Monday, March 31, 2008

The complexities of the Iraqi political scene.

Once again glad I'm not in a position where I have to keep track of all the interrelationships. Folks seemingly make and break alliances around here like they're contestants on Survivor. Pun intended, they really are working on the whole survival thing.

Iranian general played key role in brokering Iraq cease-fire
By Leila Fadel McClatchy Newspapers

BAGHDAD — Iraqi lawmakers traveled to the Iranian holy city of Qom over the weekend to win the support of the commander of Iran's Qods brigades in persuading Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr to order his followers to stop military operations, members of the Iraqi parliament said.
Sadr ordered the halt on Sunday, and his Mahdi Army militia heeded the order in Baghdad, where the Iraqi government announced it would lift a 24-hour curfew starting early Monday in most parts of the capital.

A bit of commentary on this article...

Maliki And The Iranians
By Kevin Drum
Mar 31, 2008

Another earlier analysis, before things apparently started quieting down....

RPT-ANALYSIS-Maliki's Basra crackdown poses risk for U.S.
Sun Mar 30, 2008 4:57am EDT

I found the questioning of Maliki's political intentions with this action particularly interesting. Truth at this point is I have no clue what motivations were in play. I have enough trouble figuring out intentions of folks I work with.

On the bright side, the Iraqi leadership was acting on its own- sovereignty, even if we didn't necessarily agree with how they exercised it. Makes things a bit difficult for the U.S. leadership which likes to be more prepared than they were on this Basra event, and it will take some time to figure out the implications of what has happened there and in Baghdad, and how it impacts future events here.

And where is all the breathless reporting of things calming down a bit after a week of trumpeting instability?

All Hail Davidson!

Davidson's Stephen Curry, center, tries a shot against Kansas' Sasha Kaun (24) during the first half of the NCAA Midwest Regional basketball final Sunday, March 30, 2008, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Those who know me well know that I'm a basketball junkie. I play as much as I can, even though I play poorly after 3 ACL reconstructions and I spend far too much time with my face stuffed into bags of Doritos, the consequent weight gain limiting my 1 inch vertical. That's what the set shot from way downtown is for, I figure.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are watching ACC and NCAA basketball tournaments. One of the folks I enjoyed watching was Dell Curry, a lights out shooter from Va Tech who went on to a successful pro career as well. And now his son playing for Davidson College has been torching some very highly ranked opponents like Georgetown and Wisconsin. Davidson has previously been a pretty good basketball school, especially for a small liberal arts college, but it has been a while since they were making the news. I'd known them mostly for the fact that "Lefty" Driesell was their coach prior to moving on to Maryland and my dear ACC hoops world.

It was neat to read about this for a couple of other reasons beyond the link to my past. It is always fun to follow the underdog, and Davidson did well yesterday even in defeat. Additionally, Davidson is situated just a few miles south of Lowe's corporate headquarters, where I'll start working in a few months after this deployment. During the internship we did back in the summer of 2006, we actually went down there to enjoy the fourth of July fireworks demonstration. Bugs aside, it was fabulous. We didn't lose any children, and the fireworks were pretty good, too.

Davidson is situated in a beautiful area not much unlike the woodsy area where I grew up in Virginia, except this part of NC also has Lake Norman, an added bonus for water-related recreation activities.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Numy Water Model of Dysfunction (n-WMD)

In efforts to disprove the notion that there were no WMD in Iraq, I report on something that I'd been meaning to get to for the past 11 months. One of the first things I noticed was that our Training Center was having problems with the water we were getting from the larger base on which it was a tenant unit.

So I tried to pin down the problem and fix it. But unfortunately, everytime we talked with someone related to the water supply, it was a different problem that needed fixing. If you are familiar with the song about 'the hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza', then you can appreciate the experience.

I at one point created a 3-dimensional model of this, and had intended to blog it way back when. But I'm only getting around to doing it now. And I haven't been practicing my powerpoint skills enough to have been able to get it into a 3-d model.

