Monday, January 30, 2006

The Challenger and Changes

In late 1985 I was working offshore in the Persian Gulf for Brown & Root. We took on a job in Egypt in the Gulf of Suez to install two GOSPs (Gas & Oil Separation Platforms) for PetroJet (Egyptian National Oil Company). This entailed making a journey of over 3000 miles by sea at 10 knots max.

We sailed from Bahrain and headed south being careful to stay out of the Iranian economic zone. We passed through the Straits of Hormuz into the Indian Ocean and then coasted along the shorelines of Oman, South Yemen (The two Yemens were separated at the time), past the Russian anchorage at Socotra, up through the Straits of Bab el Mandab, up the Red Sea, into the Gulf of Suez within sight of the Suez Canal. It took 31 days.

I navigated and it was the pinnacle of my offshore career. We were excited to make this voyage and wound up being there for almost 4 months before weighing anchor and coming back. All in all it took 6 months.

During this time we were cut off from the world. There was no internet, cell phones, etc. All we had was Telex and SSB radio as well as short wave. AFN, VOA, BBC, and the like were our links to the world. While we were in Egypt I drew night radio watch and listened to multiple frequencies all night long as this was an active shipping area.

One late night I was tuned into Radio Prague as the commie radio stations played the best Classical music. Radio Prague, Radio Moscow, Radio Berlin were all good sources for this. You just tuned out the commie rhetoric and listened to the music. During the broadcast there was a news flash that the US Space Shuttle Challenger had blown up during the launch. I did not believe it. Like most young Americans I believed NASA to be almost godlike when it came to technology. It just couldn't happen.

I spun over to AFN. Nothing. I tried VOA. Nothing. I found the BBC and they verified it. I knew then it was true. I was crushed. It could not happen to us. We are Americans. We lead the world in technology. I found out that the world is not what I thought it to be and that we make mistakes just like everyone else.

Yesterday was the 20 year anniversary of the crash. We still fly the Space Shuttle. I am still working in this God Forsaken hell hole part of the world. NASA still makes mistakes. The world has changed in many ways but in many ways it is still the same.

My youth became my adulthood on that day 20 years ago. I understood that everything is fragile no matter how well designed or engineered. I understood mortality. I feel my mortality now. I know how fast people's lives are snuffed out. War has taught me that.

I did not see the video of the explosion of the shuttle. We did not have internet, we did not get TV offshore. I was in Egypt another 5 months and did not make it to CONUS until December of 1986. I was at my Mother's house and there was a room full of people. While we were gathered one of the networks was running a compendium of the year's stories. It was really white noise while we talked. They played the lift off and explosion. I watched intently. While I was watching one of my relatives started to try and talk to me. I waved him off as I had never seen this tape. He kept trying to talk. I finally turned and told him to please be quiet as I was trying to watch. He said out loud so everyone could hear that everyone had seen this a thousand times on TV. I looked at him and told him that I had been overseas and had never seen it. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. My entire family at that point suddenly realized just how isolated I had been all those months.

Choosing this lifestyle causes you to miss many things. There are trade offs though. I have seen and done things athat most members of my family never will. I continue to trade off but I can see it rapidly drawing to a close. My father made those same trade offs. One of the things he traded off was his relationship with his children. I won't let that happen. I will be home when my son starts to school.

Of course as Fritz stated, there are those of us who are destined to live this life and wander the earth, not seeking anything profound, but just soaking in all that the world has to offer. If the opportunity arises I will take my family to another place for a while and let them experience some of this.

Youth is fleeting. The world is fascinating. Trouble exists everywhere. Beauty exists everywhere in some form. There are so many places to see, so many people to meet, so much to do, and so many ways to die. To wrap it up; I want to die like my grandfather, peacefully and in my sleep, not screaming in terror like the passengers in his car.

If you can't end anything on a positive note, use some humor!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Paths We Follow

I sat in a meeting today with two retired Lt. Generals, a retired Brigadier General, a serving Brigadier General and a host of retired and serving officers from Colonels on down. I wonder sometimes how I got here and just what the hell I am doing with such an august group of Americans.

I am serving my country the best way I can and I am honored to be in such company. I wonder sometimes what I would be doing now if I had followed a different path in life. Where would I be if I had stayed with Petroleum Construction? Where would I be if I had become a pilot like I always wanted to be? What would I be doing if I was a peacenick and against the war? Where would I be if I had married a woman less supportive? Wait a minute....I did that and it turned our bad. The one I have now is the one I was always menat to be with.

