Wednesday, September 26, 2007

LITERARY "UN-GENIUS"

Since I don't have television over here, I spend my "freetime" reading quite extensively. It's not that I can't get a TV or that the service doesn't exist...because I could and it does. I just really haven't had the desire. When some of my peers find out that I've shunned the modern marvel that is the "talking head", they usually ask, "What are you a caveman or something?". Well, no...wait...maybe...hell, I don't know. Actually I just don't have an overwhelming desire to watch the tube. Now radio is a different animal...I love it. We get the Armed Forces Network and the British Forces Broadcasting Network. Both are very good. Anyways, back to the reading part of this.

I recently borrowed a book from a good friend of mine. He served on an IA with the SEALs in Afghanistan before he volunteered for another stint in Iraq. Anyways, he loaned me a book called LONE SURVIVOR. The book was written by a former Navy SEAL named Marcus Luttrell. Marcus was part of a 4 man SEAL team that was tasked with a mission in the mountainous and rugged northeastern frontier of Afghanistan. He ended up being the only survivor of an attack by Taliban forces. The book really brings his feelings about his fellow SEALS to the forefront and incidentally raises some bigger questions about the Rules of Engagement that we, the military, must abide by. Without giving away the details...any of you that are interested in recent military literature and events should get yourself a copy right away. It is a very good read!

Coincidentally, the friend that I borrowed the book from was serving with this SEAL team and knew the people and incidents involved.

Now...on to the "literary un-genius" part. I read an article in a very popular men's magazine. No...not that type! I only read those for the articles anyways. No really...the magazine was a health/fashion/dude-stuff magazine. The article was an interview with a popular actor that seems to always have something political to talk about. Unfortunately, it seems the U.S. is preoccupied with Hollywood's input into the war. I just can't understand what makes people think that an actor or actress is somehow qualified to give any sort of political discourse or expertise into "how to solve the Iraq problem".

My personal take on this: "Look, Mr. Actor or Ms. Actress, I pay to see your movies for entertainment...much like I pay to see the animals at the circus perform. I don't want to hear your uneducated and unwarranted drivel about this war. Now, if you feel like you need to spout off at the mouth about the "going-ons" in Iraq...bring your ass over here and spend some time with our infantrymen. You know, maybe a year or so...then you'll really have the experience to speak as a expert. Until then...just shut your pie-hole!"

Anyways...that's my rant for today. On a side-note; my relief is in country now. In fact I had a nice long talk with him today. I can't begin to tell you how nice it is to know that I'll be leaving here...very, very, very shortly.

R, HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! I LOVE YOU!
K & G, I love and miss you guys terribly...I can't wait to come home...and end this "absent father" episode.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

RETURN OF THE NINJA

Well everyone...I am back at the keyboard! First, I need to apologize to anyone who worried about my safety during my long hiatus in writing. I am safe and sound...still in Iraq. My last post was in June; right after that time, I went on two weeks of leave. When I returned from leave, I found that the military had decided a huge "crackdown" was in order on bloggers. So that made my ability to write somewhat more difficult. Now that was a small part in my lack of writing...a larger part was that I'd become completely unmotivated to write. There were various reasons...but I think I owe it to everyone to put "words to print".

The last few months have been quite a blur. As everyone is aware, situations in Iraq continue to evolve or degenerate...you pick! The good news...I will be leaving very soon. No specific dates will be posted here...but it is soon. The bad news...I am fairly disenchanted with things here. I obviously don't have the "big picture"...but I know how I feel about things.

To illustrate this point: I recently spent nearly a week at a remote Forward Operating Base, living in a tent, covered in good ole Iraqi moon dust (sand) and watching the day to day operations of our ground troops. For me, it was like being on vacation. I was actually with the troops that are making a difference over here and not dealing with a bunch of "staff clowns" who seem to have lost touch with what is actually important over here....you know, things like THE WAR!!! The inefficiency and staffing process for everything, I mean everything, is so convoluted...it makes me wretch. The knowledge you gain while actually BEING involved in this war is quite the "eye-opener". The rest of my diatribe is better left unspoken...or I may find myself with cuffs on my wrists. Anyways...now that I've "wanked" sufficiently.........

Now the good stuff: I've stuck with my exercise and gym routine. My workout partner (the other Hornet pilot that I work with) has been great. We take turns kicking each other in the ass at the gym. It has worked! I've lost about 20 pounds and am seeing significant change in muscular development. I've gotten to the point that I can't stand missing a day at the gym...I even feel guilty if I do. So at least I've got that going for me.

My family is doing well in Texas. School has started for the children and everyone seems to be adjusting well. Even with that...I can tell they've had their "fill" of this deployment and are ready for it to be over. I can fully understand that. It will be awesome to be home soon. Leave was great...but to know that you are home for good...is immensely better!

Well, I won't attempt to fill in the blanks on the last few months...but I may bring in some scenarios from that time. I hope everyone understands. Again sorry for the long delay...thanks for sticking around.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

IRAQI 500


Since this job is my first non-flying job in the military, it has been somewhat a rough one. Not to mention I'm performing the job in the middle of Iraq! In some regards the travel is a welcome event...I get to fly in a helicopter most times. Sometimes, I travel in a vehicle. Not to worry, that vehicle is a well armored, "Mad-Max" type vehicle...so relatively safe. I've always loved flying, especially when I'm at the controls of the aircraft. Here, I'm just a passenger...but it still brings me joy, none the less. On one of my recent trips, I spent some time talking with one of the helicopter pilots and a couple of the enlisted crewmen. What a great bunch of guys. Aviation "types" are pretty much the same...no matter what branch of service. We talked for about an hour and it was nice to have familiarity in a world that is completely "upside down". The best part is they made me an offer that I could not refuse: Come to their facility anytime I wished and they would let me jump on board with them and fly around all day if I wanted. Talk about a great deal! I haven't been able to take them up on the offer yet, but I plan to do so...very soon.

So, the Iraqi 500...the drivers here are crazy. They don't follow any general rules of the road. Speed limit: Yeah right! Lane courtesy: Not even close! Patience: Not a recommended quality! The Iraqi drivers drive very aggressively...to their own demise. When an American convoy is travelling on the roads, the convoy "owns" the road. The armored and heavily gunned vehicles of an American convoy use all the road...and I mean all the road. If the convoy is headed north, they will sometimes use the southbound lanes(opposite flow). If there is a "traffic jam" ahead, the convoy will either proceed into the oncoming lanes or with horns blaring, fire warning shots to ensure the Iraqis move out of the way. Now before anyone says, "See that's just driving like a jerk." Realize, in Iraq, you don't want to get stuck behind a traffic jam or get boxed in...ever. If you do...you are just a sitting duck waiting to get attacked. So all these measures are for safety and security of our American forces.


Now sometimes the Iraqi drivers aren't too keen on our driving standards. So, randomly you'll find an Iraqi driver that decides he wants to play "chicken" or be stubborn about letting a heavily armed and armored vehicle pass by. This is where things get sticky...for the Iraqi. When this happens our guys don't know if this guy is just being a hot-head or if he intends on blowing himself and his vehicle up in an attempt to kill American forces. Trust me, it happens here more than I'd like to admit. In these cases our guys start by shooting warning shots. If no compliance, the gunners start shooting the vehicle. Drastic measures for drastic times.

The normal Iraqi hot-head usually "sobers" quickly at the first warning shots. So those aren't the folks that endure "step two" from above. The people that endure "step two" are usually the folks that a have a car packed with explosives and intend on using them. So the measures of protection work. As draconian as they may seem...they have saved numerous American lives. Everyone just remember...this is a war.

Some of my posts recently may have become somewhat "dark" in nature. I don't consciously post this way...but I think it is just the nature of the experiences. I also think that it would be completely wrong of me to not write how things actually "are". It would not be fair to NOT portray things at face value. Don't be fooled...this place is not fun or cool. With that being said...my promise to everyone is that I will write from my mind and heart and not skew things negatively or positively. Now, don't worry...I still find humor and fun in everyday life here! So you will be able to experience those situations also.

The picture above is the typical IRAQI 500 road course. The road is a major thoroughfare in Baghdad. As you can see, they all end up being a big parking lot. Not the safest place for an American convoy to be stuck. Hey at least I was flying that day; enjoying myself with a smile on my face.

R, K and G...I miss you and will demonstrate my Iraq driving techniques when I get home...we'll rent a car first.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

BOOGIE NIGHTS

Okay, so after reading my last post multiple times, I decided I was just a bit too serious and downtrodden. So actually without much effort I've found something genuinely fun to write about.

After an early morning wake-up by Haji (a slightly non-P.C. name for all locals), I started my day with good vibes on my mind. Oh, the early morning wake-up...well that was a few ill aimed mortars. No biggie...they are really bad at aiming. Anyways, I had a nice talk with my family last night and I was in a pretty good mood. So, my day went pretty well. This afternoon I decided I would treat myself. So far since I've been here, I've been without a TV ( which I could care less about) or a radio. I decided to head over to the BX and buy myself an inexpensive radio. Yes, we have radio stations over here. Not many; but we have some. One is the Armed Forces Network, which is actually pretty good about their variety of programming. There is a British feed station that is pretty good too. Of course there are quite a few Iraqi stations. Yep, you guessed it...all in Arabic...and the music sounds like someone strangling a goose. I'll be staying away from those.

