Thursday, May 31, 2007

Baghdad Scenes

I was thinking one day and decided that many of you might want to know what Baghdad itself looks like, instead of just the pictures of the base that I've posted so far. So, I have a few pictures of Baghdad that I'll post here. Hopefully ya'll will enjoy them.
This is a picture of part of the wall surrounding a base, along with a guard tower. It's wall's like these that separate us from the city of Baghdad.

This picture shows what the city looks like from the air. Not a lot of color is there? The houses and the roads and the dirt and the mud all seem to be the same color. I suppose it's easier that way. Doesn't make for much variety though.

This is a typical neighborhood. Not a lot of backyard space for a trampoline and a barbecue is there? Not much like it is back home.

Let's just say that used cars in Baghdad are not as in the sort of condition that you can usually find back in the States. Not really a lot left of this one.

Above are the famous crossed swords in the International Zone of the city. It's a parade ground lined with the helmets of Iranians captured during the war. The helmets are put in the ground so that the Iraqi soldiers would be walking or driving over the helmets of their enemies. Interesting symbology don't you think?

And last but not least, we have what's left of a couple of statues of Saddam. Like most dictators, he had statues of himself and his picture everywhere. What is it about dictators that they have to have their image absolutely everywhere? Must be an ego thing. I hope ya'll enjoyed this short tour of some of the city of Baghdad.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day. I know that most of you will probably be enjoying the day off from work and will be gathered together with friends and family and enjoying some recreation. I truly hope you have a great time. As you are celebrating, though, please remember what this day is really about. Honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to bring us all the freedom to enjoy a day off with family and friends. Throughout this country's history, many have made that sacrifice. Let's not forget them.

Spend a little time today and reflect on what they sacrificed for. Offer a prayer of thanks for the freedoms they ensured for you. For me, I figured the best way for me to honor them, given the circumstances, was to get up, come in to work, and continue the fight (albeit from behind a computer) that we are currently engaged in. It's not much, but it's the best I can do. Each day I get to my desk and read through the daily intelligence summaries and various "roundup" of yesterday's events. Every day I get to read of the killed and wounded, the bombs and the gunfire that have taken some more courageous soldiers. It isn't pleasant but it's a part of fighting this war against the terrorists. It's going to be a long war and it's going to take more lives to solidify the safety of our country. Many wonder what this war in Iraq has to do with securing our own country. It is all related to the war that was declared on our country on September 11, 2001. A lot of those bearing the brunt of the fighting over here are the young kids. Those that enlisted after 9-11. They joined knowing what they were fighting for. They are true heroes.

Today, besides honoring just those that have fallen, I also want to honor some who served with honor. First of all my Dad. Dad flew for the Air Force for twenty years. Flew a year in Vietnam as a Forward Air Controller. I learned a lot from him. He was, and is, a great example to me. Also my Grandfather. My Dad's Dad. I never knew him, he passed away before I got the chance. But I do have a picture of him hanging in my front hall, in his uniform from World War II. Though I never knew him I knew that he had served his country during wartime. Both men made an impression on me and as I serve, I try to live up to their great examples. Thank you both.

Once again, please enjoy this Memorial Day. Remember those that have served and who are serving now.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


So I was "tagged" by Jen the other day. As far as I can tell, being tagged means that I have to tell you 8 random things about myself that you might not know. Should be interesting. I'm not sure what there might be that people might not know, but I'll give it a try. Of course, these will be old news to you, Cindy, but then I guess that's to be expected. So here goes, 8 random things about me, in no particular order.
  1. Hot tubs! I love hot tubs. Whenever we travel anywhere, I will only stay at a motel that has a hot tub. Something about all the hot water and bubbles and jets after a long day in the car. Very relaxing. A few years ago we purchased a small hot tub and set it up in our garage. This was in North Dakota so it had to be somewhere out of the winter wind. Anyway, I used that hot tub every single day that we had it set up. Even when it was 30 below outside. Couldn't get enough of it. Sadly, we haven't been able to get it set up since we moved to Louisisana. We have to have a patio put in first, and we just haven't gotten around to having anyone put the patio in.

