Bound for Home

Filed under: — lana @ 1:26 pm

So now we wait. And wait. And wait. You would think with a year to plan for our flights home, it would be a lot smoother of a transition and a movement, but for some weird reason it is like no one remembered that eventually we would have to leave so now they are running around in circles yelling about everything that must be done five minutes ago.

It’s fun. I get a newspaper, sit on a bench, and watch the show.

Last night, what was supposed to be (and was not) our last night at our present location, was a good time. Since about half of the people around here are from some Polynesian area, there was a mini-luau. No food, and no roasted pig in a Muslim nation, but they had hula dancers, singers, and other fun and entertainment. There are some amazingly talented people wandering around with tan suits on during the day. I saw my friends, we danced, we had a good time. I got to say goodbye to some of my buddies and make promises to visit everywhere in another ocean.

Yesterday was also a memorial service. Right before the memorial service something happened that will require two more services after I have gone. You would think you get used to it. You don’t. Instead it made me feel that I hadn’t done enough, that I have unfinished business in this country, and that I would be back. I know I will be… it’s sad but true, and I know I am not the only one who feels that way. Those of us who saw things, did things, got involved in our jobs, in the people, and in the lives of the fellow soldiers and civilians out here trying to accomplish something for a country that doesn’t want us here, we are all inexplicably tied to this country now, and may be forever.

My love to those I am leaving here, and my wishes for you all to be safe and to stay in touch. My love to those I will see who were in other places in this crazy country, and my happiness that we are coming home to each other. My love to those I have at home who have been patiently waiting for me, and I will see you soon. My love to the one now two countries away but soon to be half a world again, distance doesn’t stop me from sending you my love. My love to those who left us here, and my promise that you will not be forgotten.

For now, I will man my bench and wait. And when I have to go, it will be there, waiting for my eventual and inevitable return…


Almost Ready

Filed under: — lana @ 7:35 am

Well, the last mission is done, the new kids have been introduced to all of the people they get to enjoy for the next year, and we are setting ourselves up for a quiet departure. If by quiet you mean a whole lot of crazy hooplah and planned speeches and fun events that no one really wants to attend. Things to do here because our sergeant major gets bored so he assumes we are bored, boredom leads to trouble, and therefore we must do tasks that we will only have to do again once we return to the states. Things to do at home like arguing whether or not to wear our caps or our berets when we get off the plane to do some formation for whatever high brass wanders out to Green Ramp to pick us up (please note: this debate has been going on for several months already, though I have been only one of serveral to point out that we don’t even wear hats on the flight line). Speeches, banquets, and sidewalk shoveling galore.

As for here, no more pantless kids with three shirts on to worry about (he might want to try spreading the wealth) or naked kids except for one lone pink sandal. No more sheep wandering into the middle of the road, no more sitting in the same spot for six hours so mosquitos can use my wrists as meeting sites for planning the next bloodsucking apocolypse (don’t worry, ladies, drinks are on me). No more explosions, alarms, gunshots, and bunkers. No more memorial services, ramp ceremonies, or hugs for friends lost.

On the downside, no more Samoan feasts on the HMMWV tailgate, big guys on little bikes, or movie quotes to swap while manning traffic control points into the late hours of the evening. No more relaxing on self-made porches, improvised barbeques, or brownies from a breadmaker. No more three in the morning pre-raid pictures, eleven at night post-raid pictures, or did-I-just-see-that pictures.

There are things to miss and things to not miss. What may be my last morning here will be spent at a memorial service, but my last evening might consist of a cake if my friend can find more frosting somewhere. Some wonderful people to know and to miss and to hope that nothing happens to, and some crazy memories, many of which will never be able to be shared except by those who were there at the time. Who else understands it when you talk about the thickets of Iraq, the explosive holes the size of my dining room, or the inflatable sheep held hostage by the poor lonely Air Force guy stuck in an office with all Army folks? Everyone has their adventures, as long as they make it back to tell them.

I suppose the conclusion is that the year has certainly had its ups and downs… and lefts and rights… not the last entry, because there is still plenty more fun where the Army came from, to be sure…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:38 pm

Ah, the wide world of the FRAGO. FRAGO is Army talk for fragmentary order, meaning a partial change to a mission or other order. I am becoming the undisputed queen of the FRAGO. I think just about every mission I have gone on for about the past two months has had one change or another, some more interesting than others, of course…

Sometimes the changes are pretty interesting. For intstance, there was the day when we were hanging around at some random Iraqi house and someone drove up and said, “Hey, American people. There’s a dead guy on my front lawn. Can you come look at it and maybe move it or something?” That was a fun day. But that was still an interesting FRAGO that involved multiple pictures and some brains on a guy’s front lawn. Plus we got to watch the Iraqi Police at work, though they don’t travel with body bags so the guy who owned the lawn lost a blanket out of the deal.

However, FRAGOs aren’t always so exciting. Yesterday would be a prime example of that. About an hour into our mission the unit needed to close the road that we were on. That meant someone had to monitor traffic. That someone turned into us. For five more hours, give or take an hour, we got to sit on a desolate stretch of road and toss rocks at cows. The cows were moderately more entertained than we were, if only by a small margin.

What will make that time worth it is if our uneventful mission change was the sacrificing element for my two friends, both of whom are looking for divine intervention today, since our mission change was after their patrol was hit and they are now critical. Our team mission became less of an intel mission and more of a morale-boost for the guys we were with, who were understandably angry and upset. The lockdown of the road came as too little too late for the patrol before them, who may be down two soldiers. My time on the road is best served knowing that they will make it, and right now we aren’t certain.

That and the guys we went with are just a great bunch. I am going to miss them… they and a few others out here are probably going to be friends for a long time… you can’t sit on the same spot in a road for hours on end without having a good time and building some sort of bond…

Even though we are leaving soon, I have a feeling that I will be tied to this place for quite some time to come. My thoughts right now are with the friends I have made here and those I have that are coming out here sooner or later, and with the (thankfully) few that I have lost out here… and that is something that will not be seeing any change.


No Shame

Filed under: — lana @ 3:23 pm

A large duststorm came through the area a few days ago.

With it came a steep temperature drop. We were still sitting in the mid-90’s… three days later, now we are barely clearing 75.

I am not ashamed. I put on my sweater the other day when it was 70 degrees out.

I can’t wait for our morale-boosting four-mile run in tee-shirts and shorts right after we all get back in the winter back in the states. I have trouble convincing myself to get up and leave our tent at night for fear of freezing… I think it gets down to around 60…

Extention, anyone? Please? Just until spring…


Winding Up to Wind Down

Filed under: — lana @ 10:12 am

The new kids are officially on the block, we are packing our belongings into as small of packages as we can, and things are getting ready to wind down for us here on the ol’ Iraqi stomping grounds. Things are not that interesting anymore, though we still find our way into adventure. I realized that I missed some adventures along the way, and should remedy that before history fails to document the superfun times we have out here. Since we are still at red alert status right now (those whacky Iraqis), I have a few minutes to recall some of the finer points of the last month or so…

Well first there was what I like to call the little bang-up… driving down one of the more treacherous roads in an area we didn’t know because we had to initially fly up there, I got a front row seat to a little accident involving our truck, a bongo truck, and a frontloader.

