And in retrospect, my personal experience has gone about as well as I could have hoped. My sometimes manifest inability to get along with superior officers has not been a handicap, because my superior officers are in Baghdad, and I'm not. I'm engaged in work that matches my background. I've gotten a couple of Utah newspaper interviews to enable my exhibitionist tendencies even beyond this blog. And the only hostile fire I've taken is "indirect fire", which has scared me more for the noise than the actual proximity to me- I've not been hit.
I did lose 2 friends during this time, one fairly close given the amount of work we were doing together- Brendan and JJ were members of the BLP company, the contractors I supervise, who were killed in a convoy up to Baghdad from our location here at An Numaniyah. I sorrow for their families, as I know how dear I hold my family. I think the thought of potentially dying here bothers me more in terms of my family relationships than for me in and of myself. Thankfully, I rarely feel unsafe despite a need to remain vigilant anytime I'm outside of our "headquarters" building for there is always a potential risk.
I interact, when courses are in session, with Iraqis on a regular basis, but because of the professionalism of BLP's and L3's interpreters, I've made little progress in my Arabic (Shukran, ustath!). I have made no progress in my goal of getting some online coursework done because of bandwidth challenges at our fairly remote location, but am working through my library of books about Iraq and the U.S. involvement here. I exercise a lot more than I thought I would, but am not losing much weight because of the culinary excellence of BLP's Indian catering manager, Uday.
While it is still dang hot, it is not painfully so, and we have thus made it past the worst of the summer heat at this point. If I remain at this location through the winter, I will get to experience mud on a grand scale, I am told. I've seen photos of Humvees up to their axles in it, and can almost feel it on my boots already.
I've enjoyed my many relationships here, with my NCO, MSG Merrell, with the management and others here with BLP, and with the many local nationals, as well as the National Police Brigades' leadership and the U.S. Army National Police Training Teams that accompany them down to the Academy.
Tucker Family Sans Moi on a BYU Hill Spring 2007
And most importantly, my family seems to be doing well in my absence. I know this is hard on them, and I miss them terribly. I've missed everyone's birthdays to this point except Lucas', which is next month. I'll miss a few of them again early next year. We've been able to talk, usually about every 2 or 3 days, and they seem fairly happy on the phone calls. I'll get to see them for a couple of weeks during the Christmas break, which will be the 66% done milestone.
This photo was on CNN's website today with a caption incorrectly identifying the Iraqis as Army- the digital blue camouflage uniforms indicate they are National Police- chances are those uniforms were issued here at "my Academy." This is a standard traffic checkpoint, today related to a religious holiday this weekend.
At this point, some comments on the work with the National Police- our work with them is not 33% done. There are serious corruption issues. There are serious logistics issues. I question whether the U.S. has done enough to address either of these areas, and while I think everyone I work with is working hard and in good faith, I don't expect to see things change substantially while I am here. It is very frustrating. I mourn the situation of the average Iraqi who must deal with a world in which basic security is lacking, and the basic services of fuel, electricity, clean water and sewage, air conditioning, etc are also at best minimally provided or available. There is so much suffering here.
I watch the politics in Baghdad and Washington from afar, and wonder how many of them can truly understand the everyday experience of the locals or the private in the U.S. Army when they come on carefully scripted visits with huge security details. Do they think they're getting "the real skinny?" Are they asking the right questions and talking to the right people?