  2. Movies. This one is a bit odd, but hey, I'll bet people don't really know this about me (and I'll never hear the end of this once the guys at work get hold of this), but one of my favorite movies of all times is "My Fair Lady". Not sure why that is, but it's a show that really appeals to me. Probably for all the wrong reasons. Professor Higgins just cracks me up. He is always so superior to everyone and in many cases dismisses many people as if they were inanimate objects. I like that about him. Makes me laugh.

  3. Louisiana. I've never been a person to enjoy being anywhere that has a combination of heat and humidity, but I love living in Louisiana for some reason. I had been dreading the move simply because of the heat and humidity issues down there. Then one day, before we moved, I just decided that I was going to be living down there, and it was going to be hot and humid so I had just better accept it. I did, and believe it or not, I think that attitude helped make the climate more bearable because last summer it didn't bother me at all. Yes, it was hot and humid, but it didn't get to me. It didn't stop me from going out and doing things. But I love Louisiana. I love the food! The wonderful spicy Cajun food. Some good gumbo or Jambalya with a bit of alligator sausage thrown in. Man, that is some good stuff. I like the culture of Louisisana, a combination of the old south, with it's plantations and such, mixed with the French influence, the creole input. It's all good. Our first Mardi Gras was a blast. So, you may not have known that before but I truly enjoy living in Louisiana.

  4. Music. I love music. Most kinds of music. I still feel that "country music" is one of the great oxymorons of all time, but that's just my opinion. I thought everyone knew this about me, but was surprised to hear Mom say once, not long ago, "I thought you'd outgrown that." Nope, sorry to say, but I haven't. Cindy uses the term obsessed. She says I'm obsessed with music. I do enjoy it. Mostly what is termed as classic rock. Led Zeppelin, Rush, Queen, Aerosmith, The Who, Steely Dan. All the great bands from the sixties and seventies, before MTV ruined the music business for us all. I also love Jazz. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington. Even some of the newer fusion jazz stuff is great. The Brecker Brothers, Spyro Gyra, The Yellowjackets. Classical has it's appeal also. Mozart, first and foremost, Bach, Beethoven. Jumping back to Louisiana for a second, I've even begun to enjoy the Zydeco they play down here. Lots of fun to listen to. To give you an idea, currently here in Iraq I have over 6,500 music tracks with me. Both on my laptop and on my MP3 player.

  5. Like Jen mentioned in her blog, I am a deep sleeper. I never realized how deep until I got here to Iraq. There have been several times that while driving in to work in the morning, Stoli will ask what I thought of the big explosion that happened in the middle of the night. Nope! Don't know a thing about it. Must have slept through the whole thing!

  6. Also like Jen, I love to be organized. I know Cindy's laughing at this already, but she knows what I'm talking about. I love the idea of being organized. Now, that being said, I do have a difficult time making the transition between liking to be organized, and actually being organized. Don't think that's ever going to happen. Although, if you look at my bedside table compared to Cindy's bedside table, well it's like the difference between an orderly, well maintained yard, and a jungle. Sorry Hon, but you know it's true.

  7. Roadtrip! I love being on the road. Even better if it's with Cindy. I don't know what it is, but when the two of us get in the car for a long trip, it just makes me happy. Knowing we're going to be in the car together for a few days, staying in motels, eating on the road. It's just fun. We have a good time together.

  8. This last one is something of a corollary to number 7. I don't drive far enough for Cindy. Cindy's idea of a good day on the road is to start driving early in the morning and stop driving late at night. Bah! I like to enjoy myself. It's a marathon, not a sprint, and on top of that it's not even a race. Get on the road by 8 am and stop in time to relax a bit in the motel before dinner. Hang out in the hot tub (remember those) and maybe watch a movie on TV before going to sleep. I like the trip, but I don't want the whole time to be spent on the road. That's just me though.