I went through and tried to catalogue all the places things have gone wrong, and could go wrong, and here is only a partial list:

Intake pipes at Tigris
Pumps at Tigris River- including filters
Pipelines to ANMTB
Holding tanks and treatment areas at ANMTB water station
Pumps at ANMTB water station
Pipelines and valves to pods
Generators for pumps
Fuel for generators
Contracted and IA operators
Saboteurs along the pipeline
Thieves of fuel

And then I tried to understand the rules of the game, to more fully understand how the system worked. They go a little something like this:

•Rules of the game
–Never provide more than 1/3 of a day of water pumping
–Failures must be present at one or more points within the entire system at all times
–If everything is working fine, people MUST intervene to ensure failures, ie just forget to turn on generators and pumps, even if there is enough fuel and everything works
–All failures are to be blamed on CPATT and the National Police

Now, as I look at the end of my tour, I can look back with admiration that the base has continued to function with absolutely no real improvement in the water situation. CPATT and the NPs have decided to pay a nominal fee to keep this marvelous system working for the forseeable future, just as it is. Why pay for real service when inadequate service will do?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

That sick feeling in my stomach

I've been feeling ill for a couple of hours. I'm not sure if it is any of the following, or a combination:

1. something I ate for dinner
2. the stench in our building (the source of which none of us has been able to identify for eradication, but is sickening regardless)
3. watching guys in digi-blues flip to the Mahdi army- even if it is only 40 of maybe 25,000 or so, and we've known they're even more infiltrated than that. For heaven's sake, at least take off the uniform.

"An Iraqi police commando receives a Quran and an olive branch after deserting Saturday in Baghdad's Sadr City."

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces bombed Basra on Saturday as about 40 Iraqi police commandos based in Baghdad deserted to join the Mehdi Army.

So regardless of whether it is one or a combination of the closely linked factors, gustation, olfaction, or digestion, it all stinks.

If I want to look at the negative side, I wonder if the training we were giving our boys in digi-blue had any beneficial effect.
When I'm thinking more positively, I hope that perhaps our training has greatly reduced the rates of defections, or what we'd call in our army not just desertion but traitorous actions. It is hard to say.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Milan, Surface, or whatever it is- maybe it will run faster than my laptop

I get to keep in touch with my Org Behavior/Human Resource MBA program buddies by conference calls held occasionally, hosted by companies at which each of us works. The last few (including the one this morning at 4am Iraqi time) have been hosted by one of my friends at Microsoft.

I receive care packages of all kinds (but just a few of them really- just lots of variety in them), and in one of them, I got a Popular Mechanics issue from July '07 which presented a piece on the "Milan" platform from Microsoft- a "new" computer.

I was intrigued because it just seemed plain interesting to me as I thought about ways it could be used. But I was also a bit dubious about the claims of where it was in terms of being useful and practical, given how much trouble I've had with my Zune, an incredibly simple computer by comparison. The devil for me in this case seems to be in the software. But I digress.

Milan is apparently now going by the moniker "Surface." Looks like it could be really cool, anyway.

There's my plug, my Microsoftie friends! I now expect to see some blog entries from all of you in the future about some cool tools you were able to buy at Lowe's.

Shopping trips during my fabulous four day pass

(note the fence for crowd control during rush hours)

As I mentioned in a previous blog, rather than head back down to Doha, I'm taking this pass in place in An Numaniyah. I mentioned that it is hard to travel, a bit of a hassle, and it also leaves me available to help out as my replacement learns the ropes here.

But the biggest reason to stick around is the incredible shopping. Now, I know they've got multi-story shopping malls with indoor ice rinks and indoor rivers containing Venice-style gondolas in Qatar, but they just don't have the character of my dear local PX.

(winning hearts and minds by contributing to the local economy- or is it "funding terrorism through money laundering rackets?)

We joke about going "to the land of the big PX" at the end of mission, but this one has about everything I have needed during my tour. Actually, not really, but thankfully, I haven't really needed much.

Storekeeper, Iraq Army customer, and civilian Iraqi customer- all overjoyed at being photographed by the infidel

Numaniyah- Where AMRs go to die

The 3-4 U.S. groups on this Iraq Army base are going through handoffs right now- out with the old, in with the new. And part of that is working out exactly how and when people will get here and when people will leave.

