Thebastidge: 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006
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    Thursday, November 30, 2006

    Returning home

    So our company has been in contract negotiations for renewal or extension, but so far no decisions have solidified, and the contract ends in a month. I'm giving it til the end of the week, and if nothing materializes, I'll be going home in January.

    To that end, I've started applying for jobs back home. I don't want to call on any of my personal contacts just yet, because I want to make sure that nothing is going to keep me here. I don't want to burn any personal bridges.

    But it seems likely that this idyllic sojourn is about to come to an end.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    safety first : ahnjun che il

    And answering my cousin's question:

    "Safety is hard to judge- it's not consistent. The randomness of it is the thing. Walking through the IZ is probably safer than walking through North Portland at night. But then random mortar fire can come in anywhere, any time. We occasionally find expended bullets lying on the ground from random or celebratory rifle fire. Tonight, our regular chow hall was blockaded because of UXO (un-exploded ordnance) at dinner time, and several more mortars were audible. Normally they come in no more than a couple at a time and the bad guys scoot quickly to avoid being caught. This time there were several. I was sort of laughing my ass off because I was answering your exact same question in another email to a friend, and describing the sound of the incoming rounds.You get pretty casual about it very quickly. Doesn't keep you from scrambling for cover when it's close, but you shrug it off when it's a few blocks away."

    PIctures

    One of my sisters asked for more pictures today. I thought about it for a sec, and this is what I said:

    "The thing is, there's not much to take pictures of over here. Iraq is pretty much a featureless desert (lots of it irrigated, which makes it marginal farmland, still flat and featureless except for the patterns of square-ish fields) with occasional palm groves. Most of the architecture is adobe or cheap concrete,with the exception of Saddam's palaces. Most of the places I stay are prefab trailers or semi-permanent tent camps. I'm doing my best to stay away from scenes of carnage and destruction, and I wouldn't burden you with that nastiness even if it was all around me.

    Opportunites for photos are mostly significant to whatever actions me and my team mates are performing at the time, most of which are only interesting to our respective families. I send pics home so you all know I'm still alive and well, and take pictures of my co-workers so they can do the same."

    I've been thinking about getting some more webspace for osting picures, but I really don't have many that are at all interesting.

    Sunday, November 26, 2006

    Turkey dinner

    Comfort food is nice.

    I posted a little bit about my Thanksgiving, but I neglected to mention the dinner. I spent most of the day traveling back from Basra, but I was able to get to the chow hall in time to grab a plate. Got a couple different kinds of turkey and some prime rib.

    They go all-out here with the decorations. Huge papier-mache turkeys, and some (utterly creepy) zombie mummy pilgrims in a huge display. Very disturbing.

    I need to get som more web hosting spce so I can post some more pictures. I tried to take some from the British Puma ride, but it was getting on toward dusk and I didn't want to us the flash, so they came out a little too dark. That was pretty cool though. The Brits manouever a but more areobatically than our average Blackhawk ride. At one point I was looking to my left, straight down at the ground through the open door, from maybe 30-50 meters up.

    Thursday, November 23, 2006

    HappyThanksgiving

    Synopsis of this trip:

    Took off on Friday night, (our day off, but hey- the mission comes first, right?) and made it to the first stop of our ping-pong trip across Iraq. It wasn’t too bad, bit of a longer helo trip than I’ve been on so far, but ultimately very tolerable. In fact I had to remind myself yet again that I was traveling by helicopter through a war zone in black-out conditions, and that I should pay attention (rather than dozing) because after all, how many times will you do THAT in you lifetime? I mean there’s the whole miracle of flight thing too. Flying commercial air separates us from the pure wonder of defying gravity, with the cattle-car procedures, bureaucracy and complacency of airline employees, looking out through tiny portholes into dim nothingness.

    Flying in a combat helicopter is NOTHING like that. It is VERY immediate. Even thought they have the windows back in with the colder weather, and thus very little rotor was makes it into the cabin, the process of embarking has a visceral rush to it. Then the non-linear feeling of motion in a helicopter kicks in as you take off, and even in the dark as you pass over things with your lights all out, you can almost feel the land speeding blow you. Objects are not vague patches of land miles below; they are thing rushing past in the dark a couple hundred feet away. We fly higher at night than during the day, but it’s not very high. At first, there’s a sea of light then as you move further from the city, it’s lakes and then ponds, and finally, isolated spots, until you get to the next town and there’s another puddle of streetlights and homes all lit up.

