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…

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