Thebastidge: 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006
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    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    Back yard BBQ's

    Things I miss already:

    My dog.

    Back yard BBQ's

    Night time

    Nights here cool off quite a bit from daytime temperatures. It doesn't get cold, at least not unless you keep your air conditioning turned up all the way (which I do, I'd rather huddle under a blanket getting good sleep than toss and turn because I'm too warm). But it does cool off nicely to where the welcome breeze actually feels like it's slightly below body temperature.

    The night sky over Baghdad is an odd colour. There's enough light pollution to make sure you can't see much in the way of stars, but even if there weren't, the smog and dust and smoke haze would prevent it. The result is a kind of bruise-coloured purple on the horizons and a flat dull ceiling looking straight up.

    American helos don't fly with lights on for obvious reasons, but they do fly low enough to be visible in the murk. They're typically a vague silhouette, looking like some chitinous flying beetle as they fly overhead low enough to see what you're having for dinner.

    You get a very closed-in feeling in the IZ, between that low-hanging sky/ceiling and the maze of T-walls.

    Friday, September 29, 2006

    Driving like madmen

    There are no 'rules of the road' here. Everything is "Inshallah", a fatalistic worldview that doesn't take into account cause and effect relationships at all. People will speed around blind corners, or around other vehicles, there are no 'lanes of travel'.

    I haven't seen ONE unblemished vehicle in the IZ. And I'm not talking about bullet holes and explosive damage, I'm talking about scrapes and dents and whole fenders torn off by casual unwanted contact with walls and other vehicles.

    I've mentioned a bit about the neglect I've seen here of, well, everything. Part of that is just the poor initial construction. It's like it was all built by lemurs: fairly clever beasts but they just don't have that opposable thumb thing down yet. Even the palace shows less care (probably less knowledge) in construction than a public building in the states. Which surprises me, because contractors get fired in the states, and they can be shot here.

    Went to my first company-sponsored beer bash last night to do a military-ish hail and farewell. Pretty cool. It was at the home of one of the Iraqi guys who works with us. We barbecued in this guy's courtyard, and sat on the grass. The guy must be pretty affluent, judging from the size of his home and the insides. He had a good-sized generator just for his home as well, a sure sign of a poretty rich guy. However, the neighborhood looked like a crack house neighborhopod back home. Not just run down and poor, but piles of trash, huge holes in the half-paved "street". Most of you would have looked at the neighborhood and decided it was not a place to be. Here in Baghdad, it just seems par for the course.

    Tuesday, September 26, 2006

    Death penalty for no-knock entry?

    I find this very disturbing

    And more here

    How bad is it?

    Marie asks:

    "Is it bad there like the news shows on tv?"

    Well, I'm no expert yet, I can only give my imperessions;

    Here in the IZ, you hear gunfire all the time, but it's mostly from the firing ranges- there's one on each side of us. You do hear mortars and bombs now and then. the first couple days, I heard several loud explosions, then nothing for several days, but the last couple of days I have heard some more. In the last two days, there have also been announcements of controlled explosions. A voice comes on a loud speaker and says something to the effect of, "There will be a controlled detonation in 10 minutes in the area of X. Do not react!"

    Makes me think, "What, are they gonna give you 'two for flinching'?" punch-punch!

    Ramadan has started, so it's possible that more VBIEDS and other exlosions will be disturbing the peace- it seems the insurgents generally save some big push for Ramadan.

    However, I haven't personally seen anything explode or had anything land near me yet.

    I'm suspicious of everyone in the IZ that doesn't appear to be American. Many TCNs (Third Country Nationals) make so little money, that it would be easy to bribe them, and from what I understand, the Iraqis who work in here are constantly being threatened with violence and death for being collaborators. Even people who are just coming in to clean the toilets and make a living.

    The IZ has a very porous border. We're constantly reminded of that, and the somewhat more hardened compounds within the IZ (like the embassy compound, where I live) have armed guards and checkpoints even though they are within the boundaries of the supposedly safe zone.

    Military folks are required to wear their IBA (Individual Ballistic Armor) when going from compound to compound within the IZ, even when wearing their PT gear. They carry their weapons at all times as well, though they carry them unloaded with ammo to hand. It's somewhat odd to see people running around in Army PT gear with flak vests and helmets toting their weapon.

    Contractors aren't required to wear IBA, but I wear a Second Chance (Thanks, Dan!) under my shirt most of the time. We're not allowed to carry weapons in the Embassy compound, even unloaded, so I'm only issued a weapon when we plan to go outside the IZ. honestly, I would prefer to wear it all the time, because as I said before, I don't trust most of the people in the IZ.

    Sunday, September 24, 2006

    More impressions

    It doesn’t take long in this heat for a porta-jon to get pretty ripe.