Clarification points: No, I don’t know what a frontloader was doing driving down the center of the main road in one of the larger cities of Iraq. Yes, we were going pretty fast because the road isn’t exactly what most would consider Safety Central. And for those who don’t know, the bongo trucks are the blue (usually) Kia model trucks with railing in the back so they can carry wheat, sheep, cows, or, as in this case, a minimum of eight Iraqi laborers.

So we are driving along, and as we are doing so, usually people get out of the way. Not so much in this case, as the laborers watched our convoy come up and weren’t moving to the side of the road. They then swerved not off to the side, but more to the front of us, and this was at the last minute, so we hit them. As a note: an up-armored truck can take out a bongo truck pretty easily, particularly at fast speeds. Turns out there was a frontloader cruising in front of said bongo truck. The results were less than pretty. Two Iraqis were killed (we were all okay, being encased in a steel box as we were), as the frontloader had actually been spun 90 degrees by the impact. I can let those interested figure out the details.

A few weeks later, we were back in our regular area exploring the greater reaches of pre-election fun. My truck commander mentioned that there would be a controlled detonation… five minutes later, there was an uncontolled detonation a few meters in front of the lead vehicle, raining dirt and fun upon our vehicle and the impact jamming my brain into the side of my skull. I have had quite the headaches periodically since, but no one was injured. Well, almost no one, as the gunner of the front truck was very proud of his shrapnel wound, a few millimeter square piece that was in his finger. Very proud indeed. I asked him if he needed a band-aid and offered to help with his Purple Heart paperwork. He got a little upset with me. Mental note: Samoans trying to show off war injuries should be treated with extra caution. That was the same day we went and saw the guy who looked like he had been attacked by zombies, with his head cracked open like a coconut (exit wound… my partner and I now have a hand signal for “shot in the eyeball” to accompany our “two clicks to burst” signal). One of the infantry guys was taking pictures when he started feeling a little woozy. We stood around discussing career options once we had figured out the story behind the shooting. Really very interesting. If you have a strong stomach and some guy wanders up to you and says something like, “Um… there’s a dead guy on my front lawn… can you guys come take care of that?” I would suggest it. Really a rather interesting time. I’m on the lookout for zombies…

This was all the day after we were sitting in a meeting handing out snacks in exchange for probably inaccurate information when I heard a pop outside. Growing up near Newark, New Jersey, I recognized gunfire and we were already heading out the door when the Samoan standing guard outside was coming in to get us among the sounds of a few more pops. Back to our trucks to go head out to find the shooters, though they had intelligently cleared out of the area by the time we got around the nearby trees and the canal to find them, and we were off to establish a checkpoint for another four hours while the Samoans let their adrenaline get back to normal levels.

What else. Oh yes. Because of these things all in one week, I was told I was crazy by people in my unit. It was probably the zombie talk… but the medic cleared me, so I still get to go out and mingle with my favorite Iraqis… I do have some headaches, but maybe those aren’t related to the kaboom after all. I have, after all, just spent ten months figuring out the difference between Akmed and Akhmed. I’m sure with time the headaches will go away, though then again I am still in the Army.

So as our time gets short, things wind up in preparation to wind down. It’s like in the scary movies or the war movies when someone shows a picture of their fiancee or something: you just signed your own incident warrant…


Ah Ha!

Filed under: — lana @ 10:27 am

The time has come. We are trying to pack out of here and make the slow and arduous movements that might bring us closer to the United States. One would think this would make me quite happy, as pretty soon I won’t have to smell the sweet smells of porta-potties baking in the noonday sun, but actually, pack-out only makes me love the Army all the more. Now things get fun, because they think that they can get a step ahead of the game by making strange decisions no one can seem to understand.

We got to move to tents for a few weeks. I say got to because it makes me feel better about my life, like it’s some kind of prize, but I digress. So we got to move to tents. I don’t really care about where I sleep, as long as it’s for at least two to three hours (I’ve done it in the back of, and on top of, a HMMWV by now, I can do it anywhere). So we pack, we move, we get our stuff to the tents. A few hours later someone comes by and says, “The tent next to your tent lost their air conditioning. You guys are going to have to move to this building so they can move into your tent.” Wait. Why can’t they just move into the building? Ah… no one has a good answer. Then one of the two AC units in our tent goes out (huzzah for an excellent power system in the third world!) and hooplah ensues. Of course. I would be concerned if everything went smoothly. So they say “Now the people in this other tent have to move, you still have to move to the building, and the other tent has to move into this tent.” At this point I was thoroughly confused, so I opted to find someone lower ranking than the person giving the instructions to explain it, because I usually find that the partial lobotomies authorized during the various school options tends to have an effect as the rank increases. So I go down to the tent I was supposed to be in and found that it was about the temperature of a penguin habitat on the coastal region of Antarctica during mid-January. Yes, only one unit worked. The other unit, it turns out, works just fine for the small tent. I went back and told those who outrank others that my tent was freezing, it must be okay, and was told that things were broken so I had to move. I opened my mouth to mention that it made no sense, then remembered where I was and wandered off.

No one is moving. They figured out that everyone is fine with one working unit because they reach temperatures not found in the near vacuum of space. It took them two hours after I pointed this out. Some sort of record, I think… I’m surprised it happened at all…

So amongst this, I had my first day somewhat-off-but-not-really-because-they-still-make-me-do-random-crap-anyway, plus the moving fiasco, so it was really just a day of trying-to-stay-out-of-sight. So I said to myself, “Self, today you do not put on DCUs, you will wear PTs and at least pretend you aren’t working.”

Foolish me, the evenings are starting earlier now, what with Iraq going back for daylight savings time several weeks prior to the rest of the planet, which is handy, and therefore the mosquitos are back to enjoy the below 100 degree evenings just as we are.

They are trying to suck out my soul via draining me of all of my blood. Joke is on them: The Army already took it…



Filed under: — lana @ 12:28 pm

Funny thing about a language where the word for hello is almost the same as the word for goodbye: they think all languages are like that.

I have found that I can say “Masalama” which is goodbye in this crazy place, all I want, and I get the same response throughout the countryside: “Okay yes thank you hello.” They cram every english word or phrase they know into a quckly mumbled response that always ends with hello.

Funnier thing about this, though, is that they don’t say hello upon greeting an American. Only the goodbye section of the meeting contains the phrase, mingled as above.

