphones I can use to listen to music, but they are too big to take to the gym and run on the treadmill with them. There’s no real point or life lesson here…just jabbering on.

Our good friends who were stationed in Norway are back on their way to the states. K is very very excited to see them. Daughter #2 sent me a DVD from her kindergarten class. It has the class doing some songs and dances. They sent it to me for Memorial Day. It’s really nice. I have finished the Inside Delta Force book by Haney. It was a good read. I found his insight into the early days of US Counterterrorism very interesting. In one section he talks about his role in the failed mission Desert 1 (to rescue the US Embassy hostages in Iran). Then I stumbled upon a book by Col Kyle (USAF) called The Guts to Try. He was the on scene commander for that failed mission. And his book tells that story in detail, so I am reading that now. Enough random thoughts for a Tuesday.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Trucks - again

After some initial confusion, the truck battle has settled. We turned in our Truck for an Explorer. Most modern day soccer parents might be happy but I think we would have preferred our truck back. It could seat more/hold more with the bed. The good news is we still have a vehicle.

I scrounged for some boxes behind the PX the other day. Need to start shipping home some of my winter clothes that I do not need and don’t want to carry back. I just finished a Randy Alcorn book – Deadline. I really enjoyed it. I plan to read more of his work and would recommend that book to others. It’s a good Christian fiction piece. It has a more overt message than the Dekker books I usually read.

The last few days have not been newsworthy or full of great humor…not that they are bad, just same old same old. One good news note – since I haven’t focused on food for a while I’ll make up for it. They installed some fountain drink machines…I was worried my Dr Pepper days were over. I just knew they would install soda in the fountains to save on buying cans. If they did DP was surely not going to be one of the options. To my surprise they are juice fountains instead of soda. Looks like the cans will stick around for a few more days. Wahoo!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pizza and The Delivery Truck

One of the translators wanted to have a party with us to say thanks and show appreciation for our efforts here. As our 6 months comes to a close she wanted to do something nice. She bought us pizza and we gathered in the Chapel Annex (kind of a small gathering place) for a few minutes of fun. Here’s a pic for you. She also gave us a small memento to remind of us the country and that there are many who are glad we are here trying to make things better for the locals.

One of the guys put his juggling talents on display as well.

The other thing of note today…vehicle swap. The trucks and SUVs we use here are leased. I guess it is time to turn those over for new leases. We dropped our truck off and not sure if or when we’ll get one back. It’s always something new. Here’s a pic of the long line of replacement vehicles. I heard some talking head on the news channel today say we are spending $5K per second in Iraq. Some say a picture is worth a thousand words…there must be some link between those sayings and this picture.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I (State Your Name)…

One of our mighty Lieutenants pinned on Captain today. He was not going to have a ceremony until all the Majors put a guilt trip on him so he would actually do it. After we convinced him - he had to pick one of us to actually administer the oath and perform the ceremony. He picked me. So we (all the permanent MNFRC guys) gathered as the sun went down on the CB stage and had a quiet ceremony. We had some pretty bad sand storms throughout the day so I was not sure how it was going to work out. We moved up onto the actual stage part and that helped to keep the wind and sand out.

Phil Chandler was the guy who pinned on. I gave a few words about him and where he went to school and then what jobs he has done in the AF. He actually plans to get out of the AF soon so it was nice to make sure this promotion was officially recognized by his peers. He said a few words after and commented about how significant the deployment will be in his memories of the AF. We were all honored to be a part of that event for Phil (or as I like to call him – Dr Phil). I present Capt Phillip Chandler.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I have to add some more to previous day’s postings. The Rec Tent where we watched the movies and had the sound issue. Well apparently they made a new rule. Only Games can be played on the TVs and the large movie theater area is the only place for movies. I wonder if we had anything to do with that new rule…hmmm.

Age of Empires. Actually Brandon did not win last night. He actually resigned and lost. Two of the guys were still in it and had teamed up rather well to crush him. I just thought he was going to win. His first defeat…on his birthday.