We all have choices and paths to follow. I followed this one and it has taken me to places and events that I never thought I would see or experience. Life has not been perfect but it is my path, my choice and my way forward. I would not have it any other way.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Just Another Day

I have been slaving away as a full blown PowerPoint Ranger for the past few weeks putting together several presentations. While working today I was plugged into my iPod so I could escape for a few minutes and started listening to Oingo Boingo. I happen to think that Boingo was one of the greatest bands ever but unfortunately the general public outside of SoCal and Brazil (Odd isn't it?) never really took to their cerebral brand of rock.

I digress. While listening the track "Just Another Day" came up. I stopped what I was doing and really listened. It dawned on me that over here every day is "Just Another Day". Folks back home are getting excited about the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl. Not here. I'm not getting up at zero dark thirty to watch two teams in a league I could care less about. Super Bowl Sunday, while a defacto holiday in the USA is "Just Another Day" over here. Like Christmas, Thanksgiving, Martin Luther King Day, etc. They are all "Just Another Day." The days roll together like an unseen tide of time. Days become weeks and before you know it months and years have passed.

I have been here days, weeks, months, and now years. I don't know how long I will last. I want to be a regular person again one day. Be a father, a husband, a citizen. I want to watch baseball, drink a beer, help my son with home work, work a friggin 40 hour week.

I know though that if I don't do this job some other schmuck will have to do it and maybe not as well as I can. I am commited to kicking Hajji's ass until he says, "Peace Table for 150 million please". I know that one day I will wake up and it will all be over. Until then it is like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Every day is "Just Another Day."

The troopers get up and eat, do their formation, weapons checks, and vehicle checks. They get their instructions and then do their thing whether it is guard duty, escort duty, or routine patrol. Even though is is "Just Another Day" any of them could be killed or maimed today. We all could be. I am so used to hearing rockets and mortars that I just don't react anymore. I can tell the difference between a 60mm and 82mm mortar, a 57mm rocket and a 122mm rocket just by sound. I can also tell how far away they landed and whether they are walking toward me or away. It's "Just Another Day" when this happens. A CNN reporter would shit his pants if he had seen some of the stuff we see. It would be all over TV. We just get up from the dirt, wipe off and go about our business. It's "Just Another Day." We call it "Mortar Bingo". If you are in the grid where it lands you definitely don't win though.

It is macabre humor that has existed in every war. We laugh about it, we joke about it so it does not drive us mad with worry. You could not fully function if you worried all the time. You make the best of it to make it through "Just Another Day."

Convoys come and go. People come and leave. There are only a few of us left from OIF I. We are now in OIF IV and the attrition and turnover is high. Folks meet their goals, burn out, or get scared. Some of them just want a normal life. I'm not sure what a normal life is anymore. Is it "Just Another Day"?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

For me to POOP ON!

One of our few pleasures here is to watch DVDs. Most of the time I am so tired that once I get off of work I watch maybe an hour and then rack out. Last night was the exception. I watched over 2 hours. That is because it was damn funny.

I picked up a copy of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog's Greatest Hits the last time I was in CONUS. I had not watched it and busted it out last night. The one that really killed me was the interview with the Star Wars nerds. I laughed until I shot Dr. Pepper out my nostrils. When that movie came out I drove past a theater with my boss at the time and we saw the same spectacle. A bunch of dorks dressed in costume waiting to see the movie....days before it started. These people have no other life. Triumph does not hold back at all. If you have never seen the cream of nerd society being publicly humiliated by a rubber dog hand puppet, have not been pooped on.

If you have never seen Triumph you are missing out. It is flat our one of the funniest things I have ever seen. If you doubt me check out this link and laugh! It is one of the funniest websites there is...FOR ME TO POOP ON!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Still down but not out

This flu is kicking my a$$. It is kicking everyone else's too. We have so many people sick and in bed that an epidemiologist would declare that we have an epidemic. This crud going around is worst I have seen for a long, long time. I have been sick for over a week now and it just keeps lingering. Even those who got sick before me are still carrying it around, hacking up green bits and looking like they are stoned out of their gourds.

I have coughed so much and so hard that I have pulled muscles in my ribcage and now it feels like someone is stabbing me every time I cough. This makes for long, restless nights as every cough brings me wide awake and in pain. I still have little appetite and can't taste anything except the very strongest things.