    I’ve been hearing stories about this place from the guys who’ve been here for a while. Everyone knows that Arabs consider the left hand to be irredeemably dirty because traditionally, they use it to wipe their ass bare-handed.

    They also shake hands in a very limp-wristed fashion, but that’s a different topic. The guys tell me of shared camps where the Iraqi’s lack of hygiene and basic care for their environment has made conditions really nasty. I see it for myself as well. We fly over Baghdad at very low altitudes when traveling. This place was a ghetto long before we bombed it. It’s obvious that much of the ‘damage’ is just long term neglect. Most of what I can see of Baghdad from the air (often at 100 meters or so) looks like the worst of Bakersfield; dusty, dirty, and vandalized with piles of trash. Burning seems to be the most enlightened form of trash disposal, when they can be bothered. The haze of dust and trash fires over Baghdad combine to make visibility a matter of a couple-three miles, even from the air.

    Iraqis throw trash anywhere. They drop water bottles into the porta-jons and even into toilets, when they can be talked into using toilets. The money quote from my first mission: “you’re going to turn this network over to Iraqi control when?!? We can’t even get these guys to shit in toilets!”

    Apparently another aspect of Iraqi/Arab culture is that it’s offensive to take a crap on a toilet because others have sat there. This is not a matter of hygiene concerns: they’ll crap in their own tents, on the designated paths, wherever. It’s only consistent bitching that gets them to crap outside the berm that surrounds the camps. When they do crap in the porta-jons, they’ll drop their water bottles etc. in there with no concern for whoever has to clean it out. Iraqi recruits (and I visited a basic training facility) don’t even have to do “police calls” on the grounds- they pay TCNs (third country nationals in military parlance) to pick up trash around their barracks. That kind of work is beneath their dignity, so they have no discipline about picking up after themselves.

    The IZ is a confusing place. There are no maps available to new people to orient themselves: these would quickly make their way outside the fence and be used for targeting, so they just don’t hand anything out. Even inside the IZ, there are checkpoints everywhere, and internal compounds that you must have clearance and a badge to enter. Each of these compounds is surrounded by “T-walls”; 10 foot-high concrete barriers that have a t-shaped foot. This means that sight-distance is very limited, maybe 50 meters at the best. It makes navigating around very difficult until you get things memorized. You may know where you are, and where you want to go, but you won’t know how to get there. Everything is a literal maze or warren of bunkers, t-walls, piles of sandbags and trailers.

    Pedro and the guys roped me into a game of Texas Hold’em last night and took me for $20- bastards. :) I don’t even like playing poker. I wonder what that NAZI bastard Saddam thinks of mongrel coalition troops playing poker in the rotunda of his palace. I hope it burns his ass.

    Started reading LTC David Grossman’s “On Combat” today. Main thing I’ve taken from it so far: get more sleep.

    Saturday, September 23, 2006

    Still in one piece

    So I’ve returned this morning from my first mission outside the Green Zone, or International Zone as they’re calling it now. It went pretty smoothly, a site survey for some work to be accomplished at some future date. I’m not going to give many details of this mission (Jeez, that sounds pretentious. In any other context it would just be a ‘job’) or future missions on this website, because my safety and that of my co-workers depends upon not being too predictable when traveling.

    I was here for about 12 hours when they decided that I would go on my first job. I don’t even have my permanent embassy access badge yet. (I’m in the same compound with the Embassy). We’re not allowed, as mere contractors and therefore 3rd class citizens, to carry weapons in the Embassy compound, so we just draw them on our way to missions. The good news is, they’re brand new Glocks, and not the shite Beretta M9 that the military has to carry. All kitted up in full “battle-rattle” I’m running pretty close to, if not more than 300 pounds, and even though we’re moving into the cool season, it’s still bloody hot, so it doesn’t take much effort to wear you down moving around in all of that. I only really have to wear it when traveling though.

    Speaking of traveling, I absolutely have to get my pilot’s license. Helos are FUN. Dan was right when he talked about going rotary after getting the fixed wing license. On the way here from BIAP, it was a little freaky when somebody lit up the inside of the Blackhawk with a BRIGHT spotlight and followed us for about 10-15 seconds. Then on the way home this morning, some flares popped. 2 or 3 of them went. As basic cargo, we’re not hooked into the intercom system, so we have no idea what is going on during a flight. In fact, there’s minimal conversation ever when getting on the helo. Mostly hand signals telling you which side to get in. So I don’t know what happened, but there are automated systems for ECM purposes which could have popped those flares. Regardless, I almost shit myself thinking of lovely things like the SA-7. A bit of chaff even blew in through the open window and hit me, which made me realize why they require long sleeve shirts and long pants when traveling Blackhawk express.