We come and go by air. Problem is, we can rarely get air movement requests (AMRs) supported. So it is not uncommon for folks to get here only after a week or two of waiting. And conversely, Numaniyah is a bit of a "Hotel California" for visitors. A week or so ago we had some folks come for a few items of business. I think they were planning on maybe a couple of days. But the days kept coming and going without air support. So they got an extended stay.

This is a great place, but you better come with a general with an exit plan after a stay of just a few hours, or you're gonna be here awhile- bring your Snickers bars.

Violence, but not really

With all the excitement, we've been dusting off our defensive plans.

And I've started the second of my 4 day passes- this time, because of the difficulties of travel and the handoff to my replacement, I'm doing it in place here at the Numaniyah Resort Hotel and Conference Center. Ok, that may exaggerate the luxury I'm living in. Our big mystery of today was what was causing the foul sewage stench around the inside of the entrance to our building.

So I've been spending some time reading through and clearing out personal e-mails, catching up on friends' blogs, etc.

And I came across a little silliness on Jason's page. I don't actually advocate doing this- I love my 5 year old.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The handoff

Steve, my replacement, got to Iraq on my birthday much earlier this month. But our transportation is such that he couldn't get a flight down until just under 2 weeks ago.

But he got here, and we've been working at the hand-off since then. He's probably been pretty disappointed at the mess I'm leaving him, and I feel a bit sheepish about it, too. No excuses. I could have done a number of things differently to make his life a little bit easier.

Even had I done everything right, though, there is a lot that is not under my control. The biggest pieces of what we do here at the Training Center have now been put squarely in the hands of the National Police. So we can advise and counsel, but we're not running the show anymore. We don't pay for it. We don't provide the manpower. He'll have a very different experience than I had.

Because of various reasons, my handoff has happened well before I was to redeploy- which means I'm around far longer than most are for their handoffs. This is probably both an advantage and disadvantage for Steve. I'm still around to help out, answer questions, etc. But I fear I also get in the way. The NPs have a working level of trust with me, and everyone knows me, so they tend to keep coming to me for issues and discussion rather than going to Steve.

And frankly, I've gotten quite detached from the whole thing since we shut down the training center back on 28 Jan. Since then I've been watching over the ghost town that was a training center. And I expect it will still be a ghost town when it comes time for me to leave.

The success of the training center is now in the hands of the NPs and Ministry of Interior. Either they will provide the necessary resources or they won't. And there's not much I can do about it either way. Given the recent excitement and activity in Baghdad, Basra, and elsewhere, I am not confident that the training center will get the time and attention necessary to kick off the next course before I leave.

We shall see.

I'm tired. My work here is through, but my time isn't. So I try to stay busy helping Steve, but he's unfortunately not getting me at my best. It is in many ways reminiscent of my last few days of my LDS mission way back in 1991. I was just spent, and while I'd go through the motions, I mentally wasn't there like I felt I should have been.

I was wrong.

In an earlier blog entry I made some critical comments of someone writing about the negative security trends back on the 11th of the month. Turns out, he was right, just a bit early on it- this past week things have clearly flared up. My friends up in the IZ are getting hammered, and many things are happening in the south. Hmmm. I'm in the south.

I can't predict the future, but I'm hoping that things calm down regardless. In my more selfish moments I celebrate the fact that I've got less than a month left, and won't face any more conflict, and temperatures above 110 (it is already getting up to 100).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fast Friends Forever (FFF)

This is a tribute entry to a friend from my mission days ('89-'91- man, that was a long time ago). He and his family were our guardian angels during our one year adventure to Hawaii, and we've managed to keep in touch since then.

Kevin's become quite the runner recently. I've lost the little speed I had from my high-school cross-country days and "Ranger Challenge" competitions with the Army ROTC program, and following multiple ACL reconstructions as well as many years and pounds of riotous eating.

He has managed to do the opposite and just keeps getting better.

He did well in this year's Aloha Run in Honolulu, an 8.15 mile run, finishing in 12th overall (out of about 25,000), won his age division, and beat his personal best by 10 seconds. He also had quite the story of how he locked his keys in the car and was late to get to the starting line because his race number was in the car, etc- great theatre!