    Never let anybody tell you that the electrical situation here is worse than before we got here. The problems may hit places that got priority under Saddam and never experienced them then, but there is electricity all over this place, and hugely growing demand is the problem- outpacing supply because the supply was absolute shite before and demand was artificially kept down by poverty and ‘legal’ restrictions.

    Anyway, we got in pretty late last night and got some bunk beds in a transient tent in Bilad. This was not really a tent, more of a plywood shack. Went to catch a C-130 down to Basra in the afternoon, but it never showed up. Apparently no one coordinates the British flights with the Americans at the AMC terminal, so no one knows when or even if they’ll show up. We knew this was a bad trip plan before we even started.

    Stuck in a transient tent (really a tent this time) in Bilad still. Trying to get on another helo to Talil at oh-dark-thirty, so we can hopefully get to Basra from there.

    More to follow…

    So, bullshit reigns again. No fixed-wing flights came in, so we went space-A. (Space-Available). Zero-300 show time for a 7-am flight. We got weighed in for an Amy Sherpa flight. What a boxy S.O.B. I finally got confirmation of how f*ckin’ fat I am. I weighed in at 312 pounds. So I put my laptop case on the scale and it weighs 22 pounds. So that means 290 pounds of *me* in armor. 245 pounds of fully-dressed me means 45 pounds of XXL armour. BTW, my duffle was about where I put it; at 40 pounds. So in armour, wit luggage, I’m well over an 1/8th ton. Actually, I’m pretty much 1/8th ton without anything else on me, so the rest of that is just gross weight

    Anyway, not dwelling on how fit I am (not), the Sherpa ride was cold as f*ck. This is the first aircraft I’ve ridden in Iraq that has risen above the clouds. Not to mention the colder weather, it just froze my ass off, getting to Basra.

    Got in to Basra, tired from two+ days of uninterrupted travel with no rest and we slept!!!!!!

    Slept in Camp Charlie. It’s way the hell down at the end of the road (just meters from the red zone.) So Camp C is a British-run place. Quite fun actually- talking to the Brits and Scots- seemed a disproportionate number of Scots accents but no matter- everyone was super polite and the tea was the best I’ve had here (even though it was instant.)

    Iraqi 10th Div HQ is a trip. These were the joking-est Iraqis I’ve met so far. The MIT team was cool- Danes and Brits and Scots and Various. But the Iraqis were weird! This far south they speak a different dialect. Even my pitiful efforts at Arabee show a difference. The Pimsleur CDs I’ve been reviewing have my Iraqi dudes calling me “Al Lebnani” It appears that Iraqi Arabic is not the most highly respected form of that poetic language. The negative form of Arabee- “MA”/”MU” is all different and the accents are in odd places. There’s a lot more dark-skinned people down here: Negroid features, not Caucasoid/Semitic. The Colonel in charge of this place is Black, not completely Arab. The guys here are joking around with me. “Colonel Saadi is from Zimbabwe, yes?” his exec asks me. Colonel Saadi asks me “You think true?”

    No, I assure him, “Not true”. I don’t think so. “Just an idiot, not an actual African,” I think to myself.

    Fu*king jokers, they think they are. Annoyingly primitive humour, if you want to call it that. These guys are literally dancing around and grabbing each other’s asses. I’m trying to build network cables, desktop computers, and teach people to use them who don’t understand the most basic of professional behaviour and technological tools.

    The Brits give me a new definition for “Inshallah”. So far I’ve been going with the internationally-accepted answer- it means “God/Allah willing” and is an acknowledgement of the ‘tiny fragility of man’s will, based against the universe’ intransigence.

    The Brits, however, tell me it means; “Fuck you, I don’t give a shit.” Further, they tell me that there is no word in Arabic that corresponds to the Spanish word “Manana”- The Iraqis have apparently never felt that much sense of urgency.

    My job here was planned to be and should have been a one day task. Between my NOC personnel fucking up my systems and failing to provide the services we contracted for and expect, it turned into a 3-day job.

    We request air transport the day we got to Basra. However, our British allies are apparently not hooked into the same communication systems we take for granted, because the bastards failed to inform s that they wee changing the flight time to be 3 hours earlier for our return flight to Baghdad. So we showed up ‘on time’3 hours late.

    “Oh, we sent out EMAIL!”

    Doesn’t help much when you’re not permanently stationed there with an email account, mate! The fact that we left our DPN and Iraqna phone numbers doesn’t seem to have helped much either!

    Fucking wankers.

    However, most of the British forces there in Basra were actually Scots. Bless ya!
    Had some good conversations with the Highlanders from the Blackwatch regiments. The disproportionate number of Scots accents in the cook tent more than made up for the Anglish wankers.