So, I brought my radio home, pulled it out of the box, set it up, plugged it in and had absolutely crappy reception. I couldn't get much sound out of it at all, other than static. Talk about a buzzkill! Well, I would not stand for that "unchecked aggression". I remembered there was a roll of old remnant cable outside my trailer on the ground. It looked like a low quality version of CAT 5 cable for internet and computers. I went outside, stripped one of the ends off...and there "it" was...just what I was looking for...the beautiful grounding wire inside. YES!!! Putting my years of College education to practice and quite a few years of experience with communications equipment and "jerry rigging" many other things, I went to work. I stripped about 3 feet of insulation off the cable, pushed the grounding wire through the screen on my window and into my room, wrapped the end around the radio's antenna. I took the other end of the cable and threw it over the top of my trailer. BAMM!!! Instant music. The result: One giant antenna for my little radio and hours of entertainment for myself. Usually that last part requires women on trampolines, shiny objects or clowns...I am merely a caveman fighter pilot.

Well, the pictures show my handy work. I accomplished something over here in Iraq...and I didn't even have to shoot at anyone or anything to do it! I'm pretty happy.

R, K & G...Could you have them pump up the power on our favorite Texas radio stations...I can't quite get them tuned in. Love you guys.

LIFE in a FISHBOWL


It has taken me almost two weeks to muster the motivation to write. This month has been a rough month for our troops over here. I'm sure the news keeps everyone "abreast" of the situation. Unfortunately, the "news" is a money making business...so of course you folks get to hear and see what they "want" you to hear and see. It bothers me to no end when the focus of the news is of the "carnage" over here. The fact that you and I see the reports of "May being one of the deadliest months" is appalling. I also can't stand the fact that they hang days and weeks on isolated incidents of tragedy or mistakes that our troops make. THIS IS A WAR PEOPLE. Don't get me wrong...I'm not advocating that we all turn a blind eye to our troops indiscretions...but give it a rest. One recent headline touted how a "U.S. tank kills 3 Iraqi children"...COME ON!!! How is that doing any good, by "newsing" that up. What they don't tell is how the Iraqi insurgency kills a large number of their own fellow Iraqis daily, including entire families and children. The other side of the tank issue: that tank crew is probably devastated by what happened. The troops over here are good people and are effected emotionally by devastating events too. These guys really are trying to do the "right thing" and the media, in some regards, is a bigger threat to the well being of our troops than any insurgent. I would recommend that a reporter or media venue...not come anywhere near me for a long while. I am just that upset with the whole ordeal. I would recommend that U.S. citizens not turn so much of their anger against our government but turn it against the media outlets. Their self-serving reports and constant "eye-poking" are the real reason things "are so bad" here.


I've posted a picture of a local area of Baghdad known as Sadr City. Some of you will recognize the name. This "neighborhood" is named after Moqtada Sadr. He's the Shiia cleric that recently reappeared in the media with much hoopla. Sadr City is a very large Shiia Muslim area of Baghdad that has a large number of Iranian supported militia-men. The militias are essentially gangs of punks that terrorize our troops and the citizens of the area. All this, thanks to good ole Moqtada and his anti-American rhetoric. Yet we have let him live in attempts to stabilize things. Maybe we have exhibited too much restraint here...I just don't know what this place will take to get itself fixed. Unfortunately, I think this will be a "long" summer for us.


R, K & G...I miss you and love you. You guys make my days brighter.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

STORMTROOPERS and THE HOTEL CALIFORNIA

So, in an attempt to find some levity in a generally shitty situation, I'm always on the lookout for some interesting and comical photo opportunities. In my own perverse sense of humor...these two pictures top my list, for now. The first picture was taken on one of my most recent trips to one of the oasis spots in Iraq that I frequent. Note the sarcasm in the word "oasis". This young soldier was the left-side "door-gunner" on the helicopter I was riding in. He was diligent in his observation duties when I snapped his photo. The lower face shield is a new addition to the Army helicopter crew equipment. It serves as protection to the gunner's face and neck areas. What I found entertaining was the "personalized" art work he had placed on the face guard. The hand-painted zipper was a great touch. Funny in a disturbing kinda way. Reminded me of the cover of an 80's speed metal album. By the way, this particular Soldier was about 6 1/2 feet tall...with this helmet on, he was a very ominous sight. I personally wouldn't want to make him angry. Not only did he look like this....but remember he's manning a machine gun. Yet, I still laugh when I see this picture.

The second picture was a lucky shot with the camera. I was leaning out the door area of the helicopter when I noticed a large building up ahead. We were flying along in east-central Baghdad at the time. I steadied my camera and snapped the picture as we passed this building. I didn't realize what it was until I looked at it as we passed. It may be hard to read in the picture...but it says, "ISHTAR SHERATON". Insert laughter here! Wow, I can't imagine anyone jumping on the Sheraton hotel website and reserving a room here. The building looked in relatively good shape with no observable battle damage. I can hear it now..."Honey, I got a great deal on an all-inclusive resort vacation. The website said there are peaceful rooms with never-ending excitement near by. It also said that there are exotic locals who love to interact with tourists and foreigners. And...man, you can't even believe the great deal I got!"

Kinda reminds me of a verse in the song "Hotel California"...You can check out, but you can never leave. Yep, it's official...I've lost my mind. I still think this stuff is funny. Your "funny threshold" takes awkward downward spiral in Iraq.

So things are trudging along here. I will ask for everyone to keep the Soldiers from one of my units and their families in your prayers. The Soldiers that were killed and abducted recently are from one of my units. This is a horrible and cowardly form of terrorism. A Serviceman can more easily deal with the death of a comrade than with the abduction and hostage-holding that has befallen our brethren. The news quoted Gen Petraeus as saying, "We know who took them...and they will pay." You better f&*^ing believe they will pay.

R,K & G...I love you guys...miss you and can't wait to see you again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

BELATED MOTHER'S DAY WISHES

Well, I made a serious error in judgement...I didn't post anything on Mother's Day! After being scolded by my Mom today, I post tonight with my tail between my legs. Actually, my Mom is enjoying herself in Dauphin Island, Alabama right now. Not too shabby!! And...I actually DID remember her on Mother's Day. I sent her a nice bunch of flowers in a very nice vase. I hope she loves the flowers.

I also remembered to honor the other Mom in my life...my wife. She asked that I didn't send her flowers...so I didn't. But, I definitely hope she had a great Mom's Day too. HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to both of you!!!

Alot has been happening around here lately, as I'm sure the news is broadcasting all about it. I've been traveling quite abit. The picture above is from one of my recent trips. The picture is of one of the main roads in Baghdad. As you can see Baghdad is a large, sprawling city with alot of hustle and bustle. A very difficult place to operate in and around. As you leave the city confines you immediately fly over wide open desert and in some cases, lush palm groves. Very much a place of extreme opposites...in more ways than geography. The people are as diverse as the scenery and often as extreme in beliefs too. Neighborhoods are divided along religious lines and tribal lines, established many, many years ago. And unfortunately these folks don't like each other at all. So for all you "armchair soldiers" and "couch sitting strategist"....shut it! Until you are here on a daily basis and "see" what the U.S. military is dealing with, you can't possibly have and idea of how to rectify or control the situation.

Summer has made it to the desert...It is hot as hell here. It smells bad too. Some smells are easily identifiable, some are not. But they will leave a lasting impression on me. The sights, sounds and smells of this place will stay with every servicemember forever. In some regards this is a good thing. It would be a shame to tuck away every memory of this place to be forgotten. On the other side of the coin, some sights, sounds and smells should be forever left here to never be spoken of again. I guess this issue is what many servicemembers struggle with the rest of their lives. The one thing to remember...none of us are alone. We are all here for each other and will forever be linked to this place.

Brothers in Arms...an eternally true statement.

R, K and G...I love and miss you more and more every day!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

CROSS GENERATION CONNECTION


I just returned from a work related trip to another FOB (Forward Operating Base). Said FOB is located south of Baghdad and is called "Kalsu". When I first heard that name, I kept wondering to myself where I had heard it before. Once I arrived, there was a large rock at the FOB with the genesis of its name.


1LT Bob Kalsu: The only professional football player to be killed during the Vietnam War. Bob was born in Oklahoma City, OK and raised in Del City, OK. He was an All-American lineman at the University of Oklahoma. He was an 8th round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills and started every game for the Bills in 1968. Bob was sent to Vietnam the following year as an Artillery Officer, fulfilling his ROTC obligation from college. In 1970 Bob Kalsu was killed during a mortar attack at his operating base near the A Shau Valley.