Not called the Run to the Sun for nothing- ah, the beautiful clouds of Hawaii!

More recently he won the Run to the Sun on Maui. It started at sea level (the Maui Mall in Kahului) and finished 36.4 miles later at the top of Haleakala crater, 10,023 feet above sea level.

It was his first "ultra marathon," so he was a bit nervous as to how he'd do. He'd also never been to Maui before, and hadn't seen 10,000 feet since he lived in Colorado many years ago. He won the race, finishing in 5 hours 28 minutes and 38 seconds, which was the best finishing time in 13 years. He beat the second-place finisher by 40 minutes.

Way to go, Bishop K-diddy!

Misogynistic humor of the day

I get humorous (and some not so humorous) e-mails from both sides of the gender wars from time to time.

Here's a recent one that can be funny or horrifying, depending on one's perspective:

"A dog is truly a man's best friend. If you don't believe it, just try this experiment. Put your dog and your wife in the trunk of your car for an hour. When you open the trunk, which one is really happy to see you?"

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Protesters and the rule of law

I don't mind protesters. In fact, I think they are an essential part of healthy debate. But I get frustrated when I see the hypocrisy of folks who take it so far as to start breaking laws and threatening folks serving the military, actively impeding the work that we are doing.

The Berkeley events (a few weeks ago?) were an example of taking things a bit too far. But those were clearly not isolated incidents.

Targeting military recruiters
By Michelle Malkin

March 14, 2008

Law breaking should be punished, and law breakers should be treated like criminals, not heros. In some case, I think you could even argue some of these actions border on terrorism- bombing a recruiting center, for example.

And I don't buy the argument that soldiers following lawful orders including rules of engagement are criminals.

My 2 cents. Of course, that doesn't go as far in the international community given the devaluation of the dollar lately, does it?

USUHS, now going by "USU"

My first foray into graduate school was a very different experience than the paradise of my more recent MBA program. While it was hard work, a number of other challenges beyond the academic work made it often unpleasant and very hard to focus- lack of money to support my family, the odd lack of support for my military obligations despite the fact that I was at a military school, the death of a close friend early in the program, and a number of other parts of my experiences that left me needing to recover for a couple of years after the bruising experience.

But I remain proud to say that I made it through, and I continue to use many of the tools I learned to use while there at "The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences." Some of them are practical, like the fabulous electronic medical library, skills like research and critical thinking processes, and then some other more socially-oriented lessons about how not to treat other people.

Back then we referred to it as USUHS, with various pronunciations, and the inevitable "useless" pronunciation when someone failed a test or got frustrated with the place. Apparently they call themselves USU now, which I guess opens it up to a bit of confusion for those familiar with other instituations with the same initials like Utah State University. No big deal, just me sitting here with too much time in front of my keyboard this evening.

During the few times I've traveled up to the IZ, I've met a couple of old friends from the school- LDS friends with whom I played basketball now quite a few years ago. They've gone on to become doctors, and they come out on shorter tours- but they see a lot more blood than I've had to during my time here. And they remember me as "that guy that shoots from WAY outside." Yes, that's the only place I can get my set shot off without it getting blocked into the cheap seats. There are only a few spots where a guy with a one inch vertical leap can shoot, you see.

Why do I bring up my reminiscence of the un-glory days of my psychology grad school days? Because I came across a recent article recognizing the work of my fellow USUHS graduates-

Washington Post
Friday, March 14, 2008

As an alum of this school, I'll never have a football team to root for, and I have to admit I consider paying taxes to be the limit I'll contribute to the school for the time being. But I'm proud to be affiliated with healthcare professionals who've contributed to bringing combat mortality rates down incredibly, and who provide trauma care of exceptional quality under challenging circumstances.

Hats off to you, my brothers and sisters in the medical services out here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dogs and Cats

Just got this e-mailed to me-

pretty funny take on differences between these two animals as detailed in their diaries.....

"Who's the half-wit, now, kitty?"