    I’m in a pretty good mood, and I feel like things are going well. With that preface, my physical status is okay: I’m still jetlagged pretty hard, though having an immediate schedule to require me to get up and be places on time has helped discipline me to the new time zone. My new boots are killing my feet- I have blisters the size of quarters in a couple spots. I tried breaking in my boots bit by bit while I was still in Texas, but that only helped a little. The heat is far worse than El Paso’s uncharacteristically cool weather. It’s not unbearable, but it’s a noticeable drain of energy. My immunizations still have me headache-y and sore. The smallpox shot is fucking nasty- just disgusting. The Anthrax update has mostly subsided to a small lump and distant minor ache.

    Pedro just rolled in, and holy shit, a guy I went with through a year of Korean classes at the DLI back in 1990-91 just walked in.

    Anyway, that pretty much catches me up- stay tuned.

    Thursday, September 21, 2006

    Made it to Baghdad

    First imperssions: Bombs are loud.

    It's pretty warm, but not completely unbearable. My hooch has a pretty good air conditioner. It's friggin' dusty as hell everywhere. This place is a huge dustbowl. Everything is covered in fine dust.

    Chow's decent, they even had kimchi on the salad bar. Thought I was going to have to find the Korean compound and beg. Talked to some Korean dudes yesterday when I was stuck in the terminal at BIAP (for 9+ hours). I'm checked in with the company and everybody has been pretty cool so far, showing me around and getting me and my gear settled. We all know a lot of people in common, so there's a lot of "how's so-and-so?"

    All in all, not too bad so far.

    Tuesday, September 19, 2006

    Made it to Kuwait City

    I checked into the Kuwait Hilton this morning. It's pretty nice. The water is 50 meters away, if that.

    Had a great time in London. It was a bit boring at first, just walking around on my own, trying to figure out where to go, but as I started chatting people up in various pubs, it got better. The "Two Chairmen", close to Picadilly circus, was great. Peope kept buying me ale, and I was completely pissed by the time I got on the plane. And hung over big time this morning.

    Took a few pictures of Trafalgar Square and Picadily Circus. I'll get thos posted when I have more time. I'm just at a business center kiosk in the hotel right now. It looks like I'll be here at least overnight, and perhaps tomorrow night as well.

    Saturday, September 16, 2006

    Finally got off post

    Managed to get a rental car yesterday after a bunch of people turned them in after noon. Went out for a nice steak dinner with a nice Army Spec-4 that is also stuck here. Would've been nicer if she hadn't had to check in with her unit every so often.

    Today is laundry day. It was pushing it to wait this long- had to go buy underwear yesterday, but now the vast herd has moved on, leaving the laundry room open. One more night of killing time and then I can travel out of this place.

    Friday, September 15, 2006

    Done with the hurrying up

    Now it's just waiting.

    My flight doesn't leave for a couple days, and there aren't any rental cars to be had. Up til now I've been busy enough to just go rack out in the barracks when I was done processing for the dya, but now I have all day to sit around being bored. I did get to the local Harley Davidson dealer yesterday, which brags on being the largest in the world. That was pretty cool. Though I'm not a huge Harley Davidson fan, there were some freakin' awesome bikes there.

    After that, I pretty much just racked out. I want to get out and explore El Paso since the only time I've ever been here was years ago with Shawn and the bitch that shall not be named that Jon used to date. That was only for the day on our way to San Angelo between schools. The only recommendation for nightlife that I've heard so far is some strip club called the Jaguar. I'd rather find some venue with live music. I didn't make it with the groupd that went to the Cattleman's Restaurant for 32 oz. steaks last night- I probably should have!

    Tuesday, September 12, 2006

    Processing is going fairly well- I'm hurrying up and waiting.

    So, aside from getting infected with a couple deadly diseases, having the leeches let blood a couple times, sweltering in Texas heat and humidity, and a piss-poor chow schedule, it's going great.

    Actually, the Texas heat ain't so bad. It's incredibly green in El Paso right now. They're telling us that the past month has had more rain than geologists can discover in a similar period of time, for the last 6,000 years. Damn mosquitos are vicious though (gotta bitch about something!) and they've had two cases of West Nile virus in El Paso so far. DDT is your friend.

    I didn't get the full checklist before I left (surprise!) so I had to go do a whiz-quiz when I got here, and get blood drawn for fasting blood sugar count. With the F'd up chow schedule, that means I fasted for about 20 hours today before I could go off-base to a local lab that does blood work. Everything else seems to be going pretty smoothly though. I'm up to #5 of 6 on my anthrax series- the lump on my arm from that is worse than the smallpox vaccination- so far at least.