Where is the connection to me? I was raised in Midwest City, OK, a suburb of OKC. Midwest City's town boundary "butts up" next to Del City, OK. Del City was our "rival" school in most all sporting events. My wife of 17 years is actually from Del City and attended the same high school as Bob Kalsu. In fact, Del City's football stadium is named "Kalsu Stadium" in honor of Bob.


Many of you know about Pat Tillman and his death in Afghanistan. From a historical standpoint, many "celebrities" and public figures have served our country and have given their lives in its defense. Aside from the public recognition of these individuals...they are the same as every other servicemember who has served in war. With that being said, every servicemember who gives their lives in the service of our nation and its principles....should be honored with as much zeal and fervor as any celebrity soldier.


My trip went well and I am still pondering the interesting connection that presented itself. On a separate note; Kalsu was very warm compared to Baghdad. I posted a picture of a thermometer outside one of the buildings at FOB Kalsu. Remember...it's only May. Wait until August.


R, K and G...I miss and love you. Oklahomans are great people!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

SEA BREEZES in IRAQ


The U.S.S. George Washington...a place that I spent well over a year of my life. Having made 2 full deployments and 1 1/2 workups on her, I am very familar with this ship. All Navy Aviators have memories of the ships they have served on. We all have a certain kinship and to some extent, hatred for our beloved "homes at sea". I leaned over to my coworker today...another F/A-18 pilot...and said, "I'd give anything to be at sea right now." As expected, he responded, "Yeah, me too." Any Naval Aviator will tell you that unless you have served at sea, you don't have a right to pass judgement or speak irreverently about "being at sea". For some, being at sea illicits two permanent feelings. Either you absolutely hate it or you truly love it. Now, for most, there is a combination of feelings that are parasitic to your everyday life. If it can be explained by love and hate simultaneously...then that is the feeling.


I still remember the sounds of the ship. Like a living being...she creaked and groaned and moaned. She exuded loud metallic clangs and soft resonant vibrations. I can still remember the smells and sounds of the flight deck during launches and recoveries. Hot blasts of exhaust punctuated by cool constant sea borne wind in your face. Steam from the catapults rising above the bow and waist like small surface clouds. The loud roars of aircraft in "tension" straining to be released from the ship's grasp.


The most peaceful times were before flight ops began daily. With the midmorning sun hitting your face and the smell of sea spray...it was almost therapeutic after the previous night's landing that scared you so bad...your legs shook for an hour after the fact. Looking over the deck's edge at the rush of blue ocean passing brought many a Sailor serenity from the realization that he was miles away from a family that he missed and loved.


Being here in Iraq has given me a new found appreciation for my life in the Navy. The geography, sights and sounds here are in no way therapeutic, nor are they serene. I venture to guess that many a wife or girlfriend has felt in some way that there is another woman in their Sailor's life. That "woman" is the sea and the ship. I guess this is just one of the painful facts of Navy life that wives and girlfriends have to endure.


Fortunately for my wife and family...I miss the sea, but I miss them much, much more. In this life I've been separated from them far too much. After my time here in Iraq...the sea will call to me again...and I will "shut the door" on that chapter of my life. My wife knows that I will be a landlubber for my few years remaining in the Navy. I will always have a little bit of "sea water" in my veins but I will be where I belong and where I truly am drawn....at home with my beautiful wife and my perfect children.


R, K and G...I love you and miss you terribly.

Monday, April 23, 2007

KEVIN "Kojak" DAVIS




I sit here at 1 a.m. thinking about a great American and friend. LCDR Kevin "Kojak" Davis, a pilot with the Navy Flight Demonstration Team (Blue Angels) was killed two days ago when his plane crashed in Beaufort, S.C. I have known Kojak for about 7 years or so. He and I went through F-14 training in the same squadron. He was a member of VF-11 "Red Rippers" during the time I was a member of VF-103 "Jolly Rogers". We again crossed paths in California while he was undergoing transition training to the F/A-18 Hornet. I saw him again last summer while I was in Pensacola, FL. By this time Kojak was already a member of the Blue Angels. Though he, rightfully so, had been elevated to the status of a public figure...he was still the same ole Kojak I always knew. He always had a smile on his face...always greeted me with a big handshake. We would talk about our history with fondness.

Kojak was a perfect fit in Naval Aviation and especially with the Blue Angels. He was a genuine and sincere guy and a gifted aviator. In our line of work it is inevitable that aircraft mishaps will happen...but you can never be "used" to them. I'm still in shock...unbelieving...and I am terribly sorry for Kojak's family, friends and fellow aviators.

Kojak, for a guy like me who always has something to say...I'm at a loss for words.

We will miss you, brother.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

MAX FLEX and SEMPER FI




Things are running about normal here; SUCKY. But, it is odd what you come to accept as normal. I'm figuring out that there are no "absolutes" with the Army. If you are told one thing by someone...you better talk to someone else, just to verify. But with all the headaches the Army is giving me, one bright shining star has emerged. The good ole U.S. Marine Corps! OOOHHHRAAHHH.

A few days ago, I was handed a project that I'm surprised the Army even had their hands in. This project specifically dealt with something only a tactical pilot or aircrew would have knowledge of...and specifically someone who has dropped bombs before. So, I took a look at it...and decided I could solve the problem and have an answer to any questions in a matter of mere hours. So, I set off to find a computer program that is specifically used in "bomb delivery" planning. Well, guess what...apparently in Baghdad it doesn't exist. Frustrated, I called everyone and every unit that I could think of that might have access to this program. No Luck. Then it dawned on me...hey there is a Marine Corps F/A-18 squadron out west. Sure enough two calls later and I was talking with pilots in that squadron. The best part about it was that one of the guys I spoke with was a student of mine when I was an instructor pilot. BINGO!!

After being passed off to the squadron expert on this matter, it took one email and a 5 minute phone call and PRESTO!!! About 2 hours later, I had all the data that I was looking for. What is especially significant is that this Marine pilot took the time out of his already busy day to take on the challenge of this project. What a great group of guys...totally professional...and extremely helpful. Goes to show; no matter what the conditions or where you are located...Navy/Marine Aviators will always help a brother in need. So, I have to say, "VMFA (AW)-121 Green Knights...kudos and Semper Fi!". I'm positive, had I needed an Army entity to help me with this project...I would still be working on "who to call". Hell, I still can't get them to provide me with pens and paper.

Time keeps ticking along here. I'm surprised how long I've already been here. Luckily, I have a hard date that I am leaving. Unfortunately for the Army, they were just extended from 12 months here to 15 months here....OUCH!! I really do feel for the individual Soldier...my real problem is with the Army way of doing things. Those guys are really taking a beating in this war and it is a shame. This war is riding on the backs of folks that just can't buy a break. It will be interesting to see how the Army's retention rate handles this whole thing. My guess...down the tubes. But we will see.

R, K and G...I love and miss you guys more and more everyday.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

ALRIGHT...ALRIGHT, I NEED A VACATION


My posts have been sparse lately...I suck. Early April has become a stressful time in my life over the last few years...and being in Iraq hasn't helped in the least. I won't get into the details about it all but I'll just say that my new work location and the people I work around have added to that stress level. Oh and it has rained for two days now...remember, muddy and dreary. I kinda feel like Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now. You know the scene where he is laying in bed staring up at the ceiling fan with the sound of helo rotor blades "whopping"...and loses it. YEAH..that's me recently. I haven't done any damage to my mirror...but I have listened to the Doors.


Having been a guy that has worked "operationally" for my entire military career (over 17 years) being in a pseudo-staff role now...is absolutely painful. "Hey we have a meeting in 5 minutes with Colonel Smuckatelly!" "What the F&*$, didn't we just have a meeting an hour ago?!?!" What could we possibly talk about this time? Apparently in the Army, they like to have meetings all the time. Meetings to answer the General's questions, the Colonel's questions, the Lt Colonel's questions, but mostly so I can watch my Army counterparts fumble through powerpoint slides. I'm not saying that I'm the "best thing since sliced bread" but I do know how to brief information. That has been my job for quite a few years. Any tactical Navy Aviator is quite adept at "briefing" information. We do it before every flight and we do it after every flight. So watching a not-so-experienced Army guy fumble and bumble through information is just painful for everyone involved. Don't worry the 2-star General that we work for, let's them know it too. I think it is just a different mentality between us (two F/A-18 pilots) and the Army guys. They get very nervous and discombobulated while briefing the General. We figure, "hell, he puts his pants on the same way I do...and I just want to put out my pertinent info and get the hell out of this meeting." We are lucky, in the sense, that we get to leave the FOB and head out on various missions related to our specific work here...the Army guys don't. I'm amazed at how many staff folks the Army has compared to their number of "shooters" or infantry guys. I came up with my own plan to solve some manning problems. Fire half of your staff force, give them rifles and get them into the fight...that would quicken this war. But hey, I'm just a lowly Navy O-4...what could I possibly know? Serenity now...serenity now...serenity now. But the next Army O-4 that condescendingly tells me how to do my job...I'm going to go Chuck Norris on.