Odds and ends

No Iraq-Al Qaeda Links Found
That one addresses the question of whether Saddam was in cahoots with Al Qaeda. He wasn't. Did he support terrorism? Yes, against "his own" people. He fits the bully profile, and didn't want to take on the U.S. And he didn't want anyone operating in his country that might threaten his power, which would be a threat from letting an Al Qaeda type organization loose in his own country.

Chuck Norris, U.S. military cult hero
This article got a knowing giggle out of me. Where I am, Chuck does not enjoy the rock star status he enjoys at larger U.S. facilities. We don't get Stars and Stripes, we don't ever meet anyone that works for KBR, etc. But the few times I've passed through larger U.S. facilities in Iraq and Kuwait, I've learned just how important Chuck is to our troops. In the porta-johns, actually. Those who apparently lack focus on the task at hand take the time to render various homages to the man, the myth, the legend. Some of them are really quite funny (and yes, some of us who lack focus on the task at hand take the time to read some of them). And they are all better than the many profane, vulgar, racist, sexist, anti-Iraqi, anti-Arabic or other comments that seem to also find their way onto the porta-john walls.

Here's a brief sampling, thanks to the Chuck Norris Facts page:

1. If you have five dollars and Chuck Norris has five dollars, Chuck Norris has more money than you.
2. There is no 'ctrl' button on Chuck Norris's computer. Chuck Norris is always in control.
3. Apple pays Chuck Norris 99 cents every time he listens to a song.
4. Chuck Norris can sneeze with his eyes open.
5. Chuck Norris can eat just one Lay's potato chip.
6. Chuck Norris is suing Myspace for taking the name of what he calls everything around you.
7. Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because he only recognizes the element of surprise. 8. Chuck Norris can kill two stones with one bird.

Iraq's Surging Violence(Washington Post)...Eugene Robinson
I was disturbed by this one. Really appeared to me to be cherry-picking data to support an extreme left-wing argument. I thought it was exaggerated and counterproductive to rational arguments about what should or should not be done here. "Growing less peaceful and tranquil by the day"? He's clearly experiencing a different part of Iraq than most of the people here are. Yes, it is still very dangerous in many parts, but the "trend" he's identifying ignores the larger sets of data- he's clinging to the spectacular attacks that occur from time to time.

Keeping Iraq In The Dark (New York Times)...Glenn Zorpette
This one highlights a problem that can be very frustrating, not just for the citizens not getting the electricity they want, but also for the U.S. side, trying to lead, cajole, even beg their counterparts on the Iraqi side to make good decisions about how to use their expanding financial resources. They ignore positive ROI projects and make decisions seemingly to spite each other. You'd think they'd make the choices that would lead to increases in services to their people, but often their choices suggest that the welfare of their people rates a low priority. I've seen so much of people treating each other poorly here. And the Catch-22 for many of us Americans is trying to help without interfering- sometimes respecting their sovereignty leads to extreme dismay as you watch them screw their citizens. This is a good example.

Reality and the Iraq war (USA Today) By Michael O'Hanlon
I think Michael did a much better than Eugene (above) of sounding rational and coherent. If the democrats lose this next presidential election, it is because they go so far left with their opinions and pledges about the war that they lose the middle.

The democrats are amusing me more than the republicans lately. I am almost ecstatic at the prospects of seeing the party have their nominee decided by superdelegates after all of the screeching about disenfranchisement over the years following the Bush-Gore Florida Funfest. Wouldn't that just be delicious?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Rebuilding Their Lives

This one is part 2 (title should be linked- above)- I touched on part 1 yesterday (or this morning, depending on your time zone).

Another good article, looking forward to the rest of the series.

It isn't easy to come home- on either side.

I have access to AFN- Armed Forces Network, the military's TV channels available by satellite. For the most part I watch sports events from time to time, and news. But one characteristic many U.S. military personnel know about AFN is that these channels play farcically idiotic commercials about various things about which they want to warn the 2-yr old they assume the soldier to be. Observe operational security, be careful with identity information, wear your seatbelt in the car after doing a thorough walk around inspection of your vehicle, wear reflective gear and a helmet when you're riding a motorcycle, avoid debt, brush your teeth, wear clean underwear, I think you get the point.