It’s a strange world I’ve been living in this past year. Can’t say I’m going to miss it much…


Pretty Bikes and Orange Jumpsuits

Filed under: — lana @ 1:27 pm

I suppose before things get REALLY crazy with the elections, I should take a minute or two to note a few things I have seen over the past few weeks since my last post…

First of all, going mad in the Army is easy. There are enough people in the Army to drive you crazy that you don’t even need some sort of debilitating disorder or something to get checked in. And people in power need to be occupied, because if they get bored, watch out… dumb things are about to happen. We should know this message from back in garrison, where when they get bored we get to shake icicles from trees or we get to take a pair of scissors and make sure the grass is edged properly. Train as you fight, I suppose, only out here when they get bored they start looking for paperwork to fill out, since paperwork is the lifeblood of the upper enlisted and a majority of officers. Without paperwork, they would probably shrivel up or decompose into piles of goo on the floor beneath their desks and swivel chairs, and that gets messy… good thing they would still have the junior enlisted to mop it up… so instead they play historical pretend games. This time, it appears to be “Let’s pretend we are in a little town called Salem… sometime in the 1600’s…” Which is actually an improvement from a month ago, when it was the pretend game of the Spaniards versus the Jews during a little time period I like to call the Inquisition. They let me out of the stocks, but now I get to wear a pointy hat and a carrot on my nose and point out that I don’t weigh the same as a duck (Monty Python reference, for those who have more of a life than I as to not watch a significant number of movies).

In order to escape the madness, I attempt to find sanity in my travels among the Iraqi people. I think that might be my first problem, but that is something I will have to cope with. Largely, I cope with it by laughing at them.

First of all, the Iraqis have found the concept of unions when it comes to labor work. They have taken to rebuilding things that might have been bombed out in the past few years, or fixing roads that have had potholes since the Iranian Air Force was in the area, and I have watched these developments with something of interest, having something of a construction background and particularly from a project management standpoint (ah… college… how I miss thee…). As I have observed, it has become clear that all of the signs of the labor union are present, and that the people must therefore be progressing.

First, they work about five minutes for every ten minute break, depending on who is watching. If someone notices that an American patrol is in the area, they all of a sudden hop up from wherever they have been napping in the tall grass and start doing whatever it is they are theoretically getting paid to do. However, they usually aren’t very observant, and while you would think you can’t sneak up on someone in an uparmored truck, these people can take “lunch breaks” with the best of them.

Second observation is that by and large, they have adopted the NYC road workers union principles of supervision. It is much more effective for one man to do the labor while everyone else stands around and watches him (some leaning on shovels of their own), because it is essential that the work be properly supervised. I have never seen a group of less than five Iraqis working on a reconstruction project, but at the same time I have never seen more than two actually working at any given time.

Third, though this isn’t so much union, it is nice to get a reminder of home when I see these fine Iraqis working along the sides of the road in… you guessed it… orange jumpsuits. I come from Jersey, where there are a large number of prisons with “get out and work” programs, so it is nice to drive along the side of the local roads and see a team of guys in orange jumpsuits tooling around the side of the road, sometimes even picking up garbage, though usually they don’t have trash bags, so if their hands are full they just pick the trash up from the side of the road and throw it further back into the field. But I have seen the prison folks do the same now and again, so really, it’s just refreshing.

But it isn’t just the similarities to union work that are fun around here. There is also the Arab way of making everything… pretty. I probably mentioned in my Afghan travels that they really like flowers over there. At least here they don’t put them in the ends of their AK-47 rifles, like they were doing over there, but I did see the prettiest bike I have ever seen a few days ago. The boy (yes, that’s right…) had neon-colored spokes with neon clicky-beads on them, flowers painted on his little mud-flaps, and tall poles attached to the pegs with flowers on top. He also had flowers mounted on the handlebars and a loud and fairly obnoxious light and siren mounted on the front. Did I mention he was wearing pink sandals? Yeah. I had my gunner take a picture. I was enthralled.

Something I did not allow pictures of was my torture endured at the hands of about a three-year old girl who decided I was the best thing since mud and straw roofing. Keeping in mind my consistent opinion of children, which is that they smell funny, it was very entertaining for my partner. This delightful little girl decided that her favorite way to show me that she liked me was to kiss the palm of my hand (a shame… no cows to feed this time), and then she decided that wasn’t good enough and would tap me on the face, violently, then kiss my cheek. And heaven forfend I pay attention to the conversation of where the bad men were, because she would grab my chin and force me to look at her. My interpreter, in his infinite wisdom, became concerned that I would get leishmeniasis or something else fun (Germany! Hooray!), so he instructed her to stop touching my face. Instead, he said without asking me, she could play with my hair. So she started petting my head as I tried to converse with her father, starting at about the eyebrow and giving me something of a facelift as she tried to smooth back my entire outer epidermal system via the roots of my hair. Oh, did I forget to mention the really fun part of it? I had watched this same child, about twenty minutes before, examining the interior contents of her sinus cavity as presented upon her finger, which she would then put on her dress before going back to recheck and make sure that she had cleared all the dust and dirt from her brain, given how far back she was digging. Needless to say, my hair had an odd sheen to it by the time I finally was able to put my crazy hat back on and attempt to get out of there with all of my belongings (”Mista give me pen give me ring give me hat give me glasses give me give me give me!”), though somewhat less my dignity.

But it’s about to be another fun week of men going out at two in the morning and, upon questioning, stating that it is the best time for harvesting tomatos, and trying to figure out just how there is such a big market for ski masks in a country without significant amounts of snowfall, and if the bad men are always coming from another town, where is this other town?

One of the locals told me today that I wasn’t allowed to go back to the States at the end of the tour, that I was like his sister and I was not allowed to go. My partner insisted that such comments still did not permit escalated use of force in our rules of engagement… I’ll have to look it up…


Vengence Is Mine

Filed under: — lana @ 12:52 pm

Forgive me if this one makes less sense than normal. I have been up since sometime around 0400 or 0430 this morning on account of another day of fun in the farms and fields of tomatos and cow manure, though I can only approximate the time because since my watch died I had to purchase the only alarm clock they have at the PX. The nice part about these alarm clocks is that they are the same ones I recall my grandmother having when I was little that we used to use to torture her atrociously obnoxious poodle, the kind (of alarm clock, not poodle) that are 12-hour wind-up and you better wind it about every 14-26 hours or it will stop, and the ringing can be heard six miles away (and to be certain, much to the joy of my neighbors, through the plyboard trailer walls). Regardless, I rarely know what time it actually is because I frequently forget to wind the thing so it is good my roommate went on the same convoy I went on today.

So the joy started out normally enough, with the general confusion of attaching to a unit that then attached itself to an Iraqi Army operation, which is always fun and exciting, and the sitting around and the getting lost because the Iraqis haven’t quite grasped that the distance on the map isn’t real-life distance, and overall it looked to be another normal day of driving aimlessly around a new and exciting part of central Iraq.