Well, that's 8 things. Don't know if that revealed anything to anyone that they didn't already know. Jen already Tagged Melissa and Cindy doesn't have a blog or I'd tag her. Maybe I can convince her to start one. Probably not though, I've been trying.

Everythings good here. All is well. Counting down the days until I leave. I'm down to 76 days remaining, but who's counting?

Thursday, May 24, 2007

It's been a while

It's been a while since I really blogged anything here. I'm hoping to change that. It gets difficult because for those of us working at Headquarters, it is Groundhog Day. For anyone who may not get that reference, it simply means that each day is a repeat of the day before. Everyday is Tuesday around here, nothing ever changes. Well, I shouldn't say nothing, the food at the chow hall changes, on it's assigned rotation. I'm not complaining, just explaining why there aren't new exciting posts on my blog all the time.

I did have a bit of luck yesterday. I was actually in my room during the day for once (don't ask, it was an unpleasant flu bug) and heard the familiar boom of an explosion followed quickly by the shockwave hitting my trailer fairly hard. I thought "Hey, that's a close one!" and took a look out the door to see what I might see. Sure enough, there was the smoke cloud from the bomb. I grabbed my camera to try and catch it before it dissipated too much and just as I was getting ready to take the picture, another one went off. So, I was able to get a pretty good shot of that. I was chatting with Cindy on the computer that night (or was it the next morning? I don't know, it's all Tuesday!) and sent her the picture telling her that when I say they are close, I don't mean really close. Well, apparently she felt differently and thought they were too close for her comfort. Here's the picture, you judge for yourself.

On a separate note, I would like to say that I do spend some time on what is known as the "left side of the blogosphere". Why would I do anything as crazy as that? A couple of reasons. One is entertainment. There really are some wacky people over there with some very bizarre thoughts about the direction that this country should be going. Many, if not most, of them are outright socialists. Many of them still believe that 9-11 was and inside job perpetrated by the White House. Like I said, many of these people are crazy as loons (no offense to any real loons that might read this). So, the main reason I read some of this stuff is purely for the entertainment value. The second reason is that I feel, like Sun Tzu, that it's important to know your enemy. So, I admit to slumming sometimes on the wrong side of the internet tracks if you will.

One recurring theme that I come across is "supporting the troops". The prevailing attitude on the left is "support the troops, bring them home". The best way, according to them, to support the troops is to get them out of harms way as quick as possible. Bring them home and ensure they are never put in a position like that again. Hmmm. Interesting stance on the issue. My only question is, did any of these people ask the troops if that's how they want to be supported? Did anyone ask the troops if they feel these people are supporting them? I personally do not feel that they support the troops at all. I think they despise the troops. Sometimes someone on the left will slip up and let their true feelings come out. Most recently this has been done by Senator Kerry and Rosie O'Donnell This is how the left really feels about the troops, but they learned their lesson after suffering a backlash at their shabby treatment of the troops returning from the Vietnam war. So, the new thing is to say you're supporting the troops while at the same time stabbing them in the back. They also "support the troops" by pointing out every mistake made by anyone in the military and painting the rest of us with that same brush. They also make it a point to count, and post on their sites, every death here in this war. Some support.

Pulling the troops out of a conflict does not necessarily equate to support, particularly if the troops in question believe in what they are doing in the conflict. My analogy is to a football game, the Super Bowl, in fact. It's the beginning of the third quarter, your team is down by a touchdown, and they've suffered a few injuries. How do you support your team? By cheering them on and hoping to motivate them to win against the odds? Or do you tell them that they best course of action is for them to quit the game right now and go home so they don't suffer any more injuries, and it's a game that they can't win anyway. This is what we are getting over here. We are suffering casualties 0ver here, we've had some setbacks, but most of us believe in what we're doing over here. Even if it hasn't been managed as well as it could be, we know that should we leave now, the country of Iraq will most likely disintegrate into bloody chaos. We need to be here until the Iraqi Government can handle it's own security.