But in fairness, the commercials aren't all completely without worth (beyond their laughable entertainment value). There are a series of commercials about the reintegration process that comes with redeployment- when we come home we've changed, our families have changed, and so on. This article covers that well. But what it doesn't cover as well is that for Reservists and their families, there is next to no support network such as those found in the Active or Guard units. We deployed from all over the U.S., most of us not knowing each other, our units aren't deployed with us, and for the most part drop all contact with us. Our families don't have a military extended family to link up with- they are on their own as well. And we don't watch AFN at home- so our spouses won't see those infomercials about how to deal with a husband or wife who is distant, might be experiencing various stress or medical conditions, etc.

And for those who like to trumpet the Family Support Groups, I've not seen a functional one in 17 years in the Reserve. There are 1 or 2 full-time personnel that worked with our Division on the topic before we deployed, and frankly the one I worked with created more of a burden than she was a support for me or my family- dropped a lot of requirements and briefings on us, but in the same breath listed all the things that she would not do. Her style was such that I didn't want her near my family- she'd more likely make my wife cry than provide solace or support.

But I can't say I expected any different. I've relied on friends and family, and encouraged Christine to do the same. Even out here, I don't look for much support from higher command- it is the individuals to my right and left, and my family and friends from afar who provide the support that I feel I need.

A brief note- my higher command lost an airman this past week- a public affairs non-commissioned officer died when the Iraqi aircraft he was in crashed, killing him and the 7 Iraqis on board. They had a ceremony, addressed in at least one blog- and I thought again of Hurstie, JJ, and Umran. Two of them got a roll call, and one got a Shi'ia style prayer. And the training center continued on, leaving us all to experience the grieving in our own ways. I didn't know the PAO NCO- I don't know most of the folks up at my higher headquarters. But I know many of them are feeling loss and confusion this week, as their surreal experience gets even more so.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Media commentary

I decided to outsource the vast majority of the good content in today's web log entry- it was cheaper.

I make postings like this from time to time. They probably don't interest anybody but me. As this is my blog, however, I can make as many stupid comments about these articles as I want. Readers can be as selective as they decide. My catharsis, other's boredom. And it also gets most of these discussions out of the way, as I know that upon my return to the States I will not be in the mood to talk about Iraq with folks if they demonstrate a complete lack of understanding about what is going on. By "lack of understanding" I mean those with less of a clue than me- I'm pretty in the dark given that I work for a "need to know" organization that doesn't feel that I need to know very much.

I'll comment on a bunch of articles that I came across today, almost all through the Army news site, which compiles a nice collection- some days the articles interest me more than others- today was one of those days.

It is not news to me that they're spending a lot less than they're making right now- some internal memos have been flying around- U.S. folks trying to cajole their counterparts into spending more of their budgets, and on the right things. I suspect about half of it is willful hoarding, organizationally and individually (some would call it corruption)- which to me seems a combination of Arabic instinct and a legacy of deprivation under Saddam. The other half is the inefficiencies in the bureacracy and them trying to learn our incredibly slow contracting process. My perception anyway.

I don't have a mission which exposes me to the level of danger these guys faced. I've been on convoys, both civilian and military, but not much. I might even qualify as a "fobbit". But I don't really live on a "FOB"- my "forward operating base" is an Iraqi army base, and my force protection is my 9mm and my m4 rifle. This week I've been on my own with my National Police friends, sometimes with an interpreter, sometimes without, which leads for some interesting attempts at communication. I would have been so much better with the language if I didn't have 50 or so interpreters working for me for 9 months, but that all ended in January. But I have lost friends- one I knew to a good degree, the others were part of the staff but not as close. I've never gotten a tattoo- but I have thought of having something like that done to remember them. And the "closure" process of memorial services was different- these were contractors, so they didn't get the traditional military treatment. In fact, with one of them, the only real ceremony was the National Police getting together, 2,000 strong, and sharing a prayer and a moment of silence. I think of you often, Hurstie, JJ, and Umran. You each had family that now has to move on without you. Each of you were not combattants. You were murdered, one of you in your own home.