But the fun was just getting started. Since this was primarily an Iraqi operation, my usual partner and I started to get a little bored waiting around for them to bring us people to chit-chat with about bad men wearing sandals. When we get bored, we like to make things happen, because it is funnier that way. Our team leader lost track of us at some point as she wandered back to the truck to get some water, leaving us without the supervision that someone along the line should probably one day figure out we need, and we took the opportunity to investigate the farm that we had set ourselves up at. What does one find on a farm? Why, farm animals, of course! This particular farm had some chickens, some dogs that were not very happy to see us, and, much to our excitement, some cows.

Now, after last week’s adventure with the waste canal, as well as a few other fun experiences out here, I have long since realized that most things can be powerwashed from boots. So I really have little problem with walking up to an Iraqi cow in an effort to “Pat the moo cow on the nose,” which is what my partner and I decided would be the most practical and overall beneficial use of our time. The Iraqi Army personnel around were very entertained by this, as my partner was afraid of the dog barking angrily from behind the cow so he didn’t want to get that close, that and the large piles of fertilizer mixed with grass that surrounded the cow pen. Not one to be twarted by such things, I reminded him of our powerwasher and that rabies gets you to Germany and trudged on over, much to the dismay of the cow (the dog wandered a little further off to continue exclaiming his displeasure).

Now the cow seemed a little intimidated, probably by the weapons and the fact that strange people were mooing at it, not to mention the barking of a dog from somewhere about twenty feet away, so I decided to feed the cow. So I bent down and picked up some grass. I guess the grass was fertilized, because it occurred to me that it didn’t feel much like dried grass, and the cow seemed to be reluctant to eat it (my interpreter wandered further behind the pen to get me some fresh grass after the Iraqi Army guy nearby said, “Well that’s DIRTY grass, get it some CLEAN grass.” Hello? We are in Iraq. Everything is dirty. But I digress…). Long story short, we got the cow to eat the clean grass, we got our pictures taken petting the cow (still to the immense dismay of the cow, which was tethered anyway so had a rather dejected look on its face anyway), and my boots could stand a powerwash.

But this didn’t seem to kill enough time, so we decided instead to make friends with the dog, which clearly had no intention of making friends with us. My roommate had been kind enough to pack sandwiches for some of us, and I asked her if we could use it to make friends with the locals. So she gave me one, and then proceeded to videotape my partner and I attempt to make friends with the local dog populace. Piece by mayonnaise covered piece, we attempted to get the dog to first stop barking, then gradually approach us. We were only a few feet from having him give us rabies (and thus a trip to Germany, all expenses paid!) when another friend of ours wandered over and said that a one-star general was in the area and we should probably shorten our populace engagement operations and go look professional somewhere. Knowing how hard this is for us, we tossed the dog the rest of the sandwich (to the dismay of my roommate) and wandered off to find the general.

Keep in mind that I have now handled grass, fertilizer (probably before it became what would normally be called fertilizer), cow slobber (better than my partner, who was trying to help get a piece of grass that was stuck on the cow’s face and got sneezed on), warm mayonnaise and bits of soggy sandwich, as well as the usual Iraqi dust and grime. Well now, I certainly wasn’t going to wipe that on my PANTS, was I? I did attempt to do some damage control on a nearby wall, but then the general decided to thank us for our part in catching bad guys. What is a soldier to do but shake the proferred hand of a general when he decides he wants a handshake?

And thusly, today turned out to be a small bit of revenge on the Army. I’m sure someone on his staff had some hand sanitizer, which we have found conveniently pushes dirt around to the point where it just sits in clumps on the outside edges of your hands.

The rest of the day consisted of us arguing theology with one of the interpreters and attempting to figure out if a building we were in was actually in the process of construction or if it had recently been knocked down, because in most cases, there is no way to tell. All in all, I would say a productive mission and another great day for the Iraqi people… somehow…


Cows and Canals

Filed under: — lana @ 11:33 am

Amongst all of the craziness that is the Army and me fighting to hold onto a promotion despite the Grand Inquisition that has started upon me because someone higher-up in my chain finally realized that I have a tendency to be a touch on the sarcastic side and occasionally actually Work Very Hard and Do Good Work (thereby making those above me look bad for doing less, which we all know is a military no-no), thus they launched the Tremendous Campaign Against All Things Deserved, as I have taken to calling it, I am still finding time to work very hard and do good work.

Some of this work, in addition to asking people how it is that they can still tell me the color of the car when in the last sentence they were asleep because it was after curfew, involves significant efforts on the part of yours truely to not make a break for somewhere like Canada (a long walk from here) where I can pretend none of this “Army” thing ever happened.

And some of it, actually out here, a lot of it, involves cows.

It’s cow-herding season in the Great Iraqi Central Regions, and that means it is time for slower convoys, runaway cows, and strange happenings. It is also a remarkably fragrant time of year, what with the still 112 degree heat like today.

The cows, what with them apparently being picky about walking on rocks, and their herders like walking on the streets. Nevermind that some of the herders are barefoot and the asphalt is somewhere between a bazillion and a gajillion degrees. On any given convoy, there are anywhere between one to twelve cows milling around on a given portion of roadway, with or without 12-year-old-says-he-is-actually-18-so-he-can-work-on-post herder. One of our recent convoys encountered one of those “without” days. Three cows. No herder. Chaos theory remained in full effect as we barreled down the road at the top speed of our slowest vehicle (which we won’t get into because it is a sore subject between us and the motor pool personnel these days), and myself sitting in the TC (truck commander… bet you didn’t know THAT one) position in the front passenger seat checking maps and such, I said to the driver “Uh oh. Watch the cows on the right side of the… uh oh…” as one cow moseyed on out to see what the hubbub was coming down the road. And there it stood. No deer in headlights look, no odd look but instead the same look I get on my face when one of our more peculiar contacts comes in and starts rambling in Arabic and I imagine that his head is made up of a sphere of turnips. Since I am a little loose on what a turnip looks like, this can occupy me for a good deal of time.

But I digress. Attention turns to our gunner, who’s job it is to ensure the road is clear for the convoy. He yells. My driver honks. The cow burps and chews some cud. Then I see a little dust pile next to the cow. Then another little poof on the other side. My gunner had acquired a large number of rocks which he was keeping on the turret with him, throwing them with the vengance only someone stuck in the operations center for most of the deployment can muster. They are just warning shots, though I note that explanation only came after I asked him if his arm was so weak he couldn’t hit the broad side of a cow with a pebble. I was quite happy that he wasn’t doing this with his weapon, because a dead cow is much harder to convince to move than a live cow.

Then again, eventually we had to find a way to skirt around the cow without doing too much damage to the nearby tomato fields.

The other story only has a little bit to do with cows and more to do with how I hate this country. I admit, as I did after the last infantry-based convoy, that I enjoy doing a lot of the infantry stuff. Early this morning we got to go with the door-kickers and I got to take out some of my I-Love-The-Army passions with a lot of yelling. We also got to get air-lifted out of a town (just like back in Saigon before the Tet Offensive… war is hell…). We also got to walk into the town in the pitch black again, and this time they actually waited to shoot the flares until the right time.