By the way, Chuck Norris once ate a 75 ounce steak in one hour, but he spent the first 45 minutes having sex with the waitress. Insert laughter here!!


For my bro in Arizona...I received the packages and THANK YOU!! Everything has been very useful. You are a gentleman and a scholar.


Well, I'm off to work. When I get there I'm going to put my headphones on and listen to some Rollins Band or some Korn...that should calm me down. Note the sarcasm. For those of you who have never listened to either one of those bands...don't...afterwards, you will want to beat something or someone senseless. I posted a picture of a lake here and the view across it...one small bit of serenity in a hectic world.


R, K and G...I love and miss you! Send some medication...I need to be heavily medicated to deal with these folks.

Monday, April 2, 2007

EATING CHOW LIKE a FANCY-PANTS

I'm not sure if I've mention how well we eat here or not. KBR, a huge American conglomerate company provides our food service over here. They run alot of the contracts on day to day issues. Not only do they provide our food service but also, laundry, bussing and quite a few other services. They do a very good job at their service providing, I must say. The food they serve is excellent and always in too large of portions. The selection of food and treats in the chow halls is phenomenal. We have a main line, a short-order line and even a stir fry line. On top of it, we even have a dessert bar with about 10 different choices of cake, pie, pastries and ice cream. It is very, very evil in some regards. People always say, "You'll leave Iraq a member of the 300lb club. Either you will be bench pressing 300lbs or you will weigh 300lbs!"

The chow halls on the Army facilities, which is where I'm located, serve the food on plastic plates and we use plastic silverware. Not the most luxurious, but it gets the job done...and it cuts down on workers having to wash and clean dishes and silverware.

Recently some buddies and I figured out that the Air Force dining facility serves their food on REAL plates and have real "metal" silverware. WOW!!! What a treat! So recently we've started a weekly endeavor of hopping into "War Pig" and making the 15 minute trip to the Air Force chow hall. We like to call it, "eating out". The Air Force facility is essentially the same as the Army facilities...but in our minds...much nicer. One advantage, besides the silverware and plates is the fact you don't have to negotiate around tanks, armored vehicles and Stryker vehicles to get to the front door. It is also a cleaner facility. Not that ours is dirty...but the Air Force one is "spic and span". This is primarily due to the fact that they don't have hundreds of Soldiers who have just returned from patrols and missions coated in Iraq dirt and sand eating there. Not that sitting next to a young Soldier who is coated in dirt with "gun blast grease" coating his hands and face bothers me...sometimes over here, it's just nice to have a "fancy-pants" dinner. In fact it gives me some consolation to have that young Soldier sitting next to me. I know that he has survived another day doing the "dirty work" that alot of people make ill conceived decisions about. Ill conceived may not be the best description...maybe "unknowledgable" is the best word to use here. Unfortunately for that young man or woman in the chow hall...they don't have the luxury of making decisions for their work description/operations. But as it is in alot of work environments; the people doing the "real work" aren't the same ones dictating the "how-to" or the "how come". Life trudges on...I hope I see many more greasy, dirty Soldiers sitting next to me over the upcoming months...especially the SAME faces.

I posted a picture of yours truly in front of one of my work locations. I feel like I've come full-circle in my military career; from being a former enlisted Marine, a Navy pilot and now, wearing a combat uniform in Iraq. You'll notice that I'm wearing my "side arm" or pistol. Maybe it will stay holstered for awhile.
R, K and G, I love and miss you! Could really use some grilled salmon right now.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

LIFE IN THE FAST LANE


I recently changed to a new command. I have been working for a command that has been in Iraq for quite a few months. I now work for a command that has been in Iraq about 1 week now. Things with my previous command were very stable; daily activities were pretty well set. Now, it's as if all hell has broken loose. My new command is attempting to establish themselves in theater and get to a point of daily operations quickly. All in all, this has been somewhat comical to experience. For example, standing up the my daily work operations requires certain things: telephone, computer, chair, desk, pen, pencil and paper. None of which they seem to have brought with them to provide me. So, as I receive multiple questions pertaining to my job and its relation to their operations, I find it funny that I have no way of providing said information to them. As much as I profess this issue to them...they just don't get it. I've resorted to sarcasm. In fact today, I was asked a question about a specific system that I work with. My response: "Hummm...let me go sit in my chair at my desk, log-on to my computer, write the answer down and I'll give it to you.....OH WAIT! I don't have any of those items. Huh...couldn't tell you, then." As caddy and infantile as it sounds, I think they finally got the picture. As of this posting, I now have a desk to work at...and a computer is on the way. Funny how things work out.


On another funny note. The Army just doesn't get "callsigns". Remember mine is Barbie. Callsigns are very common in the Aviation realm...so I don't even think twice about it. So as I introduce myself to my Army counterparts as "Barbie". I always get a quizzical look...then I have to explain my background. The one group of folks in the Army that seem to think callsigns are great...are interestingly enough the Generals. In the last 3 days, I've met two different Generals and have introduced myself with my callsign. After hearing the background story...they think it's great. I even tell them that my wife refers to me as Barbie quite often...or Super Stud...which ever one she deems necessary at the time. Actually Super Stud isn't usually what she calls me...sometimes more derogatory. :o) She's a tough woman to impress...I've had my work cut out for a long time.


Anyways, time keeps marching on here. The days are actually going by quickly. That is a very good thing. I've included a pic on this post. The larger building in the back is the building where my desk is located. Luckily, I get to get out to other locations around the area for my job...which helps my sanity.


R, K & G...I love you guys. Miss you. Could you send my Super Stud cape...new uniform policy is in effect.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

BREAKIN' THE LAW, BREAKIN' THE LAW

I had a little time to take some photographs today. So I headed out in my trusty "war machine". You guys remember...my black suburban NTV. Oh by the way...I renamed her. It's "War Pig" now. Seemed appropriate after the trouble she's given me lately; flat tire, ran out of windshield washer, no speakers, only 3 seats, etc., etc., etc. Also, I happened to be listening to Black Sabbath the other day...and of course, I heard the song "War Pigs". So there it is. OH and did I mention; driving through a parking lot the other day, I (War Pig) got pelted with shrapnel (special self-destructing rounds for large special weapon) from a machine gun system...and get this...it was one of OURS. That's a whole other story; best left for another day. Don't worry, no damage at all; but I did have to go change my underwear and this time it wasn't the lunchtime curry.

Anyways, back to photos. I cruised around looking for some neat things to photo. Found them! Snapped about 10 or 15 pictures. Of course, it wasn't until after I had taken said photos that I saw the inconvenient little sign that I posted above.

So what's a good Naval Officer to do? I pondered the options: Go tell on myself and possibly have my camera confiscated or worse...have to go see "The Man". Or act like I didn't see the damn sign and move along smartly.

Being an upstanding Naval Officer and Aviator, I took the obvious choice. I hauled ass. I was driving War Pig like I had just stolen her. She didn't fail me this time...was a scene right out of "Gone in 60 Seconds". Well, now not only is the CIA looking for me...but probably CID (Criminal Investigative Service). No worries, I made myself a fake moustache from some camel hair...I should be okay.

R, K and G...I miss you terribly. Send Bail Money...I may need it.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

SNAKE-EATERS and THE THINGS WE DON'T LIKE TO SPEAK OF


I have a few comments to my blogs lately that I'll address today. One, I received from family in Oklahoma really made my day. I have to tell you, getting email, letters, packages and even comments on my blog supporting the efforts here are really uplifting. So, J,M and T...thank you immensely. And yes, I do have AC in my dog kennel...thank goodness! Please tell everyone I said, "Hello and I'm doing fine." R, K and G are really taking care of me!

Brendon, from Fresno, CA had a question for me in his comment. I'm not too sure about what the scope of your question actually is Brendon. But I'll give it my best shot. He asked, "Why would they issue me a vehicle?" So, the simple explanation: Brendon, imagine, if you will, sitting at the Elephant Bar up on Blackstone sipping a martini. Then you decide that you need to head down to the Tower District for a little late night extravaganza. Well, you wouldn't want to walk...so you'd need a vehicle. Same thing here. In the execution of my job over here...I have to travel to multiple sites on my camp. Therefore I need transportation. Yep, I'm very familiar with Fresno, CA.

So for today's title...The other day I was eating dinner at a chow hall at another camp; and sitting at a table near me was a group of interesting guys. I can only describe the group of about 6 guys as looking like over-muscled homeless guys. All 6 had full beards; were wearing "tactical" civilian clothes (not military uniforms) and were all packing some serious weaponry. When I say serious weaponry; they weren't carrying standard government issue pistols. They all had some very expensive pistols and ultra-tactical gear. Now, just the fact that they all had beards made them out-of-place. Add the fact that each had arms the size of my waist and were wearing "civvies" told me immediately what "line of work" they were in. Whether they were Special Forces, CIA, Blackwater or any other crazy ass group that I don't intend on pissing off in my life is irrelevant. It just struck me as odd to see this group of guys sitting in the chow hall, eating a peaceful dinner and attempting not to stick out. Of course one can't help but notice them. After giving thought to the whole world that these kind of guys operate in and having seen them in operation in the past...I'm very glad we have folks like that in the world...and I'm glad they are on our side.