Do the troops want to be here? I haven't spoken with every one of them, so I can only give you my impression. I want to be here. Cindy may not want me here (for safety reasons only) and I don't like being away from home any more than the next guy, but I believe in what we are doing over here and I like what our unit is doing here. It's an important job. The morale here among the troops is high, even among those that are going out on the patrols every day. Granted, there is quite a bit of wear and tear on these guys, some on their second or third rotation. However, the recruiting and retention (read: reenlistment) rates for all branches of the military, including the Army, who is bearing the brunt of the casualties, are through the roof For the most part, the people that are here, want to be here. We want to finish the game with a win. Support us by cheering us on, not by pushing for us to accept defeat and leave with out tails between our legs.

Ok, that was my soapbox for the day. Don't be surprised to see a bit more of this from time to time. Spices things up and keeps life interesting.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

New Blog Link

Hey Ya'll,
I was online this morning doing the instant message thing with Cindy and Melissa and found out that Melissa has started a blog. I've put a link to it along with the rest of my blog links. She only has the first post so far, but it's got some great pics of her and her friends on a trip to Yellowstone National Park. Looked like a lot of fun. Remember those college road trips?

This is a picture from Melissa's blog. For those of you who don't know Melissa, or maybe haven't seen her for a while, she's the blonde girl in the black shirt with some unknown guy's arm around her shoulder. He better be careful!

Just a little update on my progress. Last week was tough to make time for the gym, but I got in a couple of times. Haven't biked in years so it's taken me a little time to get used to it. However, as of this morning I've biked 76.8 miles. I'm now up to about 20 miles a day so that number should start building fast. It's not a bad way to exercise, just put on the headphones, crank up some good tunes, and start pedaling. It's fun.

Things are going well here. I've finally past the half-way point and am now on the downhill slide. As of today I have 81 days left until I'm on my way home, but who's counting? I'm still enjoying myself here. As you can see, though, the heat is starting up. I went "home" the other night and was hit by a heat wave as I opened my door. The air conditioner wasn't working. I put in a trouble call and the maintenance folks were there within the hour. Which is great. By the time they finally got the replacement a/c unit in, my room was just hitting 86 degrees. And that was at 11:00 pm! I'm not looking forward to the summer.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Happy Birthday Jen!

Today, May 18th, is my daughter Jen's birthday. Jen is my oldest and the first to make me a Grandfather! Very exciting. This is a picture of Jen, her husband Troy, and their son (and my very cool grandson) Dylan.
Jen, Happy Birthday. Wish I could be there to celebrate it with you. You are a fantastic daughter and a great wife and mother. It has been great over the last few years to see you grow from a young high school kid into the woman you are today. I think I've told you this before, but motherhood really agrees with you. You keep getting more and more beautiful as time goes by. Happy Birthday and I'll see ya'll when I get back home. Love you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

New Goal (Thanks Rob!)

So, I am perusing my blog the other day and notice that there is a comment from Rob Andrews there. Cool. He mentions that there was a guy he knows that was over here that set himself a goal of bicycling 10,000 k while he was here. Now, that sounded like a great idea to me. However, with only 90 days left in my mercifully short Air Force tour here, 10,000k sounded a little daunting to me. So, I considered the amount of time left and, well, let's face it, my advancing age, and determined that a good beginning goal would be 1,000 miles. So I have begun the task of cranking out 1,000 miles on the stationary bike before leaving in August. Now, I have other physical training I'm doing, so will only be biking every other day, and of course not working out on Sundays. So, that means I will be biking 25 miles a day each time I'm in there. I'm already behind. I started today and got a late start so only had time to bike 10 miles (about 20 minutes). So, Thursday I'll have to get an earlier start and get in 35 miles. So, this gives me something to shoot for, which will help the time pass as I have something to strive for besides just counting the days until I leave. Thanks for the idea Rob. I'll be keeping ya'll updated on how I'm doing as the days go by. Hopefully that won't be too embarrassing for me.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Africa Hot!