We ALSO got to miss a turn on our little foot march in the pitch black and so the only way to cross the waste canal separating us from our destination was to cross through it. Waste canal purposes are a millionfold in Iraq. It is their primary sewage system. It seeps farm waste such as fertilizer (the cow connection is seen at this point and not referenced again, so enjoy it while it lasts). It irrigates farms further down the river. It is also, pleasantly enough, swimming water for children and young adults in the summer heat, and occasionally a clothes washing site for wives with no water pump. I saw the first guy from my element break off and cut across to the other side. I thought “Hmm. He must be seeing what is on the other side. I wonder if he knows what that canal is used for.” I then saw another person in front of me follow him. I thought “Well of course, they won’t travel alone.” Then I saw another person go, and before he went he turned to me, pointed at me, pointed at the canal, and then point to the other side before going in himself.

Keep in mind, I travel with Samoans. They are all about a foot, if not more, taller than I am. I saw the canal go up to about his knees. I sat down and slid into the stagnant river of scented glory (they are lined with concrete and sloped on the sides), crossing the three or four feet (no easy task, since your boots stick to whatever that several inches of sludge is at the bottom) and helped out at the other end by the encrusted hands of my predecesors. At this point I remembered my height deficiency, and with a small amount of alarm reached down to my mid-thigh level pouch which contained all of my maps, my notebook, some tissues, and an inkpad, and was situated in the pocket over my wallet. Upon finding its condition, I retracted my hand and tried to find a dry spot to wipe off the grime. Let us say I had no maps for reference this mission.

I turned around to ensure that my interpreter and partner had made it across safely. My partner was shrugging and sliding in, but my interpreter was standing there, an incredulous look on his face, as he looked left and right to determine if he actually had to get into the fragrant bathwater. Finally, he grimaced and sludged down and through, at which point he shot me the most angry and hurt look I have received this deployment, and I know it is only because he didn’t know I could see him through the night-vision goggles. I admit, my terp is great, but I used the excuse of patting him comfortingly on the shoulder to dry my hand. I am about positive he is the one who left the handprint of some sort of fun on my arm, so we were even.

And so it was victory for Iraq from the get-go today, though we did round up some bad men with scraggly beards and sandals for our troubles. As we sloshed through town, it was still a small comfort to notice that the door-kickers on the first few houses left large, Samoan-sized boot prints of waste canal on the gates, like some sort of strange calling card… As the day warmed up, which it did in significant leaps and bounds though my feet were numb for two hours until the sun came up and after a brief sojurn at sunrise where it appeared we might be spared must have decided to stop checking its e-mail and heat the day to between Scalding and Blistering, it became difficult to tell the difference between the regular smells of a late Iraqi summer in a farming town and the new and improved smells of stagnant waste water seeping from the tiny holes in our boots while the foreign microbes munched happily on our toes.

Insurgents beware… particularly the ones with olifactory disorders that can’t smell us coming…


As a Side Note

Filed under: — lana @ 11:22 pm

I have said, on more than one occasion, that a moderately trained chimp could probably do my job, as well as most of the jobs in the Army…

The proof is in the pudding, folks (don’t read too much into that comment… pudding and chimps is usually messy).

I’m gonna hurry up go find me a chimp and get it over to central issue, then spend the rest of the deployment at the pool…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:07 pm

It is good to know, among the hooplah, that there are still priorities established that make sense of our lives.

As we mill around getting mortared about twice on the average day, the Army and KBR decided that we were going to be spending too much time in our vests and crazy hats (our helmets, which I dubbed the crazy hat because the way I see it, if I’m going to put that thing on for any length of time, something crazy better happen). This led to what I can only imagine was an animated discussion of what that would do for our morale, and the logistical problems that could ensue should we have to remain in all of our gear for any time period long enough that it would become a significant inconvenience (note: it is rare that a mortar will actually hurt anybody around here, vest or no, so the entire procedure is really very entertaining to watch so long as you don’t have to partake in it yourself).

The answer that they came up with to save our forces in central Iraq: bigger porta-potties.

They replaced the standard outhouse-sized porta-potty with gargantuan huts of plastic and blue-watered luxury. They have mirrors inside, as well as sanitary no-wash cleanser dispensers inside each humble abode. They even removed the urinal bins from several and put little stickers on the front that distinguish between male and female. The urinals are interesting, anyway, because they look like space-pod eggs or something. One of the lieutenants was giving me a detailed description of how much more fun the cocoon-shaped urinals were, something about “more room to play around with,” at which point I told him that this was too much information for my poor enlisted personnel ears and ducked into someone’s office. They need more to do in the operations center.

You would think that the constitution finally being written would take priority around here, but no, gossip is about the new porta-potties. That shows priority, because really, the constitution makes little or no difference at this juncture. Now it just gives another excuse for the people to pick up their AK-47 rifles and shoot at each other, and sometimes at us, and run around crying about how the world is unfair and woe is me because my people didn’t vote so now they don’t have a say in the direction the country is going. It affects me remarkably little, because it doesn’t matter if they have a constitution or not for them to answer all of my questions with “Walla, ma’arif…” at which point my partner has to restrain me from pulling out my pistol (though admittedly it is becoming more of a race to see which one of us does it first rather than either of us actually stopping anyone).

Quite frankly, I would be surprised if most of the people we get to talk to even know anything about the constitution. According to them, they all go to and from work and go straight to sleep anyway and would never DREAM of going outside after curfew and they don’t even talk to their neighbors because oh it is dangerous out there but I don’t know WHO is dangerous because you see I am sleeping but they come in black opel cars with tinted windows and they all had AK-47s, beards, sandals, and dishdashas. Walla, ma’arif. In a country like that, who needs a constitution? They weren’t going to agree on it anyway. But these people barely know their own names, much less what a five-syllable word like “ratification” means. When they finally get to the real vote in December, and they have another 1,548,956 candidates running, we will see what happens, but half the people around here can’t read the constitution anyway because half of them can’t read, so around here it is business and explosives as usual.

I am putting in a vote, I decided, because at that point we will have been in the country for about ten months, which I think is long enough for me to have a say in what happens.

Plus, I should get a vote because I don’t shoot at people for no reason, or into the air at a wedding, or into the air at a funeral, or into the air when my friend is released from U.S. custody, or into the air when a baby is born, or into the air when the moon is three days from full, or any other reason.

Plus, I know what ratification means.



Filed under: — lana @ 11:49 pm

Still not enough time to catch up, but at least I haven’t been arrested for blogging. It’s a new Army, defending the free speech for all except oh wait… us. But still, it’s been a pretty fun existence of late. Fighting off the man, trying to dig as few holes as possible to fill back in (reference ex-PFC Wintergreen), running around trying not to do anything that will have me see the inside of scenic prisons anytime in the near future, and going on four-day-turned-ten-day passes which strongly benefit from the fun flight situation around here.