The fellas in this line of work are involved in some extremely dangerous missions and very, very rarely get any public recognition for it. And they like it that way. Seems odd to most folks...but it makes perfect sense. First, they wouldn't want to be recognized publicly and compromised. Secondly, they don't need public opinion to bolster the gratification for what they do. Like I said before, I'm glad they are on our side. I think long term strategic success in this theater can be a "make or break" on the successful completion of what these guys do for us...namely, "the things we don't like to speak of". Anyways, having met quite a few of these type folks has been an awesome honor and learning experience for me. My wife tells me that "I live, eat and sleep airplanes and flying". But as much as I annoy her with the Military Channel all the time...I can only imagine what these guys' loved ones put up with.

Well, before I say too much and one these guys sneaks into my trailer tonight and kills me with a q-tip....I better go. I've added a picture that has no relevancy to today's post. It's one of the palaces that I wrote about earlier. This one is the Al Faw palace.

R, K and G...I love and miss you guys. If the CIA calls, tell them I'm busy and will call them back. :o)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

CHUCK UPDATE and a CRIPPLED WAR MACHINE


After quite a few requests for updates on the Chuck Norris toilet, I made a special trip there today. Of course it was merely for recon purposes...couldn't have had anything to do with the curry that I had for lunch. EWWWWWW, he's gross! Shut up. Anyways, cynicism is rampant...bear with me. So, for some of the latest Chuck Norris inputs: Chuck counted to infinity twice! Chuck doesn't sleep....he waits! Chuck kicked someone once and broke the speed of sound with his foot! And the last one that I can remember from today's recon: They make Body Armor from Chuck's dead skin! Oh and according to one "poster"...Chuck has fathered all of our children. Not sure about that one...if so...we all need to talk with our wives and Chuck.


On a separate note: I was "issued" what is known as an NTV a few days ago. NTV stands for non-tactical vehicle. Leave it to the Army to make up an acronym for something they could have just called a "truck" or "car". They issued me a black suburban. Which is cool...I don't have to walk everywhere now. The guy that issued it to me told me that it was a "Frankenstein NTV". He further explained that it had sustained some damage in the past and they had pieced it back together. It runs great, only has 3 seats in it (don't ask), but the radio didn't work. And yes we do receive some radio stations...mainly Armed Forces Radio, but we also receive a feed from England. They have some pretty good tunes; plus the cool Brit accent.


Anyways, the lack of radio perplexed me. So, being the industrious guy that I am...I investigated. First off, the radio actually came on; showing the stations and all the numbers and stuff...but there was absolutely no sound...none...not even static. At first I thought a fuse might be the culprit. Then I thought...if the fuse was popped, the radio wouldn't work at all. Then it dawned on me....I took a flashlight and looked into the little grills in the doors....Yep!! You guessed it...NO friggin speakers. Not a single one. So I went back to the maintenance yard and question them about it. By the way, all the maintenance on the NTVs is done by TCNs (third country nationals). After trying to valiantly burst through the language barrier and explain what I needed....I gave up. Not to worry...I'll reattack at a later date. I headed over to my trailer to drop some papers off...parked my sturdy war machine...went to my trailer...had another visit from the lunchtime curry...and headed back outside to my waiting NTV.


Well the picture above speaks volumes...yet another way the man is trying to keep me down.


R, K and G I love and miss you. Please send a Tagalog, Urdu, Farsi, Indian and Arab interpreter, so I can get something done in this damn country.

Monday, March 12, 2007

THE EAGLE HAS LANDED


As I walked to the "chow hall" today, I remarked to a friend how much the winds had been picking up lately. He's been here almost a full year. He told me that the winds usually pick up around this time every year...and pretty much blow constantly through the spring. Then, of course, as the 120 degree heat invades during summer; the winds stop. Well, that's a damn happy thought. You would think the winds would be welcome...they are not. Imagine if you will dumping about 20 bags of all-purpose flour on your kitchen floor. Then take an everyday electric fan; placing it at one end of the room and turning it on "high". Yep, that's what it's like. The sand over here is not like the sand most of you have experienced at the beach. It is very fine; almost like talcum powder. So what you get when you combine the wind and the very fine sand....is a painful existence. This is about the time of the year all the sand storms begin...so another interesting experience that I'm sure to write about soon.


With the blowing sand, I noticed how much the landscape reminds me of pictures I'd seen from the moon landings. Generally flat...with some small hills and barren for the most part. You see a few trees here and there...but they look like they are hanging on for dear life. Apparently south of where I'm located, the landscape is lush and palm groves abound. That area lies between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The rivers have split near Baghdad and primarily we have small tributaries of those rivers. I think I would like to see the area to the south...it may change my attitude about this country. Also, in the north the landscape is mountainous and beautiful. That's what was explained to me by one of the Iraqi interpreters here. He was an interesting fellow...an ethnic Kurd who had lived here until around 1995. He then left with some of his family and moved to the United States. Then about 4 years ago he came back to Iraq to work with the U.S. military. He expressed how much he loved his homeland and believed in what the U.S. is doing. He stated, "that he wanted to come back here and help." And so he's been here 4 years now. With that being said he was very adamant about some day leaving and going back to the United States. Apparently he loves our country...so do I...if he leaves here before I do, maybe he'll pack me into one of his bags.


I posted a picture that gives you an idea of the landscape I see everyday. The picture was taken from in front of where I live.


R, K and G...I love and miss you. Please send my spacesuit and a lunar rover.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

THIRD TIME'S a CHARM!!

Yesterday morning, I awoke bright and early with the intent of heading over to the gym for a good workout. Recently, I've been running or riding my bicycle in the mornings. But yesterday I decided to hit the weights. The gym is about 1/3 of a mile from my trailer. So, the run over would have been a great warm-up followed by some lifting. I was planning on a chest and triceps day...and sprinkle in a little calf workout. Let me just say, "The intent was there."

My first attempt ended about 300 yards from my trailer. As I merrily walked along, I remembered that I forgot to lock my trailer. Dang it; I scurried back to my trailer and locked the door. Whewwww....disaster averted.

My second attempt...yep you guessed it...a failure. This time I actually got within 100 yards of the gym. As I waited to cross one of the main roads on our camp to the gym, I realized that I had forgotten my weapon. "Oh F*&k, you've got to be stroking me!!"...I think those were my exact words. Number one; going anywhere without a weapon over here...is just bad head work. Number two; it's a military regulation over here. On top of all that, I'm actually issued two weapons; a 9MM pistol and a M-16 rifle. You would think I could have remembered one of those. So, at a fast pace, I hustled back to my trailer.

The third try...complete and utter disaster. I made it about half way before I realized that I had forgotten my reflective belt. I had taken it off to put on my pistol holster during my second return to my trailer. The whole reflective belt thing is yet another Army regulation put in place to screw with my life. It basically states that if you are wearing workout clothes, you WILL be wearing a reflective belt. So, dejected, I ran back to my trailer for my reflective belt. There were a few choice mumblings that I won't repeat here.

Once I made it back to the trailer, drenched in sweat....I gave up. I was a broken man. To hell with it. I got in the shower, put on my uniform and trudged to work. As I "stewed" about the morning's gym catastrophe, I realized 3 trips back and forth worked out to be a run of a little over a mile. I guess things weren't as bad as I thought. I think I'll try for the gym again tomorrow. I hope I don't forget something really important, like my shorts or shirt. That would be embarrassing. Wish me luck.

R, K and G..I love and miss you..help, I'm senile now!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

LIVING in a TWO-WAY SHOOTING RANGE

I thought I'd give my two cents worth on waging this war today. I don't in any way profess to have the answers to managing Iraq politically or strategically. Nor do I have an opinion about how our leadership is handling the situation....haha...you guys thought you'd catch me stepping on my crank, didn't you?!?!

As a working family man in America, I take pride in being able to support and provide for my family. With that responsibility, comes the daily endeavor that we call a career. For the sake of this discussion I will leave out the moral and emotional responsibilities of being a husband and father. Those are far more important than the financial support role...but are not a point of my discussion. I'm going to get an earfull about this from my wife...but I'll survive.

In Iraq, the majority of the working age males are unemployed. And as most of you know; in the Muslim culture, family is the one of the keystones of life. Now consider if you were sitting at home all day without a means to support your family financially and watched those effects on your life and the life of your wife and children....how would that effect you mentally. I know that I would probably be pissed off and frustrated. And who would you be pissed off at? I'm guessing the easy "blame" target...in Iraq that equates to the U.S. We shut down their industry and either closed or destroyed alot of the workplaces. In the big scope of things...it was the correct thing to do to meet our strategic goals in Iraq. Three years after the fact and many, many unemployed adult males later...we wonder why we are seeing such a growing insurgency. I would like to see some of the state industry of this country be reopened and put some folks back to work. Hell, I don't care what they are producing; could be widgets...who cares...but at least they are working. Work means money; Money means food on the table; Food on the table means happy families; Happy families means proud, happy Men and finally Proud, happy Iraqi men means less attacks on American servicemembers.