Well, summer is here. It may only be the beginning of May, but Summer has hit Iraq with a vengeance. This whole week we have had highs over 100 degrees. No relief in sight. The lows are only dropping down to about 80 or so. I know it's early in the season and it's only going to get worse, but it's already really hot. It really affects many things. When you wash your hands, for instance. There is no such thing as cold water anymore. Everything that comes out of the tap is hot. there's no way around it.

All in all, things are going well here. I'm having a good time and they are taking pretty good care of me. You've all seen the pics of the area here, what my room looks like and such. Not a bad place to live (with the exception of the indirect fire). The food here is great! Kellogg, Brown and Root are the contractors handling the food service (and many other services) here in Iraq. I was very happy when I heard that because they were the contractors handling food service when I was deployed to Bosnia. I knew it would be good. The dining facilities (DFACs in Army Lingo) are basically cafeterias. There are various choices for each meal. For breakfast there is cold cereal available, there's a fresh fruit bar, and a pastry bar. In the hot line there are scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, omelettes to order, sausage, bacon, breakfast burritos, quiche, etc etc. You get the idea. Most everything people want for breakfast is available, and the food quality is great.

Lunches and dinners vary quite a bit. There is always a short order line available with cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, chicken nuggets, french fries, onion rings, cheese steak sandwiches, the works. The main line has different things each day. Spaghetti, veal parmesan, salsbury steak, etc. One day a week they even have surf and turf! That's always a favorite. There is also a line for regular "cold" sandwiches. Turkey, ham, different cheeses, it's kind of like a mini-subway store. So, we are well cared for in the food department. They offer 4 meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-rats (midnight meal). The food is good enough that the saying is that while here you can join the 300 club. You will either be able to bench press 300 pound (if you spend your time in the gym) or weigh 300 pounds because of all the good food. I fall somewhere in the middle, I think. I hope!

The rest of the infrastructure is quite good also. The BX (the big one anyway, there are other smaller ones scattered about) is quite good. Not nearly as big was one back in the states, but it serves our purposes over here. Most everything you need or want is available. The basics of uniform items, pens, papers, cleaning supplies are here. They have a pretty full selection of music CDs and DVD movies. Electronics are in abundance including small music players to playstations, laptop computers and even plasma TVs. So, we are well supplied over here also.

We have several gyms around the base. Well, that's what I hear, not that I've spent any time in one. I need to get started but am having a tough time fitting it into my schedule. Don't worry, Cindy, I won't come home fat. I think if nothing else, the heat will take care of that.

Well, speaking of all that good food, it's almost time for dinner. I had the watch last night so was too tired to eat breakfast and slept through lunch. I'm hungry! Hope everyone back home is healthy and happy. I am healthy and happy over here. All is well.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

My Daily Commute

Hey Ya'll. This is going to be something of an odd post since it will be mostly pictures. One of the things that has really surprised me about Baghdad is how green it is and how much water is around. My morning commute is actually pretty nice. What I did the other day was have Stoli drive Trucky Jr and I took some photos. If you're like me, you have pictured Iraq as a wasteland of sand dunes. Granted, parts of the country are like that. But remember that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers are the cradle of civilization and "The Fertile Crescent". I remember reading about all of that in school, but apparently I'd forgotten. Hope you enjoy the pictures. This first picture is on the road just leaving my hootch. Notice the ditch full of bamboo on the left.

As we approach the paved road, there is a nice full tree line. The left side of the road there, as you are looking at it, is where the river is. Didn't think there would be this many trees in Baghdad. We have more trees here than there were in Minot! Although, for those of you who have lived in Minot, that won't surprise you. As you can see, the river is full of greenery. It's interesting because It reminds me of Moses being put in the river among the bullrushes. Don't know why that is. Maybe it's because we're in the Middle East and there's a river with reeds and stuff in it, but that's what it reminds me of.

The waterways surrounding the palace and the other houses and buildings in the area are pretty cool. As you can see here, they even built in some artificial waterfalls to make things look better. Kind of nice.

