Thursday, January 31, 2008
I haven't been able to chat via webcam much, but we've been able to exchange greetings via short webcam clips e-mailed back and forth. I'd welcome any others from friends or family. This one was just great for my morale, though.
My other kids are cute, but they haven't made any videos like this for me recently.
I've been through a few earthquakes in Utah and in California, but nothing big, and nothing that I ever even noticed. Most of the time I have to be told, or hear about it in the news.
But last night I was upstairs, working on my computer, and felt like things were swaying. My first impression was to check and see if I had changed my body position and was dealing with postural hypotension or something. Nope. Maybe one of the guys messing with my by pushing the couch that I was sitting on. I look behind the couch. Nope. It stopped, so I went back about my business.
And then this morning, a couple of the guys were talking about the earthquake. Ah. So I wasn't just losing my mind. Not a bad earthquake, though- a little sway, but nothing fell or was broken. Of course, I have no idea where the epicenter was, the magnitude, etc-U.S. Geological Survey didn't list it as making it over 4.5 Richter, anyway.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Older, smaller, slower
Newer, bigger, more Mad Maxier
Before they go, they have convoy briefs, detailing reactions to various scenarios such as contact by small arms fire, IEDs, or even just breakdowns. These sometimes are accomplished by the highly technical process of Hot Wheels vehicles lined on the ground, and rolled around to show who goes where and when in the various situations.
In any case, the last of the crew left earlier this week- and it was difficult even to get a last picture, as various members of the team were involved in last minute shut-down efforts all the way to the last minute of getting onto the vehicles for the convoy.
Nice work, Hippo- at least we got to see your most attractive side....
Now our incredibly celebrated Training Centre is little more than a ghost town while leadership decides and executes on next steps- contracting, resourcing, recruiting, etc. The National Police have a group stationed down here, and we meet daily, inspect the grounds, discuss what we know and are hearing about our "way forward." But truth be told, things are relatively slow at the moment.Really enjoyed lunch with my National Police colleagues today, though. A good Iraqi style lunch, a bit nicer than they usually have, because they wanted to make me happy. While I sometimes get upset by various behaviors, for the most part I feel my counterpart and his team have worked very hard to understand me and my desires and incorporate them into their efforts. They frequently are far too excessive in their praise and appreciation, but I believe everyone loves to hear others say good things about them. As I noted in an earlier post, it seems like the folks I work with are starved for positive feedback. I try to find the balance that seems appropriate in my efforts to help them be happy with their successes but strive to do more and do better quality work. They haven't shot me yet, so that is a bonus.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Here's a link I received just the other day.
I get a little sniffly watching stuff like this. I look forward to being with friends and family again. And I hope life improves for those all around me here in this country. I know many of us are working very hard at it, anyway.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Friday, January 25, 2008
A year ago at this time I was headed to Camp Parks for a parade primarily intended to praise the CG, and then we went to Ft. Riley a month too early.
It has actually gotten much better for me since we left Fort Riley. I prefer a war zone to that training environment, frankly. Of course, I'm not in a combat unit, though.
Today was one of those existential days- got a "tasker" from Baghdad- something urgent- had to work at the computer all day (that almost never happens to me here- I'm usually free to roam around the training, go exercise, do chai with various Iraqi National Police and Army folks). And then towards the end of the day, got some information which suggested that what I'd spent all day working on probably wasn't really necessary. Hmm. There's some lemonade to be made out of this somewhere....
But I'm a day closer to being with my family.
Funny week, though. Last week we had the MNSTC-I CG singing the praises of the training center to the House Armed Services Committee. This week we host General Petraeus, the Minister of Interior, Al Bolani, and a prominent Sunni leader, Dr. Samarie (of, you guessed it- Samarra!). And then we shut the place down. We're so good, we're....closing. Of course its only temporary until all the powers that be on Iraqi and U.S. sides figure things out as to what exactly they want to do and how they want to do it, but it would have been nice to have that sorted out prior to the point of sending everyone home but myself and my NCO, peace be upon him.
Most interesting blog post I came across today was one with children's letters to a deployed soldier from my same "Task Force." Children are funny.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
One of them has recently, Stephen Biddle, testified before the House Armed Services Committee, and I found his prepared statements to be perhaps the single most even-handed analyses I've seen about what is going on out here.
The only quibble I'd have, and it is just a quibble, is that in his concluding statement he notes the risk that we or any other long-term peacekeeping force would be perceived as occupiers. From what I understand of the culture from study and visits with my Iraqi brethren, if you're not from around here, and you stick around, that necessarily defines you as an occupier. We just need to be perceived as a friendly and helpful occupier.
Great reading, for those who have the interest in the topic.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
We had the fifth graduation since I've been here this past Monday. Back in the states, it was Martin Luther King Day. Here business was getting back underway after Ashura, a Shi'ia remembrance of the martydom of Hussein, great grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him.