That may be a very simplistic way of looking at things. And yes, there is alot more involved...such as religion, culture, yada yada. But it's a start. The notion that pride as an Iraqi will drive these folks into spontaneously starting a new government and developing western laws and ways....well, may be a little overly ambitious...for now. I think proof of this can be found anywhere in America. Find an area riddled by unemployment and you find destitution and crime at its highest rates. "People are people"at the core, whether they are American, Chinese or Iraqi and personal pride in the ability to give an adequate quality of life to your family crosses all cultural borders.

Now don't think ole Barbie has gone "tree-hugging" all of a sudden. If one of these wacky Iraqis comes at me with aggression on his mind...I'm NOT going to offer him a bologna sandwich or a 5 dollar bill. I'll definitely be offering the business end of my M-16....I plan on going back to my flying career, supporting MY family and eating at my dinner table one day soon.

R, K and G...Love you...have dinner ready when I get home :o)

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The BEVERLY HILLBILLY SYNDROME

Ahhh, beautiful Baghdad in the winter. Hot, dry and dirty...just the way I like it....or something like that. So, I've had the opportunity to see a couple of Saddam's old palaces and man, he lived in style. The first was the Al Faw palace, which we now use as a military work area...funny now that I think about it; ALL of the palaces I've seen are military work areas. Interesting.

The second palace is known as the Perfume Palace. The perfume part of it came from the fact that this is where Saddam and his boys housed their female playthings...concubines...okay, i'll just say it; Their whores. Very luxurious place..talk about a quandry for these women; Live in the lap of luxury and have to service these jackasses OR Refuse and have your head cut off. I don't know....choices aren't the best no matter what.

The third palace is one that was owned by one of Saddam's sons. During the initial air campaign, it didn't fare so well against a few 2000lb bombs. Looks like it would have been a gorgeous place though. It is sickening to thing this is how they lived, while the majority of the people starved.

I made that same statement to a friend of mine the other day while standing in front of the Al Faw palace. By the way, he's a Prowler ECMO...but still a good guy. He retorted, "Happens like that in the U.S. as well." You know what; he's right...just seems more audacious out here. I told him that "maybe we should have taken these palaces and given them directly to the people of Iraq instead of using them for our own service". He didn't neccessarily agree with me and after thinking for a moment...I didn't agree with myself either. I followed up my previous statement with, "Yeah, you're right...if we gave the Iraqi people this type of place for there own use; they would not have a clue of what to do with...sorta like a Beverly Hillbilly's Syndrome". You guys remember, the Beverly Hillbillies were super poor, then became super rich and the way they lived in their mansion was completely comical. Such as calling the pool a concrete pond...and keeping a still (moonshine making apparatus) in the house. Anyways, you guys get the picture...oh yeah, that statement is copyrighted by me now. I get kickbacks if anyone uses it, okay.

I'll go for now...but my next post will be my ramblings on how to win this war or at tiddly winks; I can't remember which one my notes are written for...stay tuned.

R, K and G....I love and miss you.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

CHUCK NORRIS vs an IRAQI INSURGENT

Sweeeettttt! It is official...I finally have a permanent place to live and should be moving into my approximately 10ft x 12ft trailer by this weekend. Yep, it's pretty much a large dog kennel....kinda smells that way also...but it's MY dog kennel. On top of it all, looks like I'll have Internet connectivity at my "residence". Also, I've been able to finalize what unit I will be assigned to throughout my time here. I can only confirm that it is an Army unit...nothing more to divulge... you friggin spies.

As I've kinda eluded to recently; daily life takes a very strange twist while here. One example: Primarily around this area, toilet facilities are spartan. Primarily they are nothing more than your standard porta-toilet....fun, fun. Anyways, there is one particular porta-toilet that I visit routinely that is covered in graffiti. Now you may think, "How horrible...people being destructive". Actually all of the graffiti is based on Chuck Norris...every single bit of it...all about Chuck Norris. Somehow in my delusioned, brain-damaged, Iraq hating state...I find it hilarious. Trust me some of the graffiti is truly funny. I would give some examples here but most are not appropriate. I promise I will back fill all of you with a few of them at a later date...when I'm feeling less appropriate. Anyways, I look forward to my Chuck Norris toilet every day.

Take care everyone...and to R, K and G: I miss you guys.

Friday, February 23, 2007

ALL that is NOT NORMAL

Well, so far I'm starting to establish a daily pattern which helps the time go by quicker. Unfortunately, since I'm going to be moving from my wonderful tent and cot into a trailer soon...everything will soon become disrupted. Yesterday, I did buy a little piece of carpet for the area next to my cot. Talk about making a world of difference. It is so much nicer to put my little footsies down on carpet vice dirty plywood. I also bought a small fold-up camping chair. Again, much nicer to sit my rear-end down on a chair instead of the dirty plywood as aforementioned. Yes, I guess you could say, "It's the little things in life.". Now if I could only convince the military to invest in Charmin...I would truly be a happy man.

Anyways, in my last post I failed to mentioned a group of folks from Maine. On my trip to the sandbox, our flight landed in Bangor, Maine for a refueling stop. I personally have never been there...but first impressions mean alot. This place is phenomenal. When we walked off the plane, we were greeted by two rows of local folks. I would guess there were about 40 people present; just to say, "Thank you" and "We support you". It was absolutely amazing. Some were veterans of former wars...who I'm sure never received anything like this. Some were just local folks, who greeted us with a smile and a hug. Did I mention that they are there for every "troop transport" aircraft that lands in Bangor. The group calls themselves the "Maine Troop Greeters"....I like it...nothing fancy. These folks were great and really brightened everyone's spirits.

Bangor, Maine...you are now one of my favorite places. You made us feel good about a somewhat bleak situation. After thanking one of the gentlemen profusely and telling him, "I wish I could repay your hospitality." He looked at me and said, "Lieutenant Commander...you are repaying me with your service."

Enough Said.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

FROM BAGHDAD with LOVE

I'm back! I finally made it to Iraq..via a few other countries and locations. None of which are remotely as nice as Texas. When I first arrived here, it was already night time. That definitely limits one's ability to assess things. On top of that it had rained here a few days before...so everything was completely muddy...I mean everything. So first impression....this place blows. Not to be outdone...the next day I woke up and didn't feel too well. That progressed throughout the day into me "camping-out" next to the porta-toilet mumbling to myself and hoping that I would be able to survive the next wave of nausea and...yep...you guessed it..the other end too. After about 8 hours of that, I decided to drag my sorry butt down to the medical facility and get some help. I'm better now....but my first day in Iraq....was just what I expected...crappy.

Along those same lines; I know up till now that I've appeared not to be a fan of the Army. Well the folks at the medical facility changed my mind. It was quite possibly the friendliest, (dare I say this) most efficient trip to a medical clinic I've ever had. They really took care of me. On top of that all the Army folks here in theater seem extremely motivated and professional. I guess I must retract my earlier disparaging remarks about the Army...still glad I'm in the Navy, though. Anyways that was my first 24 hours in Iraq...quite the intro!

Sitting in my tent seems surreal at times...almost reminiscent of my childhood; camping with my dad in Illinois. Then, a giant muddy (remember from above) hand slaps me in the face and reminds me that I'm sitting in the middle of Iraq...a place where a large portion of the population doesn't like me. Doesn't like me to point...that they want to kill me. And I can tell you this...My wife would be extremely angry with me if I let someone kill me. And you don't want to make a red-head mad...whooooeeeee. The big muddy hand I'm referring to was the mortars that impacted our camp; followed by the Apache helicopters flying over....oh, and how can I forget the tanks and Humvee driving around. Oh well, I'll close my eyes...and still think about camping with my dad in Illinois. It gets me through the day.

I'll close today with a quote that I think sums up things. "There is no fact or absolute; only interpretations." My good buddy Friedrich Nietzsche came up with that one. Think about it for a moment...you'll get it.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

A LONG PAINFUL WAY TO GO.

Everyone, just a quick note to say that I know I've been horrible about posting lately...Sorry. But all this ARRRMMMYYYY training has me very tired. I will be making my trip into country within the next week...so once I'm established, I will have to catch up on the posts. I'll have some pictures and interesting "Barbie-isms" to add for everyone's entertainment.

I had an interesting day today. We spent the day at the local "combat-town", kicking in doors and room clearing and other cool stuff like that. It was quite possibly the most enjoyable training that I've received so far from the Army. Unfortunately, it was a COMPLETE waste. My job in Iraq will not be to kick in doors and take down insurgents...at least I don't think so. Well, I guess they could surprise me. Still, it was great training and extremely fun...just not neccesarily relevent to what I'll be doing over there. Oh well, c'est la vie. I don't speak French...that was my best effort.