However, I did get to have some flashbacks to ‘Nam the other day. You wouldn’t think I would be wandering among the thickets of… Iraq, but oh boy, was I ever. The grass in the farms here can grow higher than the Samoans who have labeled themselves my bodyguard service, so when we split our convoy last week so we could look for a mortar launch site and my partner and I were trying to link up, of course it was him who got to take the road to the point and me who got to cut through the jungle-like and thorn-ridden growth that permeates central Iraq. So as we tried to find them by the bird whistles of my interpreter and me occasionally getting on the radio and telling them to cut out that $%&*# racket, I checked the reeds for haji, reminiscing about Da’Nang before the Tet offensive. I asked my Samoan friend if we were going to have to get airlifted back out, just like back in Saigon, and he looked at me as though I had finally lost it. So I get on the radio and tell my partner I can’t locate them, could they shake a tree or something. Luckily, they were standing next to the tallest tree in the area, and all you could see among the grass and weeds and assorted shrubbery was a tall, thin tree rustling. So eventually, we foraged through and felt we had made enough of an accomplishment for the day that we only half-listened to the strange cow-herder with a shovel (I didn’t ask, because I didn’t want to know, why a cow-herder had a shovel). It’s a good thing we only half-listened anyway, because we would say things like “So, what is your name?” and he would answer “Six.” “How many people herd cows around here?” “Blue.”

I gave up pretty quickly.

We took the road back to our truck. I was still picking burrs out of my clothes for a day and a half.


Mysterious Happenings in the Laundry

Filed under: — lana @ 12:28 pm

This country seems to be some sort of vortex.

First of all, there is the wonder that is KBR, otherwise known as the Halliburton fun that is Kellogg, Brown, and Root, which has the total monopoly on all of the general care out here, having taken most of the jobs that soldiers do as free labor and given it to various nationals of various countries for a small sum, which we don’t complain about as it leaves us free to go and save the world, or something like that. Anyway, I turned in some socks a few weeks back. All of them were black socks. Three pairs, making six socks total for those a little slow in the mathematics department, all brand new black wool-blend socks. I received back six socks, black. Every single sock was different from all of the others. Either size, material, shape, texture, coloring, age (one seemed to have a hole in the worn toe area), something wasn’t quite right about EACH sock.

Now, how does that happen? I mean, how many different types of black sock are there? And why, really, are they mixing and non-matching in my laundry? I don’t really complain, given that I make up my laundry slip as I go along most of the time, checking off items that aren’t in my bag in the hopes that maybe something fun will show up one of these days, and I have even started writing in items on the slip… I asked if I can go and complain that my pink chicken suit didn’t come back in the laundry, and my superiors said no, and that if my pink chicken suit needed washing, we were going to have issues as it was. I told them it was for missions only. I think that was the third time they kicked me out of the office that day, which they cover up by asking me, “Don’t you have somewhere to be?” and I usually try to give them as blank of a look as possible as I wander out. Keeps expectations nice and low.

Anyway, the second mystery: Where do all of the pants of the small kids in this country go? I think below the age of about four, pants are not required nor expected. However, since the age of two seems to deem that children are left to their own devices since their mom is usually busy with the one year old and one month old at that point, they just run around the countryside with no pants. Usually, in sweatshirts that go to their waist. This results in funny pictures because the Samoans are huge and standing next to some tiny kid which you can only photograph from the waist up, so I have a zillion pictures of huge Samoan guys from the mid-calf up. But where do the pants go? Don’t these things come as full outfits? Who declared that pants were an okay thing to say goodbye to? did they use the pants to half-clothe another kid? Maybe if these people would stop having a gajillion children…

Speaking of which, I met a guy the other day with 22 brothers. 22, and that is just brothers, not including sisters, of which I think there are around ten. One father, three mothers. Everyone lives together. In a mud hut on a farm somewhere. What is scary about that is this means when one child dies (usually, around here, by blowing himself up or otherwise untimely death), they just have a funeral for a few days and move on. With 32 siblings, I would have trouble keeping their names straight… there are days when my mom used to mix me up with my sister, and would correct herself by calling me by the dog’s name, and we only had two kids and two dogs in the family.

As such, I have started calling everyone in this country “Rover” and gotten on with saving the world… though apparently I need to start saving my socks…


Zombies and Mystery

Filed under: — lana @ 11:49 pm

Another long weekend. I don’t really know why I still call it the weekend, because my weeks never really seem to end out here. I spent most of this weekend, aside from my time catching some sleep when I could, out on the town hanging around with Mohammed and Ali and Jassim, which covers I think most of the country. My Samoan brothers got to laugh at me while I tried to explain manners to the kids, who only know the phrase “Give me.” I attempted to explain, with waning patience, that saying “give me” is rude, and that they should at the very least say “Please.” I tried. My interpreter tried. I gave up. My interpreter gave up. And another day passed in Iraq.

I do think I saw my first Iraqi zombie yesterday. As we drove around on patrol I looked out the window and saw a skinny man wandering along the side of the road. He stared straight ahead, even though our vehicles kicked dust and rocks around his swirling dishdasha, and walked with the slow pace not just of someone who has been in the sun too long, but of someone the sun has already killed. He was a non-arm swinger, those people that don’t move their arms when they walk, and his just hung by his sides as his sandals scuffed through the dirt, and his mouth had the half-open dazed look I can sometimes get from my team leader when I start explaining the difference between a sheikh and a mukhtar or why we don’t like one tribe or another and who is related to who.

The sheikh/mukhtar issue is one just solved this weekend, though. Turns out the sheikh is the one who has the power to say “Your sheep ate his tomato crop. You give him three goats.” Meanwhile, the mukhtar is something of the census taker, the welcoming committee for tribe members moving into a town. So if you have three tribes in the town, you will have three sheikhs and three mukhtars. An interesting tidbit, if not particularly useful because they are going to lie to you no matter what anyway.

Another mystery for the weekend was the question I asked of the sheikhs of one town when I asked them why only three of eleven sheikhs showed up for a big meeting. The response was that the others were scared. I asked them where the bad men were in town. They said there were none. I asked who the sheikhs were scared of then. They said the bad men. I said I thought there weren’t any bad men. They agreed that there weren’t. I asked them why the sheikhs had missed the meeting if there was no one to be scared of. They said they were scared. I went around this circle about three times before I gave up.

Ah, the zombies and mysteries of the Middle East…


Daily Lessons

Filed under: — lana @ 12:06 pm

I learned a few things today. Two came from friends, one from personal experience out carousing again.

The first: Don’t fire an AT-4 indoors. For those who don’t know, those are powerful things that look like rocket launching tubes. That, as a matter of fact, is about what they are, and have a very powerful blast that can kill you if you are standing behind it. Or if you fire it indoors. How they brought up this lesson, and why, I didn’t ask, my friend just said, “Hey, so you know, don’t fire an AT-4 indoors.” And I said, “Gotcha.”