I need some Nyquill, Matzo Ball soup, Vick's Vapo Rub, a humidifier and my Grandmother. I have become a wussy boy and so has everyone else. It is something else to see how everyone reverts to being like a little kid when they are sick. Of course we have some who act like little kids anyway so it is natural for them.

Friday, January 13, 2006

It's time to bring in Disney

If you have never been to the Middle East or any other Muslim run area you really have no idea why we are just not shocked at all by the headlines that 345 people were killed in a stampede during Haj. There is no order like you are used to in the West. People don't patiently wait in line for anything. They bunch up, yell, try and throw any weight around that they may have and are in general just quite rude about it. The more educated ones are not (The UAE and Bahrain are the exceptions) but the majority are like this. It is just not a patient culture. I know, I know, there are some of you who are going to take offense to this and get all twisted up but these are my personal reflections after a total of 10 years in this part of the world.

The history of these incidents would make you think that the Ministry of Haj (That's right, they have an entire government department for this!) would have figured out by now that it is just about impossible to ram 2 million people past one wall the size of a Peterbuilt. Take the amount of people and add the mind set that ,"Hey, let's all throw rocks at this wall at noon and then have lunch!" This leads up to crowding like people trying to get into Sky Bar on Grammy night.

There have been incidents that make the crowd rush for a Who concert in Cinncinnati look like a Pee Wee football gang tackle. There have been hundreds killed on a regular basis and back in the early 1990's there were 1400 killed in one day. The area is too small. The infrastructure does not support the number of people. There are several elements of Haj that a pilgrim is supposed to make. When Islam was formed it was possible for the founders to imagine that the entire world they knew of could conduct such a ritual. As there was at most about 1 million people in the Arabian Pennisula at that time it was a doable feat. There is no way they would all come the same year.

Now they have 2 million fly in and another million locals who come. It's almost like the week between Christmas and New Year at Disneyland. Everyone knows that is the most crowded time there is as it is a holiday and you have all the visitors in town for the Rose Bowl and Rose Bowl parade. So far as I know the only solution I see to all of this is simple:

HAVE THE MINISTRY OF HAJ HIRE THE DISNEY CORPORATION. No one else can conduct crowd control like Disney. Think about it. NASA hired them to create Space Center Houston to take the pressure off from visitors to the Johnson Space Center. They now have a tourist attraction that is educational, informative, fun, and most importantly, is a revenue generator. Think about it. Disney can get 200K folks through the Indiana Jones ride in a day by using their pre ticketing process. Once you are in the park you go to a kiosk and punch in the rides you want to go on and print tickets for certain times. That way you don't spend hours and hours waiting in line. Instead you can do more important things like cruise the gift shops and by those stupid looking Mickey ears while sipping your $5.00 coke.

I have an image of it now. There is this ticket dispenser at the foot of the bridge like the one at In-n-Out burger. You pull your tab and it gives you a number. You wait until called. It calls out something like, "Numbers 350,000 through 360,000 will be served now. This way only 10K are trying to push past instead of 100k at once.

They can also use some of the Ski Industry models. No one wants their expensive skis ripped off by sticking them in the snow outside the lodge where some low rent snow boarder can nab them and sell them for a case of beer. Instead you give them to the ski check. There is a pimple faced kid who works 8 hours a day, 3 days a week in exchange for a season pass (Comes out to about .30 cents an hour) and he/she takes your skis and poles and gives you a ticket in exchange. Never mind that fact that when you come up you can point to any set of skis and they will give them to you which means free upgrades. At least you have peace of mind and there are no pesky tripping hazards when you are trying to get into the lodge. It's even more important after several hot toddies and you are coming out of the lodge.

With enough planning they could add people movers and use it like a ride. They could invent Hajjiland. They could use the Batman ride at Magic Mountain for the model. Everyone gets strapped in with their feet dangling and as you pass that evil stone wall everyone hurls their pebbles. A contraption below which acts like a golf ball retriever at a driving range collects the pebbles which allows the government to recycle them. After another billion or so pilgrims they are going to start running out of pebbles.

I know this is making fun of a tragedy but you know what, I'm just not a very forgiving person. In the name of this nutty religion they are killing people every day. The fact that they can't even conduct ceremonies in any kind of order should tell you something else about their religion and culture. Draw your own conclusions.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Taji Crud

It's that time of year again. It's time for almost 20% of us to infect each other with an upper respiratory condition we lovingly call the Taji Crud. We work in close proximity and when one person gets it, every person gets it. I think I got it from my friend Nasty (David to some) when he was ill and I drove him to the PX and back. I think that as I have still been in a weakened state from the three days with no sleep travel debacle that I was susecptible to it.