I have had the opportunity to meet and make friends with some great people while I've been here. I have to give a "HOOAHHH" ( That's Army speak for any word that you need to use; for any subject) to BKS 3941. Pretty much, I live with a bunch of escaped convicts that are masquerading as Naval Officers. I COULD NOT have picked a better group of roommates....except for you two bastards that snore all night....I hate you.

Everyone take care and please stay tuned to the Barbie Channel for more updates. I'll get on it.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

THAT'S the FACT...JACK!!

Sorry I've been so long in writing everyone. Things have been hectic for a few days. I'm presently in South Carolina at the final training stop..before I head across the big pond to the big sandbox; or kitty-litter box if you prefer. I have to be honest with everyone...I'm not enjoying this portion of the training. The actual training that is taking place is very good and that part is well received and understood by me. But the manner in which it is conducted...well...just sucks. INEFFICIENT!!!! I'm here for 2 weeks, which could be shortened to about 4 days. But that would mean that the Army couldn't hold 10 useless formations for about 15 minutes each...EVERYDAY. Call me crazy, but that seems ridiculous.

The training itself is great. We've been issued our weapons for a couple of days now...and I think most folks are getting comfortable with them. Definitely brings back Marine Corps days for me. The overall quality of the gear that they are issuing us is top-notch. Really good stuff. I'm actually looking forward to qualifying with the weapons. We will have to qualify with the M-16 and the M-9(9MM pistol) before we can deploy. Should be a fun day of shooting. Everyone take care and I'll write more when I can.

Friday, January 26, 2007

TIPTOE through a MINE FIELD


Today, I'm pissed off....Why? I'm going to address an issue that is always inflammatory. Freedom of Speech and Religion are always hotbed contention points, but this issue definitely needs to be dealt with. I'm a big believer in the rights of individuals, especially those rights given to us within the Constitution. Now, for me, this is not a "black or white" discussion; admittedly with alot of gray area. Some folks just don't know when enough is enough.

A Perfect example is the Westboro Baptist Church is Topeka, Kansas. I'm sure most of you know exactly who they are; you may not associate the name with the group though. The 60 or so members of this "church" are mostly family members borne from one hatemonger. They are the group that goes to servivemembers' funerals and protest loudly and obnoxiously. They hold signs up with quotes like, "God hates dead Soldiers" and "You are dead because God hates you" and even, "Soldiers are Fags and God hates Fags". Unbelievable! I won't even dignify them by posting a link to their site. They have managed to somehow wrap the world's troubles into one ugly little package. They call it "God's will"; I call it "Stupid, insensitive, absurd shit-spewing". Some of you are much more knowledgeable on religious issues than I will ever be, but I truly don't believe these folks represent God's word. In fact they don't represent much of anything, except a self-centered notion that they are the chosen ones. The angry Sailor in me says, "We should kick everyone of their asses and burn their facility to the ground". The reasonable American in me says, "They are excercising their freedoms and to just ignore them". A very difficult pill to swallow. Of course I don't advocate any physical confrontations or malicious actions on these folks...but it is a difficult, heart-tearing issue. In my readings of the Bible, the Qu'ran and the Torah...I've found at least one "verse", in each, that is representative of "Turning the other cheek". This is probably the best course of action regarding these folks...I just hope once my "cheek is turned"; they don't decide to punch me in it.

There is one group, The Patriot Guard Riders that has elected to "combat" the Westboro Baptist Church. Their means are completely non-violent and are truly patriotic. They PGR are a motorcycle club, with members in all the states. When a fallen hero's funeral takes place they will roll into town, escort the procession and stand "guard" against the WBC all the while with presenting American flags. They create a physical barrier and an emotional barrier against the venom of the WBC. They are truly a unique group...a honorable group. In my view, they represent what America is; A country of "open-arms", sensitive to the hardships that servicemembers endure and while not necessarily agreeing with the politics of war, they are still supportive of the individuals involved. They will only be present at the funeral if requested by the family, electing to remain unintrusive. The Patriot Guard Riders are heroes in my book. I hope if my family is put into a horrible situation, the PGR will be there to support them.

Now, before I get a bunch of "hate comments", remember this IS MY blog and not representative of any view except my own. Not the military's, not the government's. Opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one and they all stink. I told you guys I was pissed-off today.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

CRY HAVOC and let SLIP the DOGS of WAR


An interesting quote by good ole Bill Shakespeare. I wonder if it still has its original meaning today? Over a few discussions with people, here and there, I get the feeling that folks who have never been in the military don't always really understand the life of Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine. In some regards I wonder if people IN the military understand the life, as well. If we look at today's military compared to yesterday's...the average service member today is better educated, more worldly and far better treated. Is that a good or bad thing???...that is a one hell of a quandary. Unfortunately the sometimes overt sentiment I receive from "civilians" is one of disdain at "our" performance during the recent conflicts/wars. I'm shocked that they think that I (a LCDR/O-4) somehow have any "pull" in the policy making or war process development. I have to explain to them that, " I don't make policy decisions and neither do my immediate supervisors" and we as "operators" merely put those policies into action. Now from an "operator" standpoint...my belief is that we are kicking ass and taking names.

My father spent nearly 32 years in the military, serving in Vietnam and pretty much every conflict from Vietnam through Desert Storm. He was a straight-shooter kinda guy. A very smart...and a very tactful man. He knew how to tell someone to F**K off and make them feel good about it. After growing up in a share-cropping family in the northern midwest, he looked for an escape to a better life. The military offered that for him. For many folks, a constant paycheck and useful skills training is a huge lure to the service. For he and I, I think we found more. A brotherhood and community where you are challenged everyday. When I say "challenged" I'm referring to the "seeking self improvement" aspect. But sometimes you have to ask yourself: Was that generation better than we are? I applaud our young service members for entering the service during tough times. Knowingly dedicating a part of your life to the service of our country during wartime is commitment that most folks will not and can never understand the rationale of. The military has morphed substantially since the first time I raised my hand to give the oath...but I have the utmost faith in our people. The 70 or so people in my group deploying to Iraq are an amazing bunch. They are a group that are as diverse as any community, military or civilian. I will be serving with folks who are deploying to a war zone for their second and third times. WOW. I'm serving with people who will never be promoted to the next rank...but are still motivated and still love the job they are doing. I'm serving with folks who have been promoted so quickly that one wonders whether they have the experience to do justice to the positions they hold. Conversing with them for about 5 minutes will put your mind at ease...and you realize they were promoted so fast for a reason. As an "old guy" in the military you sometimes wonder about the "young guys" motivation. I will say it is alive and strong. In fact they adapt and overcome much more readily than us old guys. The military should have a 'bring a civilian to work day"...I think that would answer alot of questions and put reservations aside.

I am deploying to Iraq in a job that I am not necessarily trained to do. But being surrounded by the quality of people with me, makes the issue seem small. If I don't watch my back, one of these "young guys" is going to pass me up like I'm standing still. America be proud of these folks and support them through the good and the bad....because you have a direct hand in making the leaders of tomorrow.

My Dad was killed in a car wreck nearly 9 years ago. He never saw his only son fly a jet in protection of our country...but he had an American flag sticker on his car and always wore a patriotic ball cap. He loved this country and the service, even when it was not reciprocated. Guys like my Dad and his generation had alot to teach my generation. I only hope my generation can do the same for our "younguns".

The picture above is SgtMaj Kasal (center/wounded), awarded the Navy Cross for actions in Fallujah, Iraq while a member of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Both FEET in BUCKETS of CEMENT




I'm attending some predeployment training right now in Maryland. I won't get into the specifics of the training but so far it has proven very useful. Being a cynic, initially I was skeptical...but so far the information is excellent and the staff are super-professional. Our group is an interesting study in demographics. There are a few aviators, alot of surface warfare officers and a smattering of other related jobs from the enlisted side. The training itself is very interesting but I'm finding the interaction within my group even more so. It's pretty cool to talk to various folks within the group and find out what their jobs entail, where they are stationed, so on so forth. The most discussed issue is the "unknown". No one is really sure what we'll be doing in Iraq on a daily basis or where in Iraq we'll be located. I guess there is an air of apprehension mostly. Since we are all in this together, the apprehension isn't too bad...at least not from my point of view.

Another interesting topic of discussion in our group is whether folks want to be attached to an Army unit or a Marine unit. Some folks are very pressing about wanting to be with one or the other. Others just don't really care. Having not worked much with the Army in my career; my preference is to be with the Marines (the former Marine in me speaking). For me it's a known entity. I'm well versed in how Marines operate and function. With that being said, right now the Marines operate in the "wild, wild west" of Iraq. Their operating area is the Anbar province, which encompasses most of western Iraq, a predominantly Sunni Muslim area. That area has quite a strong insurgent presence. Not that any other part of Iraq is any better. So I'm not sure which is the best choice or the lesser of two evils....Operate with the Marines, who I'm familiar with, in a hot bed insurgent area OR Operate with the Army, who I'm completely unfamiliar with, in a "not so bad" insurgent area. Who knows....just be careful what you wish for.