But here at the Training Centre, graduation of what has come to be called the "Reconciliation Brigade" was underway. The Basic and AIT group graduating was called the reconciliation brigade because of the mix of religious and geographic backgrounds of the recruits.
It turned out to be a big hairy deal because General Petraeus decided to come. It was an even bigger hairy deal for the National Police because not only did their commander come, but the Minister of Interior, Al Bolani, Hussein Al Awadi's boss, came, as did a well-respected and highly regarded Sunni, Dr. Samarie.
General Petraeus was very patient with the media- they just mobbed him, the Minister, and Dr. Samarie. He was also quite pleasant to visit with as I had more time than I had expected to chat with him one on one. We talked some about personal topics such as my deployment status, but I was also pleased to be able to talk to him quite a bit about the training center.
The Training Center also got a bit of attention in the House Armed Services Committee meetings last week with LTG Dubik, MNSTC-I commander (17 Jan 2008), briefing and responding to questions from the committee. In reading the transcript, I was reminded of how our elected officials like to grandstand a bit- their questions were usually 80% statements and arguments, and 20% actual questions. I think their comments make up more of Dubik's testimony transcript than his comments do. Numaniyah and the National Police came up at least a couple of times then. We continue to do all we can to extend our 15 minutes of fame.
We finished up a training cycle this week- it was a big hairy deal- which makes that a post in itself. But prior to that, we spent some time showing each other some love. Not the feared "man love Thursday" kind of love that some of us have had the misfortune of encountering out here, but some appreciation for the work that folks are doing.
As other U.S. officers have shown me, our Iraqi counterparts like to give and exchange gifts. I have a large collection of watches now, a saber (still thinking about how to get that home...), and many patches and other things exchanged with my National Police colleagues.
But even more so than gifts, they seem to crave praise and recognition in a way I've never encountered elsewhere. I am constantly bombarded with requests for certificates of recognition or achievement, letters of recommendation, etc. Most of them, though, are frankly for folks just doing their job- nothing exceptional, and often times for a job that might take a week or so.
But it was time, in this past week, having pushed my counterpart General Sabar and his three battalion commanders, since mid-November (and the General since May last year), to let them know I appreciated them. So they got letters and they got certificates. And I couldn't resist asking them for the same- they are higher ranking officers than me, after all. They smiled at my joke.And then I shifted into gift mode. I don't have tons of good gifts, but I did receive a care package from my Lowe's teammates in the Talent Management Department (thanks, Cynthia et al.!). I kept most of the food for myself- mmmmm. Food. But I did receive some trinkets that I was able to share with both the Iraqi National Police and the BLP contractors.
General Sabar now has the t-shirt and hat of a NASCAR Champion- JJ now has a fan who works at An Numaniyah and hails from Nasiriya. We're taking the sport of driving in left-turn circles to the middle East, baby!
Each of the colonels has their own Lowe's can holder, so soda will never be the same for them.
And they, along with some of the management staff of BLP, now have those cool pens that light up with different colors in fluid on the top from the Performance and Development Plan program. Man, I love those pens.
And of course, the expats love to play poker- and Lowe's is there for them.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Contributors: Lyric Wallwork Winik, J. Max Robins and Kate Ashford
Published: January 13, 2008
Who's Left In The Coalition?
When the U.S. invaded Iraq in the spring of 2003, we had 47,200 combat troops from three nations with us. In March 2004, there were 24,000 troops from 33 countries. Today, the number of foreign troops has dropped below 12,000, according to the Brookings Institution’s Iraq Index. That includes 4500 British troops, 2000 from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and 1200 from South Korea. Other coalition members, such as Spain, Italy and Japan, left Iraq months or years ago. By this summer, the numbers could diminish by an additional 50%. Britain and South Korea are halving their forces, and Georgia is pulling out 1700 troops. The new prime ministers of Australia and Poland also have promised to remove all of their soldiers—600 and 900, respectively—which would leave the foreign troop strength under 6000. (Right now, the U.S. has about 160,000 troops there.) Says Brookings’ Michael O’Hanlon: “The military mission in Iraq is increasingly just a U.S.-Iraqi enterprise.” He adds that we can expect less help as time passes, “even given improvements on the ground and a new President.”
Sunday, January 13, 2008
The author is quite complimentary of Churchill's early work, and ridicules as fantasy most of the tales of T.E. Lawrence.
I noted similarly in one of my posts over the Christmas break, the American public for the most part, or at least the media, have let them do it.
I admit that during my 15 days off, I tried to pretend this whole thing wasn't happening. It was hard, though, when it was waking me up at night, both from jet lag and from the dreams that I couldn't keep out. And I'm guessing it is hard to forget for those missing their loved ones, some of whom will not return. It is likely hard to forget for those whose nerve endings are tingling with phantom limb pains or are dealing with other injuries.