    Got my body armor today. That shite is heavy! I have Dan's 'Second Chance' with me- trauma plate makes it a class III armor, and it weighs maybe 8-10 pounds. The stuff they issued today is Class III or IIIa and weighs a frickin' ton. About 30-35 punds at a guess. I'll be wearing both when I leave the Green Zone. Maybe I'll sweat off some of my fat ass.

    Speaking of fat; I thought I'd put on a lot of weight but there are some soldiers here who look pregnant, and that's just not a good look with the cheesy Army-reg mustaches. I guess you can't get out of deploying by being an ate-up fatass malingerer anymore.

    The military tried to tell me that no civvies would get issued side arms. They're not going to issue, but I'll get my M9 when I leave the GZ- it's issued by my company when I go out on missions. My orders clearly state that I'm authorized to carry, and I won't leave the GZ without it.

    Speaking of orders, the HR guy almost screwed me by not having my orders ready until Monday mid-day. Another 3 or 4 hours and they would've kicked me out to come back at a later date. That would've been joyful.

    Only a couple of things to do tomorrow, including getting my ID card, and I'll be cleared to go, but won't leave until sometime Sunday.

    Monday, September 11, 2006

    Rafting is fun

    I've been meaning to re-do a post I lost about last weekend about our rafting trip.

    The news story; some expansion on that; and here's some commentary.

    Bottom line, it was a bummer when we realized the dude had kicked it, and we left a day early. Even more of a bummer was watching boaters float right on past the distressed (obviously! it was overturned!) boat without helping. I wish we could've done more, but Dan's the only one who saw the guy in the water at all, and we were busy pulling little girls out of the water at that point, and on the wrong side of the current. Never saw him again after that until we went up to the photo shop and saw him online.

    Sunday, September 10, 2006

    Home Grown Terrorist Target Lists

    As if we have not had enough of soft heart, appeasement attitudes towards terrorists; now we have to endure our local and national news media providing intelligence, target acquisition, and procedural documentation to the enemy!

    Right on the front page!

    In stark testimony to this, The Columbian, Vancouver Washington’s major newspaper, featured an article in the Sunday, September 10th edition designating the Washington State Ferry System as a target for future terrorism. Just who does this paper think it is benefiting? Surely, if the daily ferry users heeded this warning, the ferry system could loose millions in lost fares because of the wide spread fear of using a ferry. Or, take it a step farther, terrorist enemies now have substantiated, cold hard facts about a prime target including but not limited to: scheduling, passenger (read that-casualty) numbers, tonnage loss projections, and possible times targeting could be plotted and executed. This particular article even spells out specific ways it could be done and provides a guide to existing and potential terrorists on exactly how to exploit weaknesses in the security of the ferry network.

    Make no mistake…military intelligence gathering organizations seek out and covet this type of information and make active attempts to try to obtain it any chance they get. Much of the intel comes at a steep price in resources and many times, lives. Now, our local news media is providing it free to terrorists who want an easy target.

    I recall reading other similarly worded articles in other newspapers and magazine commentaries over the past few years about other potential targets including bridges, public gathering places, civic buildings, and other like places that a terrorist organization could easily recon, stake out, and later destroy with little or no effort; aided of course, by the detailed descriptions provided by our *ever-so-loyal* news media.

    Can you remember back during the Gulf war in 91’ when there was a standing joke about Saddam’s best source if intelligence and information being CNN or FOX? That same concern raised its ugly head in Operation Iraqi Freedom too. I remember being appalled at how I was able to find out our country’s operational plans and targets in great detail, hours and in some cases, days before they launched; complete with operational maps, overlays, route recons, and some retired, military nobody, a Colonel or General usually, to explain it all to the civillian newswatchers and give their opinion about how good (or bad) it was in relation to whatever political viewpoint that particular newsgroup held. (to think that I used to feel that Walter Cronkite was a seditionist back in the sixties and early seventies? Sheesh! he was a sheep compared to some media sources today.)

    Leaks, disclosure of military secrets, sellouts, betrayals, inventive journalism, blatant lies, all in the name of selling papers! When are we going to reel in this out of control juggernaut of destruction we call freedom of the press? Don’t misread me here, I am in full support and belief in the freedoms granted and secured in our constitution and I did, and would again, fight to protect them but…all freedoms come with responsibilities and duties. I feel the line has been crossed…many times over. This latest article is but one example. I feel this is sedition directed against our population at its worst.

    How would it be viewed if those ferry passengers got together and painted bull’s-eyes on the local news agency and newspaper offices.

    After all…doesn't one *good* deed deserve another.

    Friday, September 01, 2006

    Last day at work

    Today is my last day at work before I take off to Iraq. One week left to accomplish all the details necessary to be gone for several months.

    I'll start it off by going rafting.