Only WWII was longer. But this article points out how segmented the experience is. I was chatting online with a buddy of mine at Microsoft about this the other day. The country isn't at war, the military is- and only people closely associated- such as family and friends- seem to even notice anymore. But the eloquence of reporters, writers, etc can't express what it is like for those missing their loved ones, either temporarily, or permanently- or working with loved ones that have been changed forever from wounds physical, mental or both. I have to admit that I'm going to work hard in some ways to forget all of this when I go home myself. Denial, despised as it is, in some ways is a very healthy mechanism. Forgetting and moving on is an approach that helps us keep going. But there's another part of me that knows there are certain things I need to hold on to, and that the fraternity of soldiers I have chosen to join needs me to continue to serve in various ways. We can't ever fully walk away, as much as we might want to.

Maria Duran’s Endless Wait, Emily Brady, NY Times
These are the types of articles that leave me near tears as I think of my wife and children at home. I do all that I can to reassure them that I am well, and that I'll return soon. And I pray that I will. I feel blessed, so blessed. I have lived and loved, fought, played, traveled, studied. I've enjoyed many cultures, many foods, climates. So if I were to never go beyond this point, it was for me an extraordinary 38 years. But I want to get back for them. I need to give more to them, I've had my turn. I want them to be able to take down the yellow flag in the window, and not have to put up the black flag.

The Iraq War Will Cost Us $3 Trillion, And Much More, Bilmes and Stiglitz, Washington Post
The costs are staggering. I read this one with a grain of salt, considering the authors and the media outlet used, it can be expected to lean a bit left. And with such large numbers, there is a bit of estimation in the whole process. And as many of the articles I highlight above note- many of the costs are measured in non-economic terms.

The State Of Iraq: An Update, By Jason Campbell, Michael O'Hanlon and Amy Unikewicz, NY Times
I liked this one because the opinion was supplemented with data. I've been having a bit of a back and forth dispute with an individual who likes to complain that what the NPs are doing here (or rather not doing- paying money to the base commander) at this post is jeapordizing Iraqi Army missions here at this post. Rhetoric aside, the numbers just don't add up. But some folks analyzing the situation in our little corner of Iraq, rather than look at the data, look at the rank of the signature block, and attend to the inflammatory language. Thankfully, I don't work for those who are being fooled.
This one speaks for itself, but refers to the notes above, not below. Ahoy!

We Can't Win These Wars On Our Own, (Washington Post) John A. Nagl
I've always been impressed with what I've read from and about LTC Nagl. The impression I get, though, is that his unorthodoxy has not been received very well in military circles. That unorthodoxy is not rewarded in the military is an observation that breaks no new ground. But of course, most of my observations don't break any new ground. "First, break all the rules" (Dana recommended reading, BTW) plays well in business management symposia, but not quite so much in an organization which details exactly how to do even the most mundane things in manuals that I must admit I don't read very carefully. I have read more carefully the COIN doctrine, and the Army FM on leadership, and to be frank, I'm not sure many leaders in my Army have read that leadership FM. It actually isn't too bad. It borrows heavily from leadership thinking and study in other domains, including business. And of course it uses previous military examples.

Alternate leadership technique....

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Not another day at the office

I'm getting closer to my return date and as such my thoughts at times turn to what life will be like as I put down my weapons, change out of the army outfit and get back to a more white-collar lifestyle as a business consultant.

What kinds of adjustments will I need to make?

I had this strange feeling today of "how cool is this?" or "not many U.S. folks get to experience things like this" as I spent a good deal of time working with my National Police counterparts today. We weren't doing anything extraordinary, just something I'd never dreamed I'd be doing (nor have I ever aspired to it- but the Army made me quartermaster for quite a few years regardless). We're doing inventory, checking keys, and I'm essentially giving them the training center. So there I am, with my interpreter, and General Sabar's logistics guys. I was as comfortable as I could be- just a bit of sweat as it is now getting into the 80's, and we were moving around quite a bit. Surrounded by people who's language I don't really speak. We work well together, though. We definitely have different approaches to things, but I think they trust me to know that I have their best interest at heart, and they aren't just nice to me because I'm giving them a lot of stuff. Not only did I not mind being the only American at the training center, I rather enjoyed it.