One of the guys in my cell had it and it put him down for two days. He is a tough old retired NCO and is just not the type to ever shirk any duties but when he went down they were worried he might be getting pneumonia and took him for X-Rays. Of course once his X-Rays came back negative the first thing he did was spark up a cigarette.

I went to the medic and was examined and given several different colors of pills to take at different times. I just wish I had some Robitussin and a case on Nyquill. Thank God I bought some Ricola last time I was in Switzerland. I have been chewing those all day.

Anyway, I sit in my room wrapped in a blanket sweating and pounding gatorade to counter it. I have had three people bring me food and I am just not hungry at all. It is all in the fridge. I will get over it and life will be back to normal but for now I just wish I was in that big sleigh bed in Round Rock being nursed by my wife.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Still in Shock

I still have not gotten over the Rose Bowl. I am originally from Texas and have been a casual UT fan since I was a child but when I moved to California I became a full fledged USC fan. There are a number of reasons why but I have been bleeding Cardinal for many years now. I had season tickets to the Coliseum, attended Notre Dame games, away games, bowl games. I joined the Cardinal and Gold society. I love the Trojans, the tradition, the alumni, the colors, the stadium, campus, just everything about it. The 90s were a dismal time but I stuck by even when they lost at home to Washington State and Oregon State. I was there for the 8 losses in a row to UCLA. I was there for the Las Vegas bowl loss to Utah. I was also there for the end of a 12 year loss streak to Notre Dame, the breaking of the UCLA streak, the 1996 Rose Bowl and a host of other events. I have met more Trojan players than I can count. I met friends before the game at the Tommy Trojan statue and heard the band play before walking behind them through Exposition Park to the stadium. I never went to school there but I identify with the team and school.

Trojan fans save their venom for UCLA. No other team brings it on like them. Even Bowl opponents don't raise the amount of emotion that UCLA does and when USC plays in Bowl games it is always looked at as an opportunity for the fans of both teams to enjoy them selves.

After last years dismantling of Oklahoma I was happy that USC had won but did not rub it in on the OU fans. I knew what it was like to lose a big game. This year is way different. The UT fans are insufferable. Now keep in mind that I could only get two of them to lay any cash on the line but now they act like UT was mandated by God himself and that this squeaker of a victory is proof of their superiority over California in all facets.

Like last year we all got up at 03:00 and came to the conference room for the pre game. Kick off was at 04:00 on the 5th for us. Coffee and breakfast sandwiches are what we had for the game. Last year we had a evenly divided group of OU and USC fans. This year there were 4 USC fans and a bus load of UT rooters, most of whom I have never even spoken to before.

UT will wear this game like a crown until they get trounced by some one else. They will use this one game as their mantra of success against all things California for years to come. USC could not have lost to a worse winner. I know, I come from there. I am the target of a lot of UT fans right now and will be until next year for sure. I just hope that they will learn to be gracious winners at some point.

If I sound bitter it is because I am. The Trojans laid down when they should have stepped up. Reggie Bush played like he was in a sandlot game. Leinart started reading all his press and believing he was as good as they say he is. The defense thought they could walk over UT. UT did not win so much as USC lost. I hope Pete Carroll can fix what I saw because what I saw was a repeat of the Paul Hackett era where there was no on field discipline and no clock management.

Kudos to UT for being National Champs. After a 35 year drought they are giddy and should be but like I said before, I hope they learn to be good winners.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I was just Timberlaked. The IT guys play games with each other and one of their games has migrated over to my department. One of them found the Justin Timberlake site and figured how to load it as the home page on a computer. Once they do it, it is the devil to change and the worst part is that it is full of gay looking photos of Justin Timberlake without his shirt and has the most insipid song playing full bore over your speakers. If this happens to you, you have been TIMBERLAKED!

I walked into my office with my boss who is a retired Navy SEAL (No Bull, real deal) and saw that I had been Timberlaked. There was this screen saver of Justin Timberlake in full orgiastic glory with one of his bee bopping tunes going on. It was embarrassing but at the same time pretty funny as everyone knows I hate that type of music. Oh well, I have learned my lesson and will lock my computer from now on.

For those of you who want to play this on one of your friends go to tools, internet options, home, and then type in

Have fun torturing your cubicle mates!
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