    Speaking of the cook tent: I left/lost my hat there- arg! It sucks! My favourite ball cap since 9/1/2001 is an NYPD ball cap. My (currently shaved) bald head needs a cover!

    So Wednesday night, staying in Camp Charlie Tent A2: it was funny when the rockets were incoming: Mike H. was yelling: “We’re not even supposed to fucking BE here!” as we scrambled to put on our IBA during the rocket attack. I had to ask “What the fuck is going on?” as the Danes ran into the tent: I had my headphones on and didn’t hear the first rocket land or the loudspeaker alerting us to don IBA and helmets.

    I was in my boxers and sleeping bag until I figured it out- then scrambled to put on my IBA, get my Glock out from under the bed, strapped into my shoulder holster where I could reach it (which is NOT easy when wearing armour with ballistic plates hampering your movement!) and getting my boots on and flashlight strapped on in case I need to run for cover.

    Of course, being the semi-paranoid bastidge that I am, I already had the bunk in the corner of the tent. Tents are flimsy. Most of the structures here are so flimsy as to be transparent to explosives. BUT: they are surrounded by earth berms. In the corner you are covered by berms on two sides, and as we well know, applying the basic laws of physics, the third side of this equation is a gamble. If a rocket or other explosive hits me dead on in my corner, then the explosive will be very effective; i.e., it will blow me to shit and tiny little shreds because an explosion {contained} is an –effective- explosion .But the *force* of an explosion is defined by a couple things: there is energy and there is power. Energy is an absolute: for a given amount of explosive of a given type, it will yield a given amount of energy, usually expressed in joules. However, energy and power are not equivalent.

    Energy is dissipated over area and distance. In fact, essentially, the same equation applies to the ‘volume’ of sound, the ‘brightness’ of light sources’, and the ‘force’ of an explosion. The relative strength of any of these forces is inversely proportionate to the square of the distance.

    However, ‘power’ is the ability to do work. In the case of an explosive device, ‘doing work’ is the amount of destruction it can accomplish. Explosions are more effective at destroying things when the force of the explosion is contained in a constricted area.

    So if I’m in the corner of a couple berms, if the rocket hits me square, I’m just as fucked or more than if it landed next to me in a field: I won’t lie about that. But the odds, the chances, and especially the skill or luck required to make that happen is a pretty astronomical number.

    While every foot the hypothetical rocket lands further away from me increases the chance I’ll live through it (unscathed) by a geometric progression. The force is weaker as the square of the distance. An explosion at 4 feet away is ¼ the strength of an explosion at 2 feet away. This means that, shrapnel aside, the pure concussive force of an explosion is nothing unless it hits directly *ON* me- an astronomically hard thing to do, even if Iraqi/Irani/Syrian/Wahabi insurgents can A: manage to arm the rockets they firing to make them actually explode when they hit (about a 25-50% rate so far) and B: aim them in an effective manner: i.e. at a target such as a camp containing personnel and assets such as myself.

    Anyway, got a ride back to Baghdad on an RAF C-130 this afternoon. Should’ve got up for breakfast, because once again, the show time we were told was wrong- it was moved up again and we missed lunch. Fortunately, there was a very pretty girl on our flight- and the British guys gave her cookies she didn’t want. So she shared them with us- thank you, Sara; that was lovely. You’re as pretty on the inside as you are on the outside!

    Got to BIAP and after the RAF got all the British passengers settled on flights to their final destination, we lowly American contractors got ‘home’ to LZ Washington.

    I’ll catch up the rest of my Thanksgiving Evening tomorrow.

    Here’s what I’m most thankful for today: my lovely sisters: all of them- the ones I’ve been close to all of my life, those I’ve gotten close to again recently, the one I’ve acquired and the one I’ve met for the first time.

    Samantha
    Cara
    Jonica
    Stephanie
    Tara
    Michelle

    Monday, November 20, 2006

    No worries here...

    Hey all,

    I'm not kidnapped or anything. Just don't have easy/convenient/steady Internet access. I'm in Basra, but it's real quiet so far. Shouldn't be here too long. More details later.

    L

    Friday, November 17, 2006

    Checking in

    I'll be taking off again for a few days. This trip looks like it'll take longer to get there than it will to do the job, so it shouldn't be too long. Maybe 5 days of travel (round trip) and one or two of work.

    I'll check in and check email as Internet is available. Some transient quarters have it, most don't, but there's usually an Internet 'cafe' available somewhere.