I was genuinely pleased as my counterpart general showed great enthusiasm as he showed me how they were working to put everything in order in the billets that had been left in regrettable disorder at the end of the last training cycle. They really have done a good job of taking stewardship of the training center over the past month. I have been willing to profess mistakes I have made, and they have readily forgiven me for those shortcomings.

I haven't "gone native" even though I do more work now with Iraqis than I do with U.S. personnel. I enjoy good Iraqi meals, but I avoid their standard "army fare" which is not too appetizing to me. While I work mostly with Iraqis, my down time is mostly with U.S. folks or by myself. I like quiet time. I guess I can kiss the quiet time goodbye upon my return to my family, but that's ok. I can hug my family members and read them stories without the use of an interpreter. The close physical contact of family is something I miss sorely out here.

It was a good day, and I've been blessed to have many of them here in southern Iraq. I was safe. I worked hard. I laughed. I felt the work I did contributed to the efforts to bring peace and stability to this country. I won't miss the uniform, the smells, the various inconveniences of life in my current situation. But I'll miss many of my "brown brothers", with their various mannerisms and practices, just as I already miss many from BLP, the company that ran the training center previously.

About 1.5 to 2 months left. That's about right. And I'll soon be passing the torch to Steve. I will wish him well as he joins a fraternity of "contracting officer representatives" that have haunted the halls of the hallowed Numaniyah National Police Training Center. His experience will undoubtedly be different than mine- he's opening a new chapter here. But I hope it is a chapter of progress in this country which has suffered so much for so long.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Some internet silliness

Had a friend send me a link to a "screen cleaner."

I also got a humorous campaign plea from a candidate in the BYU MBA student association elections today. Some of these are kind of inside or topical, but some of them will translate for general consumption:

Top Seven Quotes that apply to XXXXXXX, Candidate for XXXXXXX

7) "Do I want to be feared or loved? Um... easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me." -Michael Scott, the Office (Simultaneous fear and love is an admirable goal)

6) "I like the color red because it's a fire. And I see myself as always being on fire." -Arnold Schwarzenegger (Like Arnold, I too consider myself to be "on fire")

5) "My relationship to power and authority is that I'm all for it. People need somebody to watch over them. Ninety-five percent of the people in the world need to be told what to do and how to behave." -Arnold Schwarzenegger (Amen to that)

4) "You bet we might have." --Sen. John Kerry, asked if he would have gone to war against Saddam Hussein if he refused to disarm (I say "you bet we might have" the new building done by the time we come back in the fall).

3) "We're going to have the best-educated American people in the world." -Dan Quayle (under my leadership, we're going to have the best educated MBA students in the Marriott School)

2) "It's not pollution that is hurting the environment, it's the impurities in our air and water that are doing it." --Dan Quayle (and it's not the students playing foosball that make the lounge so loud, it's the little plastic guys on the field)

1) "I think we agree, the past is over." -George W. Bush (I had hoped this was true with accounting after the first semester, but now it's back)

I enjoyed those, and reminisced with fondness of my own campaign a couple of years ago for Academic Affairs VP. I successfully ran on the incredibly sophisticated platform of "If you vote for me, I'll give you candy." I used very powerful visual images of my younger son wearing his shark head swim goggles and a droopy diaper warning the voters that the shark would get them if they didn't vote for me.

Yes, that is a child begging for attention from a father watching a football game.....

It was clearly all about the stick and the carrot being used to manipulate the masses. I even used Top Ten lists (yes, multiple times- so maybe a top twenty or more). But then the U.S. Army impeached me and sent me to the sandbox to play.

I get to watch my third MBA student association campaign because I failed to graduate last year. I'm the eternal student on quite a few levels. I'll graduate this year, but will miss walking across the stage- I'm more likely to be walking onto or off of the back end of a C-130 on my way out of the middle East on graduation day. Which is fine. I haven't gone to any of my own graduations since high school. It always seemed so pointless to me.

And how about that war cost ticker?! Just went over $500 billion. Is that a lot of money?

I can't wait to get home and start paying taxes on it- we avoid debt in our family as much as possible. It leaves us better prepared to do our part to reduce the debts incurred by our government. Like a war put on a credit card.