But Iraq is still here. And a large number of U.S. soldiers is still here. And a large number of contractors funded by the U.S. is still here. And people who want to kill each other are still here.
Thankfully, I haven't been in combat, I just work in a fairly quiet combat zone. And thanks and prayers to those warriors among us who are doing that heavy work.
But I have reached the LAST 100 days. Woo-hoo! That still seems like a lot of time, but I'm catching signs that "the end is near." E-mails are circulating: "get your awards and evals done!" "this is the list of gear that you need to have for turn in", "prepare your hand receipts to pass on to your replacement".
Probably the thing that is most entertaining from my perspective is the "ship date." Rumors abound about when who is rotating out, rotating in, etc. Based on all the talk about our coming out, I expect those dates to change an almost infinite number of times between now and whenever we ship out. So I've got 100 days left, give or take about 50 days. How's that for a margin of error? For statistical weenies, does the wide confidence interval make it a "lack of confidence interval"?
The acronym mentioned in the piece, the "CLC"s, was one that tripped me up when I had a "distinguished visitor" come to the training center once. He listened patiently to my standard canned presentation, then asked, "but what does this have to do with CLCs?" I had no idea what he was talking about. Thankfully, my commanding general was there to pick up the question. Had I known what he meant, I would have artlessly responded, "nothing at all, but I didn't invite you here..."
We're relatively far from most of the military here, and because of that, I learn all the military colloquialisms through the media. Nobody from the military talks to me. So I learned about Concerned Local Citizens that day. I had always assumed that all citizens in a war zone were concerned, but apparently it is more of a formal thing.
I've had a few discussions with my contractor friends over language issues and semantics.
Some are just silly- the English and Aussies think we work at a Training Centre, and we currently are working on a demobilisation. I point out to them that the U.S. pays the bills, and it is therefore a "Center" and we're working a "demobilization".
Others are a bit more involved- are we truly at war? Or is this now a police action in a fairly "hot" or hostile environment? From where we work, it is frankly hard to tell. And probably depends on the definitions. The joys of language- is the tower of Babel somewhere around here in this Mess-o-potamia? (apologies to The Daily Show)
Now I agree this Iraq war thing costs a lot- I know in part because I get to manage some contracts paying out millions of dollars a month. Your taxpayer dollars (and eventually mine, given how we're putting this all into debt) at work!
I was pleased to see an article this past week which puts the costs in a bit of a perspective by looking at it as a percentage of GDP, etc.
The article also acknowledges costs and values are different things. The price we pay for war is not easily quantified. I don't agree with all of Lindsey's arguments, but I liked that the piece did consider some aspects that many tend to ignore.
Such as knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing....
Friday, January 11, 2008
Here at "The Noom", we had lots of rain. Which was the first time we'd gotten more than a sprinkle in the 9 months I've been here. Made for a cold run in the morning, and the lack of any drainage means we now have a very muddy Training Centre and army base. But it changes things up a bit anyway.
And I'm glad the snow up in Baghdad made many people happy. They could use more happiness up there.
If you caught that reference to the hard drive and are curious, that is my fine writing technique of foreshadowing. Bless you, Mrs. Rogers-Unetic of my junior and senior years at Huguenot Academy!
Firing from 100 meters or so, with the AimPoint red dot continuing to work its magic, I found that I'm so bad, that no practice whatsoever has absolutely no impact on my ability to hit a target with my rifle. Actually, the red dot makes me pretty good no matter what I do- just pull the trigger when the dot is on the target.
Which brings me to the second purpose of my multi-purpose range. 6 months into my deployment here, I found that my computer started acting up. I called Gavin and I called Barney (Barney's been pining to be included in my blog), our IT guys, to see what they could do. They identified the problem as a bad hard drive and replaced my computer. Of course, I'm a greedy son of a gun, and couldn't resist asking, "What about the data on the hard drive?"
Gavin taught me a bit more Australian slang when he responded, "oh, the hard drive? Its cactus, mate!" Cactus means it died, apparently. I've been trying to use cactus now in my conversations with the Australians here, but haven't quite been able to pull it off- I'm always using it slightly wrong.
I ranted and raved until they decided to send it to some hard drive restoration specialists, who also deemed it "cactus" (probably in more technical terms, though, given they work out of Dubai). But for some reason, the hard drive got sent all the way back until it made its way onto my desk.