The second: The arming distance for a 203 grenade launcher is actually about 25 meters, but prior to that 25 meters it will still punch a hole through someone. Another one I didn’t ask about, but was informed that it could save my life one day. I told the person who shared this with me the first little tidbit, which sparked a fun conversation about why on Earth someone would think to mention that unless someone had done something really stupid, but still.

The third: Bottles of fingerprinting ink have a maximum temperature of about 114 degrees berfore eruption upon opening. It was about 115 when I opened mine today. Lesson learned. My pants are now a casualty of war, to be given a dx funeral tomorrow over at the central issue facility. My hands, which I can’t dx, are the target for many interesting conversations now, and I have been told I still have some ink on my forehead as well. There are pictures, apparently, because there were several people who seemed to find this MOST entertaining.

Oh. Ah ha. The truth about the first lesson just came out, and as an update for all: My friends are idiots. This isn’t a lesson learned, as I had a suspicion they were idiots, it’s now just confirmed. Particularly because he is now giving me the Iraqi response of “Wallah. Ma’arif.” Which is supposed to mean “I don’t know,” but really means, “I know everything but all I am going to tell you is lies and stupid misleading commentary for no real reason other than I am a terrible liar so eventually I just say ‘I don’t know’ and hope you will stop asking where the bad men with beards are or who blew up who’s house.”

So I just sit here and tell people I had a bitch of a time getting fingerprinting for my Iraqi citizenship paperwork done and when they ask how I got it on my forehead?



Playing Infantry

Filed under: — lana @ 1:31 pm

Well that was fun. From taking a nap for about 20 minutes at a time on the roof of an uparmored HMMWV under the stars at 0100 to dismounted patrolling at 0300 to invading a town, I got to play infantry for the first time since I would say basic training yesterday. In our field, we are made fun of for a reason. We get to go out, but we take a truck and go sit in meetings and talk to people and sometimes we have to eat goat. But we don’t storm the gates, we don’t kick in doors, we don’t break cabinets rustling through local belongings. We let someone else put the zip-ties on (though we do get to tell them who to zip-tie).

But yesterday as the flares went off so the patrol I was marching into the town with had to take lower cover so we could still maintain the element of surprise on the bad men with beards, it was pretty neat. I can see why the infantry likes their job when they get to do it, though I admire them because today I am pretty sore because I also thought it would be okay to march with them back out of the village when the job was done, and by then it was about 30 to 40 degrees hotter than it had been when we marched out there (about ten of them had to get IVs over the course of the day… I told the medic where he could stick the needle if he came anywhere near me, and it wasn’t anywhere on MY body). But it was a matter of pride of sticking with my patrol as we re-entered the gate to the base and that I had stuck with them all day, though the rest of the team drove in and out from the village and some hadn’t even stuck with the patrols for the full day.

But a lesson learned: drop-leg holsters are simply not designed for females. For those who don’t know, that is the type of pistol holster that sits on the thigh, held on with straps around the leg and hanging from the belt. First of all, they are not field-expedient for those of us that have to drop pants to pee. We won’t get into that much, though we did find that the poncho that no one in the Army has used since advanced individual training when they make you put it on when it drizzles a little bit just so they can laugh at the little green mushrooms wandering around in formations actually provides an Iraqi-Army-Observation-Proof shield. But the holster makes everything more complicated. Second, I wear mine on a separate belt because otherwise the sole purpose seems to be for the holster to weigh down and pull down the pants on that side. But the extra belt has to sit on the irritating protruding hipbones that females have. So today it’s a little tougher to walk than it is for some of the infantry guys, who told me I looked like I had been riding a horse too long when I saw some of them today. I told them I wish I had been, because then I wouldn’t have been walking. That is, I told those that were awake, because one thing I have found is that these guys will storm houses all day long, but given the opportunity to sleep, I think they would sleep all day. 18 hours was the record I heard for the day… though someone still hadn’t unearthed at 1400 when I went by there to find out about the next mission…

Other than the fun with my Samoan friends, it was a typical mission. More of the “Oh, you want to talk to HIM? Oh… um… I think he’s in Baghdad,” or “He doesn’t live here. He moved to Baghdad,” or “There are no bad people here. All the people shooting mortars at you must be coming up from Baghdad.” Baghdad must be one BAD ASS town, because apparently all of our bad guys go there. Funny, because we get mortared here more than they do down there, and have almost as many IEDs… but according to these people, that’s just the Baghdad folks on vacation. Must be a lot of vacationers this year…

My team sergeant said to me today that I was jaded after I mentioned that when the kids come up to me and say “Give me pen,” I respond with “Get a job.” I said no, I’m a cynic. She wanted to know what the difference was. I explained that jaded means you hate the world (or a particular section thereof). A cynic means you hate the world but you think that’s pretty funny. Then I told her I was going to get a high-powered slingshot to ease distribution of hard candy to the Iraqi populace because I wanted to show that hey, I can give too. She told me to never be civil affairs. I asked her if we could at least paint houses with lead paint. She walked away at that point, shaking her head and muttering.

Since I figure the war won’t be over anytime soon, I figure if I can get through this deployment having driven at least three superiors crazy, I will consider it a success… I’ve got one of my team members learning to be autistic, and I wander around singing Journey songs at just a low enough tone that it gets in the head of those around me even if they don’t know the words… everyone needs a hobby… mine just happens to be annoying those above me in ways they can’t find a way to get me in trouble for…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:29 am

So we decided to do a test today. The weather center said it was about 128 degrees in our area today as a high. Now we have some arguments. There are a lot of people milling around with little or nothing to do for a greater part of the day after their work is done. So one of them decided to do a little experiment around mid-day and took a thermometer to the center of the parking lot where the sun touches from about 0500 until about 2030 every day, and stood there for several minutes, then put the thermometer down to go get something to drink, then came back to get the thermometer and stood there a few more minutes.

134.5 was the final verdict. 6.5 degrees warmer than what they said on the weather center output, which is updated constantly. Now, are they doing that for morale, or what? I know that it doesn’t really matter to me if it is 128 or 134.5, because either way I hate going outside for any length of time because it is something similar to holding a hair dryer about a centimeter away from your eyeball and turning it on full blast.

Even better is riding in a truck with no air conditioning, cause you stifle so you open the window. Then it’s 134.5 degrees of fun slamming into your face at about 25 miles an hour. Then you arrive and get to talk to a local that bathes only semi-regularly on a good week when there isn’t a water shortage in his town and he has been standing in 134.5 degree heat all day and now he’s with you in a small room for an hour or two. These are the things I get to have fun and enjoyment with almost every day.

Be all you can be… which in our case, is just really really warm…


Near Death?

Filed under: — lana @ 12:15 pm

Well, we lost another one today. Same road, same deal. Makes me mad… another good person gone… He was from a different battalion from last week, but it was the same situation. Why this has to keep happening, I don’t know… but at least he just laughed at me a few nights ago for the following…

Night-Vision Goggles, NVGs, have to be the biggest practical joke the Army has devised to pull on its soldiers. Sure, they come in handy if you are out at night and looking around for people sneaking through the farms and fields and skirting around the piles of cow poop that litter the fields among the half-mutated tomatos that seem to be the only thing that grows around here, but for driving, they are not nearly as useful.