We were supposed to get another USO type event today, the Philadelphia Eagle Cheerleaders. There was much anticipation by the guys for the event, but alas it was canceled due to bad weather. I don’t think they made it in to the Camp. I think it is comical to say the least.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Age of Empires

So some of us gathered to play a computer game. It’s called Age of Empires. It is a strategy game where you build up and army and try to conquer those around you. As usual Brandon has spent many hours playing this game and can crush all of us in a few minutes. We try to gang up on him but we barley know how to play and he is just lashing us in minutes. 5 vs 1 and he still wins. Maybe he spends too much time playing these games.

The one bad thing is my computer seems to drop off the network and that freezes the game for everyone. That stinks. After the second time it dropped I just stayed off so they could play on without me. The sad part is that we can’t really organize so he just picks us off one at a time vs a 5 on 1 fight. One more thing - it's Brandon's 27th b-day so I think he took extra pleasure in schwacking all of us.

Somewhere along the way from young with no kids to dad with 4 kids I switched from game player to movie watcher. Time to go watch another DVD.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Volume Control

We went to the rec tent this evening and watched a movie. Let me try to describe the situation: we are on a couple of couches in a row and about 7 feet in front of them are two giant (42+ inch) flat screen TVs on the wall. We were watching a movie on one and some guys were playing Halo 3 (a playstation type computer game) and then off to our left in another corner is a third giant flat screen TV maybe 15 feet away. Behind us in another part of the tent are some other TVs. So it becomes a battle of volumes. As each group would change out for some other one would turn the volume up. We had reached equilibrium with the guys next to us. They seemed content with the sound of the game and we could mostly hear our movie – mostly. As the day passes this whole building just becomes a cacophony of sound. Loud crashes and bangs and movie theme music canceling each other into NOISE. Some guy came and asked us to turn it down. We said we can barely hear. He leaves. Later he comes back with a remote and turns it down. We turn it right back up (with the remote we had). He leaves. A few minutes later he comes and turns all the TVs down.

I usually enjoy a confrontation, but in situations like this I don’t. I like to debate, but I never want to appear rude to someone. I was uncomfortable…but in the end when they turned everything down…I could not hear the movie. So that frustrated me. As you would expect we had a movie with battles and fighting so I really didn’t need to hear the sound (plus I had seen the movie before). I think it is funny that we all battle to keep turning it up an up until only the people within a 5 foot radius of the TV can hear and then it is just mixed into noise for the rest of the tent. By the way the volume goes up to 100 on this TV (yes 99+1 clicks on the remote).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Digital Thoughts Day 2

In the continuing theme of changes with technology. We have been rounding up everyone’s pics to put on one DVD so we can all share and reap the benefits of many cameras versus one. (As a side note One of the shops at one of the bases I have been to here in-country was a photo processing shop. I wonder who actually is taking pictures with film any more?) The point is that we are all able to take home pics and share and not fret about – wish I had a copy of that photo or had brought my camera. Almost always someone has a camera.

Speaking of photos…here’s one of me on R&R. Not sure what we were doing probably playing dice or something silly.

I’ve seen rumors of Obama coming to Iraq this summer. I wonder if he will make a stop here at Camp B? McCain did a few months ago. He was scheduled to come to the courthouse area, but it was one of the last items in the day and of course they were behind schedule and he never made it to the courthouse. We had a whole mess of people outside waiting to greet him – but then it was canceled.

One of our guys will pin on Capt this week. We have a handful of LTs out here. He’ll be the first of our group to pin-on while here. Not sure what we’ll do to celebrate.

One last thing. I’m noticing a disturbing amount of graffiti on the buses we ride in. People are taking black markers and writing not so pleasant things about others on the backs of seats. What motivates people to do that? At least try to be funny or something. Silly kids. Must be that crazy rock music they listen to.