Now, having lost 6 months of work on that hard drive, I had no love for it. Stupid hard drive. But musing that there was a chance that the hard drive might come back to life like the deceased in some b-class horror movie, I thought I could ensure the drive's "cacticity" and simultaneously take out some frustration by taking it out to the range- thus making it a multi-purpose range. There are some advantages to being on an Iraqi Army base firing range- it is not overpoliced by range nazis who would never permit such unofficial target practice- there must be some kind of incredible hazard in shredding a hard drive from 100 meters- but I and others around me remained blissfully ignorant of the potential hazard for our time at the range.
I can now state beyond a shadow of a doubt and with every fiber of my being, that the hard drive is cactus (and my M4 is true!), primarily due to some 5.56 rounds entering and exiting the drive's housing, and also the contributions of some 7.62. Those AKs are SO loud!
Yes, most of the rounds seem to be on only one half, but come on- this is at 100 meters! I think that's not bad for a talent management consultant, or a washed up psychologist, or even both. Even pretty good for a citizen-soldier. Probably not so good for a warrior-citizen, but I'm still fighting that imposed moniker.
My current hard drive has been, understandably, on its best behavior since early December. And Gavin, tired of my complaints, decided to mirror my documents onto the server, so I have a backup now, for the work that I do on the office computer. Good man, Gav!
And Barney, I love you, too. You purple dinosaur, you!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Monday, January 07, 2008
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Here's a great source of some U.S. Army in Iraq photographs:
Photo essay blog
That blog is much more "pro war"
This next one, very much the other way, against the war and the U.S. presence:
Came across some blogs by Andrew Olmsted, who was killed just days ago in a firefight- a prolific blogger, and an Army Major with some interesting posts. My platitudes and gratitude for his sacrifice, well, I can't do him justice. He's made some good posts, though.
His final post- made on his behalf by a friend following his death.
Some postings addressing the "Why" about folks in the military- we are notorious for our complaints about living conditions, being political pawns, etc, but I think for many of us, these thoughts articulate some of our motivations for sticking it out, standing up and saying "we are here, and we will do it".
Some very amusing posts by an activated Individual Ready Reserve captain I've had the blessing of getting to know just a bit:
The Moustache Five
His take on Beverage Battles
He captures quite nicely the existential experience of those doomed to fight the war via powerpoints and excel spreadsheets in the blue velvet cubicle palace.
And for my human resources friends and cubicle dwellers everywhere:
Weird work stories
Soraya Nelson of National Public Radio's take on her recent visit to An Numaniyah:
Iraqi General Works to Transform National Police
A good regional news web site for the Gulf region.
And lastly from a book I'm currently reading about Britain's involvement in the middle East just prior to and during the first world war (a great primer on "those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it"- A Peace to End All Peace), I'm learning all kinds of things.
For example, I had heard the phrase "beyond the pale" many times, and found it an interesting expression, but never really knew where it came from. In "A Peace....." it is referring to the experience of Russian Jews of the time. Beyond the Pale.
- 5 days to get home
- jet lag and waking up ready for the day at 2am then crashing at 7pm for the first week
- passed too quickly
- listening to people who incorrectly think they know what’s going on out here
- playing basketball VERY poorly- not sure if I can blame it on my messed up finger
- snow- almost every day
- confirmation that for most people and the media, Iraq is less of a hot topic than the latest about Britney, Lindsay, Paris, etc.
- some worry about family health issues
And my colleagues out here warned me that coming back would be really lousy, but I have been genuinely happy to be back. I’m not too excited about some of the work I have to do here (administrative work is not my cup ‘o tea), but then again, there are many kinds (El Guapo, did you say “a plethora”?) of work I don’t get excited about. My job is about as good as it gets in a combat zone.
The weather is beautiful (no snow!). I have a month of known work, and then up to 3 more months of doing who knows what. I’m pretty charged up for the home stretch. Which is good, because I may need to use up all of that enthusiasm- we’ll see what happens.
Friday, January 04, 2008
1. All things related to plumbing and water- from drinking from the faucet all the way to toilets and showers that actually had both water and pressure- all conveniently located in nice rooms of various kinds
(there's sooo much material in that one- just most of it I will be trying to forget when this is over, so will not go into detail)
2. Restaurants and home-cooked meals- so much food to get reacquainted with, so little time
3. Christmas with the family
4. 3 Sundays at church in Provo
5. MWF early morning basketball
6. Not carrying a weapon
7. No listening to the Motorola radio
8. Clock still ticking on deployment- over 2/3s done now
9. Dates etc with my sweetie
10. Meeting a large number of old friends before and during the R&R
11. The Kissing Grannies of Dallas and the Dallas USO- they were delightful both on my way home for break, and again going back out to Iraq again on 31 Dec.
And for those wondering, no, that Christmas tree in the last posting was not ours. Here's ours:
And for the critics who note 11 items in my Top 10, you're not the boss of me. I'm back at Numy and once again believe I'm in charge of everything. At least for the next month, anyway.