As you can see on the left here, we go through tons and tons of bottled water here, as you can imagine. We use bottled water for everything, including brushing our teeth because the tap water is just, well, untrustworthy. But we do drink lots of bottled water and with the heat coming up, we'll be drinking even more. We've received a bunch of packages of different flavoring additives that make a huge difference. Water that tastes like water gets old after a while.

Even away from the river, as in this picture here, there are still trees and such. There is no grass or shrubbery, so there is still nothing but dirt and rocks on the ground, but there are lots of trees and stuff. More than I ever imagined before I got here.

The Palace

The Al Faw Palace. It's actually quite a fixture here on the base. Not only is it a very imposing feature, it's being used as a central office building for the Corps headquarters. So, I spent a portion of each week inside the palace either conducting business or attending meetings. It was one of Saddam's many palaces.

You can see that the palace is surrounded by a man-made lake. It is actually pretty nice. The lake has been stocked with many fish. As you can see from this picture

, there are quite a few and they are actually quite large. They are well cared for. It seems that almost every time I walk by, there is a small group of people feeding the fish. They know to "come running" when they see people looking over the fence. Pavlov at his best.

Once you walk into the palace and through the entryway, you are in the central rotunda. As you can see, it is fairly ornate. It's all marble and quite large. The design on the floor is the star used as the symbol of the Baath party. The two gentlemen to the left will give you a sense of scale. The palace is three stories tall, so it's quite impressive there in the rotunda.

In the rotunda, off to the side, is a chair, or throne, I'm not sure what it was used for. The history behind it is that it was given to Saddam by Yassar Arafat. It's all hand-carved wood, and the white decoration is mother of pearl. It's not very comfortable to sit in. I don't think I would even be able to last through one episode of The Simpsons!
I wish I could read the local language. I don't remember what this says exactly, but it's some grand quote that was attributed to Saddam. There is stuff like this all over the place. Saddam was pretty full of himself.
The thing that really struck me after looking around the palace for a while is something that you can't really see in the pictures. This palace is not put together very well. In fact I don't know that I've ever seen shoddier workmanship. There are very few places where the joints actually meet at a 90 degree angle. In the places that the marble has fallen away, it's apparent the the structure of the building is nothing more than dried mud, covered with a veneer of marble. The interesting thing about it is that I would think that when you are the tyrannical dictator of a country and are going to build a palace, you would "hire" the best craftsmen in the country. So, if this is the best they can do, it's no wonder the country's infrastructure is in such bad shape. There is a "mansion" on the lake at Camp Slayer that is being used for offices also. You cannot use the restrooms because the plumbing they put in can't handle solid waste. It's an interesting place.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007


Edward, Obadia and me
Ndugu Yangu - My Friends

One of the greatest things about traveling around doing what we do for a living is the opportunity to meet different people. Not just people from different services and different parts of the county, but people from different countries and different cultures. Stoli and I have had the opportunity to make friends with some of the facility guards from Uganda. One in particular, Edward, has been trying teach us some swahili. These guys are great, and a lot of fun. We try to speak with them every day. Edward (the one we talk to the most) is a very outgoing, intelligent man with a great sense of humor. Stoli brought a map of Uganda one day and Edward was telling us about the different areas of the country and what they were known for. The Northern area has a war going on, the east is oil country, the west has manufacturing. There is a town in the south-central area that I suppose is where all the pretty girls are. He specifically pointed out that area and said "This is the town where you have to pay 20 cows for a wife." His companion today disputed that fact, but Edward was pretty insistent. We all had a good laugh.
Some of the phrases that they have passed on to us include, Jambo, which is something of an informal greeting. Nataka Twongei Kidogo, which means "I want to talk to you briefly". Mi namaliza chakyula, which means "I have finished eating". And one of my favorites, Kufa tutakafu wote, "If it means death, then we die together."

It is a lot of fun and very educational to be able to mix with these people from other countries, to learn of their culture and heritage, and to be here together working for a common goal.

By the way, Cindy, Edward told me today that we should take a vacation and visit Uganda. He said we'd really like the lakes, rivers and mountains. Something to think about.