    Still waiting on word of whether our contract will be renewed or extended into the next year. By the time I return, they should'v made an announcement one way or the other, and then I can solidify plans to come home.

    If more work is offered to me, I'll stay here, but if I have to come home, I won't cry about that either. I made enough cash here to make it worthwhile even if it was only short term, but it does pretty much suck 24/7 to be here. I'll treasure the experience in retrospect, but then time really does put a rosy glow on things that aren't so great to be in the middle of.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    Groundhog Day - the movie

    Comments and email are very welcome.

    Our days here are pretty bland and repetitive, when we're not actually out installing something, so email and comments on this blog are very welcome.

    All of us here have very similar experiences day in and out. We all see pretty much the same things and do the same things, and it makes for somewhat stultifying conversation.

    It's difficult to find someone here who can answer the question "what day is today?" correctly the first time. Think of it as eternally Tuesday afternoon.

    We get up, we go to chow, go to work, go to lunch, back to work, to dinner chow, and then the gym. Maybe we get a cup of coffee in the evenings at the Green Bean cafe.

    And then we do it again the next day, 6 days a week. The seventh day we do laundry.

    A particularly loud explosion is reason for 2 minutes speculation on the target and type of explosive, but overall, the gunfire and explosions are just background noise, generally fairly far off.

    I don't think anyone back home can realize exactly how much we crave outside stimulation, because you actually do things, have different experiences that are interesting to hear about, even when it's just "went to the store today and you wouldn't believe how blah blah blah." Hearing these things provides a feeling of normalcy, that somewhere, life is going on.

    Particularly for me, writing on this stupid blog, getting comments and email makes me feel connected, like I'm not just whistling in the dark here. This blog is primarily for my friends and family (who don't write me often enough, hint-hint), but everyone is welcome.

    Thanks for reading.

    Please check out this link

    Project Boresnake

    I'll be placing it on the right sidebar under "Worthy Causes".

    If you email me, I can even identify some soldiers by name if you don't personally have a friend or loved one over here, but would like to help out.

    pitter-patter

    Ah, the gentle sound of raindebris falling on the roof- so soothing.

    Last night something pretty big exploded somewhere in the vicinity of my trailer park. Shook my hooch pretty good. Couldn't see any damage in my immediate area this morning.

    Then I'm told at lunch that 16 car bombs had gone off in Baghdad this morning, all before 10:30 AM.

    Yesterday before I got 'home', some folks at work were on the roof watching in the right direction to see the explosion of a VBIED at the checkpoint by Asassin's Gate (or at least the smoke cloud), and hear the gunfight that broke out- .50 calibers have such a distinctive sound.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Arg. Tired.

    Traveling here is very exhausting. First, it always entails a lot of standing around waiting for transportation, whether that means a helicopter or a convoy. Then you add in the extra weight: around 35-40 pounds of body armour and a kevlar helmet. Plus whatever baggage you have. This time I only had a couple days change of clothes, but we always have to carry a sleeping bag because of unknow-able sleeping conditions, towels, toiletries (it's not like we stay in hotels that provide these things.) Then there's the invevitable tools of the trade (laptop, multiple cell phones, power adaptors, extra cables for network and serial connections etc.) Flip flops for shower shoes: another tribal custom (of the military community this time) that one never showers barefoot- it's considered dirty. Never mind that thin, open flip flops probably protect neither their wearer nor the other people who use the shower. It's customary. It dfoes serve some purpose in getting to and from the showers though. And at the end of a long day, at least it is not combat boots you're wearing. So figure 40 pounds of miltaristic gear and a duffle bag weighint maybe 30 pounds and a laptop case weighing 15 pounds and a sidearm and ammo weighint 5-10 pounds total- on top of my not-inconsiderable bulk.

    I was standing there waiting for our helo ride home tonight thinking "Man, my feet are getting tired very fast" as I shifted from foot to foot.

    Then when your ride gets there, you lean into the rotor wash as you hurry toward the side of the aircraft (never front or back) with all your crap banging against your side and hop up into the helo, cramming your bags in among everyones else's bags and legs, and straining your turtle-like efforts to grab the four-point harness straps that you can barely reach because the armour is in the way. Then you pull the straps tight and end up with about a 10-15 degree turn capability, wedged in amongst the gear and passengers. In the open window helos, you get beat about the face bit by strap ends and rotor wash for the whole ride, but the last couple have actually had the windows in place when they closed the doors. I got to sit facing forward for the first time tonight. That meant I could see quite a bit more. Not atypically, we popped some flares coming into the IZ. At least this time it didn't startle me like it usually does.

