Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Costs of Christmas

I made my first Christmas at home in 4 years. I took a 7 day LWOP (Leave With Out Pay) and grabbed a frequent flyer ticket for my trip home. What a mess. Taji to Baghdad by helicopter. Dubai-Munich-Chicago-Austin by Lufthansa and United. I had good luck all the way over as I had aisle seats with an empty middle seat all the way. In Chicago they have a special line in customs for military so you are whisked through about twice as fast as everyone else. The trip back was another story altogether but I will cover that another time.

The long trip home was worth it as I got to see my 4 year old son run around looking at the bounty that Santa bestowed upon him. My wife thinks that I had more fun than him putting together all the Thomas the Engine train tracks and setting up a rail road.

Its funny how play prepares us for life. These are his first lessons in systems engineering. Tracks must be connected and set properly. Routes must be planned and laid out correctly. This means moving furniture if need be or rolling up throw rugs which are in the way. Trains must be prepared and fueled (AA Batteries). Environmental issues must be dealt with. That meant banishing the dog as he keep kicking the track. Maybe that was a Vector Control issue; either way he was a pest about it.

He also had to make value added choices. "Do I play with Thomas or my new basketball hoop?" "Do I play alone or ask Daddy to play?" "Who is better at tasks I need help with, Mommy or Daddy?" "Do I eat or play?" "Why is Daddy's hair sticking out in 500 directions and did I have anything to do with it?"

While he had to make these decisions I was struggling with my own internal costs. Even though I knew I had missed too many Christmases already and that it was my turn to be at home I was still feeling a bit guilty as I left my friends, brothers, and troopers back in Iraq. No matter how many times I go home I never feel like I am totally there. Some little part of me is still in Iraq just as some part of me is always at home when I am in Iraq. Its hard to explain but it is a mental and psychological cost of the war. Those of us making the efforts here will never be the same. My Christmases will never be the same. I will always think of my Christmases in Bosnia and here in Iraq. I will think of the massive party at BIAP the first year, the fizzled out party at Taji last year and getting home this year. Part of the cost of Christmas for me is knowing that I will miss some more before it is over. I am willing to pay this cost so that my son does not have to. If I can make a difference by spending holidays in the Sand Box to prevent him from having to then the cost is worth it.

I guess I ramble but I just want to get across that there is more than monetary cost at Christmas. What should be a gathering of love and sharing always becomes a stress filled battle to make everything "perfect." Just ask my wife. She almost went into meltdown about the timing of the meal. Our family tradition is to eat a hearty breakfast and then have a feast around 14:00. The rest of the day and evening is for snacking on leftovers. Her family does a Christmas dinner. Since my dad had to go back to his home Christmas afternoon she was going to prepare two dinners. It took a lot to finally hammer home to her that she was doing this to herself and that two complete dinners was ridiculous. She finally caved and made the 14:00 meal at a real time of 15:00. Dinner was awesome though. Prime Rib and Dark Star Zinfandel followed by a full bottle of Tawny Port and cigars.

Mys sister's new boyfriend was playing games with her and we didn't know if he would show up. My step mother got wasted and spent the day in bed. My father in law got into the Scotch bottle in mid afternoon and was in full form by early evening. The dog, my son, and I played with the trains and attempted to be the happy ones. Ah yes, there is nothing like having all the family around for the holidays.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Shitty Ribbon Cutting

Today we had a special event. We built a pumping station for sewage over the course of a few months and it was opened today. It was a big challenge and we were quite proud even though it was something as simple as a pump station. The challenges in this theater to just conduct normal construction are extreme.

It may seem bizarre to have a ribbon cutting ceremony for a sewage station but we try and put some celebration in every event here. I sat out of the lime light on this one. Big Lou (That's him in the Hawaiian shirt) took the credit for this one and was front and center with the support troops who supported the effort. These are some of Minnesota's finest. They can't wait to get back and do some ice fishing and beer drinking.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I'm Back!

I did not give up blogging, I just could not get through the firewall that has been set up here. I don't blog because I "have to". I don't live and breathe it but it does bother me that it is so hard to get through as I know a lot of folks check here from time to time.

Elections here in Iraq are coming and with that is the usual flurry of activity and preparation. Unlike a lot of other bloggers I realize that Haji reads these things and I am not giving away anything he can use against us. While I can't go into specifics I can state that if Haji tries anything he may get punched in the nose.

The weather got cool enough for light jackets and now we are back to shirt sleeves. I get email updates from my favorite ski resorts and see all the groovy powder out there but it just seems unreal since we are in this temperate season. An indoor ski slope was recently opened in Dubai so I may try and catch some runs when I go through there the next time. Bad skiing is still better than working!

Speaking of Dubai, I had to go there three weeks ago for some meetings. What a nightmare! The company made my reservations for the wrong dates and when I arrived I had no hotel room. There was a huge trade show in town and there were just no rooms available anywhere. The hotel (Movenpick) tried to find me another room and after about 2 hours they found me a basement room in a flophouse in Bur Dubai.

I stayed one night and then checked out the following morning. Upon arriving at the meetings with all my luggage I got the personnel to start working on finding me a room. Low and behold, they found me a room guessed it....the MOVENPICK! Seems they actually keep one room back just in case a member of the royal family drops in. When I got there in the evening they were just falling all over themselves to apologize and explain to me how they did not know "who I was" and other crap like that. I took their apologies and the key and checked in to the over $400.00 per night room.

It was palatial. It was one of the nicest rooms I have ever stayed in (Le Meridein in Budapest is #1). It is huge with a nice big walk in shower and lots of amenities including a private elevator to that floor and a concierge desk on the floor. Not that I used any of that. I just slept and ordered room service.

I leave again on the 19th for my first Christmas home on 4 years. I have missed 3 in a row. I'm not missing any more. They can ki$$ my big white A$$. I will try and get some more in now that I know how to get around this insidious firewall.

The photo was taken about last February at the Gold Souk in Dubai. Look at this gaudy crap!
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