In either case, it's hard to remember that I'm just a small cog in a giant machine. Personal preference doesn't usually make a difference in Navy operational decisions and I venture to guess this issue is no different. I do know that what I'll be doing in Iraq will make a difference in the safety and combat readiness of the troops there. That is job satisfaction at its finest. The next few weeks will answer alot of questions.
By the way, that's George Patton and Chesty Puller in the pictures above.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The LEGACY of HEROES


Today I received a comment from a gentleman named "Tony". Those of you that can access the comments, please read. The skinny on his comment; Tony's son is a Naval Aviator deployed to Iraq in the same capacity that I will be. Tony let me know that all the feelings that I have about this deployment are far-reaching, including his son, INITIALLY. His son is now at a point that the job he is performing has had far reaching effects about his satisfaction with his deployment. He (Tony's Son) feels a huge sense of job satisfaction. The fact that the job we are tasked with is making a huge difference in Iraq and within the military is the genesis for this satisfaction and it is beginning to put my mind at ease. From a different perspective, the fact that Tony took the time to comment, as well as, what his message was is a huge morale boost to me. One person's support of us, can change a waning morale immediately. In short; Thank you, Tony...you are making as significant a difference as any serviceman or woman in theater with the support you give.

Though I am far from being an overly pious man, I want to post a prayer. This prayer was given at a large military function by a Naval Aviator named "BUG" Roach. Bug's service spanned from the 1960s to the 1990s. Bug died during an ejection attempt from a wounded A-4, while he was flying as an adversary. Bug was far from being a traditional Naval Officer and Aviator. In fact he would have probably been ostracized in today's Navy. His biography can be found at the Tailhook Association's website. Anyway, read the below prayer and think about what he's saying.


Lord, we are the nation! We celebrate our birthday on July 4th, 1776, with the Declaration of Independence as our birth certificate. The bloodlines of the world run in our veins because we offer freedom and liberty to all whom are oppressed. We are many things and many people. We are the nation.
We sprawl from the Atlantic to the Pacific, to Alaska and Hawaii. three million square miles throbbing with industry and with life. We are the forest, field, mountain and desert. We are the wheat fields of Kansas, the granite hills of Vermont, and the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada. We are the Brooklyn Bridge, we are the grain elevators in the farm belt, we are the Golden Gate. We are the nation.
We are 213 million living souls, and yet we are the ghosts of millions who have lived and died for us. We are Nathan Hale and Paul Revere. We are Washington, Jefferson and Patrick Henry. We are Lee, Grant, Abe Lincoln and George Bush. We are the famous and the unknown. We are presidents, we are paupers. We are the nation.
We stood at Lexington and fired the shot heard around the world. We remember the Alamo, the Maine, Pearl Harbor, Inchon and the Persian Gulf. When freedom calls, we answer. We left our heroic dead at Belleau Wood, on the rock of Corregidor, on the bleak slopes of Korea, in the steaming jungles of Vietnam and under the rubble of Beirut. We are the nation.
We are schools and colleges, churches and synagogues. We are a ballot dropped in a box, the harmonious voice of a choir in a cathedral, the crack of a bat and the roar of a crowd in a stadium. We are craftsmen, teachers, businessmen, and judges. We are laborers and nurses. We are parents and we are children. We are soldiers, sailors and airmen. We are peaceful villages, small towns and cities that never sleep. Yes, we are the nation, and these are the things that we are.
We were conceived in freedom, and dear God, if you are willing, in freedom we will spend the rest of our days. May we always be thankful for the blessings you have bestowed upon us. May we be humble to the less fortunate and assist those in need. May we never forget the continuing cost of freedom. May we always remember that if we are to remain the land of the free, we must continue always to be the home of the brave. May our wishbone never be found where our backbone should be. May we possess always, the integrity, the courage and the strength to keep ourselves unshackled, to remain always a citadel of freedom and a beacon of hope to the world.

We are the nation.....this is our wish...this is our hope and this is our prayer...Amen

Sunday, January 21, 2007

LIFE as an AMOEBA


I've managed to make it to the next stop in my journey. I'm in Maryland right now, somewhere south of Washington D.C. I have to say, I really like D.C. as a town. Alot of cultural melding and diversity makes the place very unique. From one person to the next, you don't receive alot of one-sided discourse or conversation. Which is good. Probably one of the few locations in the U.S. that you can get the right side and left side together to live in somewhat of a harmonious state. From a Navy standpoint, the above view is be completely reversed. I can sum it up in one statement; "In the Navy, the further from D.C. you get geographically, the better off you are."

Shifting gears; of course all the thought I put into what to pack for a year in Iraq has now proved useless. My initial thought process was to pack very light. I packed very little in the way of civilian clothes, which included leaving a jacket at home. I figured it would be cold, but a sweater would suffice. Well, it started snowing this morning...and I'm a dumb-ass. Sure wish I had that jacket now. It wouldn't be useful in Iraq during the summer...but I failed to think about the immediate repercussions. So when I told my wife about this situation, she reconfirmed that "I'm a dumb-ass." Man, she really does know me.

I had an epiphany recently about how to stress out a type A person. Besides the fact that most type A people already teeter on the verge lunacy, most of us think he can always handle a bad situation. This is especially true of Naval Aviators. We live in a world of split-second decision making. So the the way to send a Naval Aviator over the edge is to take any control of a situation completely out of their hands. So far that's what I'm experiencing with this deployment. I'm starting to feel like an amoeba. You know those one-celled organisms that stretch and ooze in various directions....but never burst or break. Anyhow, that's my analogy and I'm sticking to it.

Let's see if I can figure out how not to freeze to death this week, as well as not lose my mind. Simple solution; Go buy a coat. Hard headed answer; Hell no.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

OPSEC and the SLOPPY JOE'S SPY RING!

I thought I'd better explain some ground rules early on. First, I will not post any info in my blogs that are considered sensitive to military operations and the war effort. That would just be prejudicial to good judgement...not that my judgement is very good. Further, that sort of information could get my fellow servicemen and women harmed or killed. That would just be treasonous. The picture above is what I think of folks who "sell their fellow Americans down the river". The picture was taken in a "high-class" establishment while in port in Italy....I think....It was a port call.
I will, however, attempt to post info that is from the "BARBIE" slant...now whether that info is educational, entertaining or down-right ludicrous; well who the hell knows. In any case, it has to be better than watching the nightly news. But only slightly better than watching the HISTORY CHANNEL.

A quick note for SONARMAN...NO, I'm not Barbie because I date some guy named, Ken. It's a long story....maybe someday I'll tell it. But hey, we all know about you sub guys. 100 guys go out; 49 couples come back; plus two cage fighters.

For my "bros" about to take over Key West, take care down there. Be safe and watch out for the Mata Haris and Cougars in Sloppy's. You never know who's listening. I leave you tonight with one quote, "Ohhh Joel, he's such a nice Greek boy."

Friday, January 19, 2007

A FOUL DECK WAVEOFF while you're BINGO on the BALL.


For those of you who understand what the Title of today's blog represents; you'll understand my feelings today. For those of you who have no idea what the title represents....I'll explain. At any given time on an aircraft carrier, the flight deck has a status. That status can be a "clear deck" or a "foul deck". A "clear deck" refers to no obstructions or people in the flight deck area, therefore allowing a "safe" landing. A "foul deck" refers to the opposite. What can cause that situation? Many things, namely the guy who landed in front of you taking too long to get out of the landing area (LA) or someone accidentally stepping into the LA just prior to your landing. These situations usually initiate what is called a "Foul Deck Waveoff". During a waveoff, you go to full power and fly away causing another attempt to land. A VERY frustrating scenario most times. Now, "Bingo on the Ball" means you have just enough fuel to attempt one landing. If you land safely aboard....SWEET!! If something should cause you to not be able to land on that attempt; you have to divert to the nearest suitable airfield (with just enough fuel to make it there). That scenario will raise the stress level of even the most seasoned of Naval Aviators. So as you can see; a foul deck waveoff while you're bingo on the ball is a double kick in the n*&ts.

I'm one day away from leaving for my last interim stops, before heading to the sandbox. So the stress level is peaking and the frustration is high. The big issues are, "Did I take care of all the things I needed to do?" and "Is my family going to be okay?"....Very similar to, "Did I turn off the iron?" and "Did I just rip the ass out of my pants?". You guys understand.

So, I'll be headed to Ft Jackson, SC for a little "Arrrrmmmmyyyy Training, Sir!" From what I'm told, it's synonymous with Boot Camp for Dummies. Hence the photo above....I know, I know...that's a Marine Drill Instructor and I'm going to work with the Army. Being a former Marine and such makes old habits die hard. I figure in the picture above, the drill instructor is telling that recruit, "Wow, green really looks nice with your eyes" or some other very constructive compliment.

Over the next few weeks my posts may be lacking with all the travel involved. I'll keep the posts coming as much as possible and once I'm settled, expect more pics and info.