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…



Filed under: — lana @ 11:18 pm

As far as I am concerned, this whole country needs to be razed and started over again. There is no need for this. These people don’t understand that we want to be here about as much as they want us here. They don’t have to take pot shots at soldiers in their streets or put explosives in the road to convince us that we want to go home. I don’t want to spend my evenings visiting people in the hospital tent or trying to track down friends to make sure they are okay because someone we all liked didn’t make it back. There really isn’t a need for it. We don’t want to be here, we don’t want to be shot at, we just want to go home to where we have to avoid potholes for the sake of our car, not for the sake of our lives. Leave us alone, show us you can do it yourselves, and we will leave.

There are good people. There are some Iraqi Army units that will do what they need to do and they don’t care who sees their faces. Some of them watch your back more than the Americans out there (Thanks, guys). These guys can handle this, because they want this to stop as much as we do, so they can put their country together and eventually get to the point where they too can have the junior enlisted walking around waiting to be told that the grass needs to be mowed or the sand raked or the rocks rearranged. They find the weapons and are as angry as we are at the liars who say they know nothing about how the weapons got there (how about the propaghanda or the lists or anything else in your bedroom, fool?) and react with all the professionalism of anyone else out there for 18 hours in the 115 degree sun.

But as for the rest of them: Stop being so scared that someone will slit your throat because you tell us where the bad men with beards and sandals are, because if you do things right and work with us, we can get the throat-slitters put away and you won’t have to worry about it. We can’t fix this country. It’s internal. Stop blowing up my friends, and stop giving me nasty looks every time I come into your house to find out why your dirtbag brother never seems to be home when we just want to zip-tie his hands and take him off to a place where he will get three square meals for the rest of his life. I want to go home as much as you are wishing I would leave. It doesn’t take anything in the middle of a road placed there by a coward too afraid to put his head in my sight picture to convince me that I don’t want to be here.

Get well soon, those that can… for those that can’t, you’re already missed.

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