    I literally slept in a palace the last couple nights. Radwaniyeh palace, actually. It's covered in Falcon motifs, marble and jade. The marble and jade on the walls and floor are a waste, because they weren't installed very well. It overlooks a really nice lake- the prettiest place I've seen over here so far, if you can just mentally block out the details and focus on the lake. The palace is kinda run down- poorly constructed in the first place (like everything here), and then not maintained. The coalition has most of it boarded off, just using a couple big rooms for transient billetting, and the bottom floor for a chow hall. The big room where we slept was divided into rooms by plywood dividers- open roofs to the high ceiling. Lights on and folks coming in and out all night, and nothing to block the echoing noise or light reflected off the ceiling. But hey, I slept in a palace! And peed off the balcony. (The only latrines were three floors down and across the street- the ones in the palace don't work and are boarded off.)

    I'll be going out again in a couple days, to a different place. Maybe I'll have a better report from there...

    Friday, November 10, 2006

    Happy Birthday

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    Catching up

    So last week kinda sucked on some levels. We convoyed up Route Irish on the Rhino to the Iraqi Special Forces compound to install their network. The guys there were pretty cool, and honestly, the most motivated and focussed Iraqis I've seen so far. Besides, SF guys always have good stories.

    The barracks we stayed in was brand-new, but sucked. There was no water in our end of the building for 99% of the time we were there. When there was water, it was a trickle that wouldn't make it up as high as a showerhead, we were squatting to splash water on ourselves from the spigot at knee level. The other end of the building had water most (but not all) of the time, but only enough pressure for one outlet at a time. There were two showers down there, and we were sharing the building with about 40+ Iraqi guys and our crew of 7.

    The crappers were Iraqi-style troughs in the floor, and were pretty ripe with no water. Even before they started being used, they were kinda nasty.

    The first two nights I could barely sleep because of the biting critters in the bedding- I got some OFF and sprayed the shite out of my mattress and slept a little better on the third night- of course, by then I was so exhausted I could've probably slept through a python attack.

    The building we did the work in is so infested with termites they had to come in and drill holes every two feet apart along every wall to put chemical into the concrete. It's also a brand new building. They were installing the electrical as we worked, which slowed me down quite a bit when trying to configure server equipment. They don't run on redbull like the team does.

    I ate Iraqi chowhall food for the first time. The bread is frickin' great. I tell you, Mexican tortillas are cardboard compared to the unleavened bread that Iraqis make. It really is good. They often eat this bread with cream cheese and honey or a type of marmalade for breakfast. It's really fantastic. The other meals tend to chicken or mutton and rice. The rice isn't so great (I'm kind of a rice snob after so many years in East Asia) but the beans are pretty decent-tasting. The meat wasn't bad to taste, but may have been tainted. I tried not to think about the hygeiene standards of the guys who prepared the food. I normally have an iron stomach, but even I had a couple days of 'digestive issues' after eating their chow. Not pretty in a barracks with no water and where you have to squat to shit.

    Still, overall the installation went fairly smoothly. It was the return that took extra time. With Saddam's guilty verdict the day we were to come back, pretty much everything got shut down. Spent a day in the transient tents at BIAP, which was actually better than Iraqi billeting- at least I got a hot shower.

    That was also the day it finally turned cold for the first time. Drizzling, cold-ass rain coming down in occasional heavier showers. It was cold enough to see our breath in the morning. didn't get much warmer all day, but it's a bit warmer now. The State Dept. folks have taken to wearing their business attire again- I guess it's finally cool enough to indulge tribal customs like neckties and business suit jackets again. It's cold enough to make me wear a sweater now even in the daytime unless I'm exercising- like riding the bike I finally managed to get at BIAP. Getting that thing back to the IZ wasn't super hard, but not like throwing it in the back of my pickup, either. It's amazing that it took us a day and a half to go the 10 miles or so from BIAP to the IZ. Welcome to the 7th century, folks.

    Looks like I'll be out for an over-night trip this weekend, and then back here again. Sadly, I've started referring to the IZ as "getting home".

    Tuesday, November 07, 2006

    Another one down

    Well, I'm back in the IZ, freshly showered and feeling pampered again. Thanks to everyone who has emailed, it's very nice to hear from home, even what may seem like inconsequential chit-chat to you guys is welcome contact over here.

    The last week kinda sucked, working on an install for Iraqi Special Forces. There were some good guys out there though- the most dedicated and motivated Iraqis I've seen so far.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    back soon

    Job's done but transportation is difficult because of the Saddam verdict and curfew. Should be back in the IZ in a day or two at most.