The other evening we decided it would be fun to go bothering some nice people who happen to be related to a very not nice person. We decided that two in the morning would be a delightful time to pop in for some tea, so we piled into our trucks and I pulled out my NVGs and got to driving. Well, they decided to take a route I’ve never taken before. Okay, fine… thin dirt roads that run right next to canals with sharp turns out of nowhere. And oh yeah my vision is limited to a circle of green and black like a horrible video game from 1986. But that’s cool… onward…

So we are driving, and first thing is first I round the sharp corner to make an immediate u-turn to get onto the correct little dirt path and as I turn I notice that the truck in front of me is stopped… at a very peculiar angle. Apparently there was a really deep and really big hole in the road right next to the place we were supposed to be driving on and he didn’t know it. The problem that comes with NVGs is that there is NO depth perception on them, because everything is either green, a slightly lighter green, or almost black. So he was driving along and all of a sudden the front end of his truck was kissing the ground of a very large hole. So we got it towed out, had a good laugh, and he skirted the hole on the next attempt. He got a 15 on the running rating scale (that we haven’t figured out what it goes up to yet, but a 15 is rated as “really funny.” And did I mention it was the commander’s vehicle? He thought it was funnier than anyone else)…

So we continue driving and get to our first staging area for our little adventure with no further incident. At this point one of the HUGE Samoan guys that was running the show at that point wanders to my truck and says, “Hey can you move to the side so I can get these two trucks around you to stage for the next part of the op?” “Sure! The canal is on the left, so I’ll pull to the right.” “Okay. Hey, watch that little drop there.” Little drop… or something. To me, first of all, it looked like a flat field that I wouldn’t pull into anyway because fields are horrible to drive on and there looked to be fresh tomato plants in it. My gunner didn’t say anything about it, neither did the Air Force guy in my front seat, because both of them were also wearing NVGs, and so neither one had depth perception either.

But I didn’t try to drive into the field anyway. I pulled to the side of the road… and then as the gunner from the truck describes it, something of a natural disaster happened as the entire road from under my front right tire fell about ten feet into the field that I thought was right off the road. I felt the car dip, so I stopped and tried to back up, but since the truck, which is several tons, was resting on it’s front axle and about two inches from rolling over, it was best to leave it where it was. So I told everyone else they should probably get out, and my gunner jumps down and walks over and all I hear is him go, “AUGH! YOU ALMOST KILLED ME! AHHHH!” and start laughing hysterically (keep in mind that this is my platoon leader, who was down for a visit). One of my friends, another big Samoan guy, wandered over and said, “Yeah, everyone but the driver should get out. And don’t move forward. At all.”

So then comes the next funny part. My Air Force guy, who really wasn’t paying any attention at all, opened his door and, still wearing his NVGs, thought the ground was maybe two feet down, so he goes to hop down. His hop was about ten feet, and was much more of a tumble than a hop. If we had been recording it, we would have won a prize. He was picking prickers out of the back of his shirt the rest of the night. All I knew was that he disappeared… he landed somewhat on his head, which as far as I know did no damage anyway. I asked him later what was down there and all he said was, “Apparently a lot of thorns.” I found that rather entertaining…

So the nice Samoan gentlemen towed me backwards without incident. That was when all the drivers wandered up to the lead vehicle where the guy running the mission mentioned that maybe we should find a wider part of the road to do the vehicle passing… Good idea, my friend… good idea…

Aside from bumping another vehicle as I tried to pass him on ANOTHER too narrow road (it was a better option than the canal that was STILL to the left), the rest of the mission went pretty well. People do get cranky when they are woken at 0200 to tell us where the bad men with beards are, but in a country where everyone hates you anyway, what difference does that make?

So it was pretty fun. I only got an 8 on the funny scale, because the ground fell out from under the wheel so there wasn’t much I could do, but nevertheless. My platoon leader, now back up further north where he belongs, is more than happy to tell everyone about how I almost killed him. I told him to watch out and practice his rollover drills, because next time he comes out he’s going back out with me…

So ha ha, Army… thanks for the NVG. Very clever. Very very clever… the jokesters…

Great. Red alert. You know what that means… bladder is full. Just a few more months… As long as this week is the last memorial service I have to go to, we will be fine. I will have kidney stones by then, but we will be fine…

My heart to my patrol guys and their fallen soldier… thanks for the tow, thanks for being great…


Just Another Day

Filed under: — lana @ 11:46 pm

Living the tax-free nightmare…

So last week we went on an operation for a few days that I roped some people from my team and our support element into in an effort to help other assets around here figure out what color sandals the bad men wear. On that adventure, I got to meet a company of the Iraqi Army, who are allowed to throw rocks at the kids who come running up just to say “Give me pen. You have two. I have none. Give me pen now,” while all I’m allowed to do is tell them what I would like to give them. Luckily, most of them don’t understand English very well.

I learned something from the Iraqi populace on that op, of course. I didn’t know that the only proper way to fix a AA battery was to take another battery and bang on the broken one, denting it and probably leaking battery acid out the back, which is even better because the small children who can’t be supervised by the adults because every adult has at least five other children to watch like to chew on the batteries when they fall out of the toy that is slowly rotting from the inside from exposure to battery acid.

I also learned that it is not a great idea the day before promotion boards to find and step in as much cow poop as possible because it doesn’t get you out of the board room any faster and you still have to smell it.

Because of my promotion boards, my team missed day three of the op, which on the way back hit an explosive in the middle of the road we have been trying to convince the engineers to fix for months but they won’t because only one battalion uses it with any frequency. The truck that got hit was in the place we had been taking in the convoy the past few days. One friend down; they told us he didn’t suffer at all. Two other co-workers and another friend in the hospital. All of the ones in the hospital will get better, some sooner than others, which is great. The memorial service is today; the ramp ceremony where they load the casket onto the plane the day after the incident was something I never want to have to do again. It was very well done, but I never want to do it again… puts a damper on the fact that in September I will become an NCO… any military person will understand when I say that I should have been on the convoy… our vehicle could have taken the blast.

But life will go on for the rest of us. We pick up the pieces and we drive on, focusing on finding the men responsible and bringing them to justice. It has gone from just a bunch of guys who are irritating because they lob mortars (rather poorly) at the base to something personal… it’s time to stop being polite… like I told the guy who insisted that he had NO IDEA how 20 mortars and rockets got into a refrigerator buried in his yard or how that crazy picture of a grinning Saddam got on his wall (Oopsie! When did THAT get there?), only a few things make me mad, and this is one of them… So watch it, Haji, cause the old regime didn’t bury those weapons, and they didn’t plant that explosive either…

Older Posts »

Powered by WordPress