Friday, June 30, 2006


I am in the USA. With all the turmoil of my transfer and what I am about to step into in Kuwait my combined staff bosses decided that I should take my R&R now and then go to the Sheikdom.

I still had my plane ticket from my original plans and had a two day window to go. I seized the opportunity and fled. A lot of people did not even know I was going, hell I didn't know I was going!

I contacted my sister and asked if she thought I should surprise my wife and son. She has the same sense of humor I have and she just said "Do it." I called my wife and told her I was going to a "no commo" area. That has happened before so she was not surprised by that. Instead I caught a Black Hawk and then grabbed my British Airways flight and zipped out of the Middle East.

Two days, 9000 miles, three changes of clothes, and 6 hours of sleep later I was at my sister's house while she called my wife. My sister is baby sitting my nephew's little dog. It's a Jack Russell Terrier and they are from the devil like snakes. They are unpredictable and destructive and this one is no different. Cute but just too jumpy and fidgety for me. I am am a full blown Labrador Retriever fan. I digress. More about dogs on a later date.

My wife was informed that the little beast from hell had escaped from Stalag Dog and that her help was needed to capture and repatriate the little beasty. My wife came right over and I stood in my sister's bedroom while my sister directed her there. I stood right inside the doorway.

She opened the door and saw me. I would give a mint to have captured the look on her face at that moment but a camera would have been too intrusive. Her eyes opened as wide as they can and her pupils instantly dilated. Her hands flew to her face and she started screaming,"Oh my God!" She was shaking too. I think she was slightly suffering from psychosomatic shock because she just stood still, not believing it was really me.

I hugged and kissed her and she just shook like a freezing child. Her hands shook most of all. Once the realization set in I got hug and kiss after hug and kiss. She hit my sister on the arm as knew she was in on it from Jump Street.

We decided to surprise my son too so we went to his school. My wife walked up to his classroom door and then called me over. He saw me and yelled,"Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!" and came running as fast as he could. I got lots of big hugs and we then went home for celebratory beer and pizza. I didn't last long and faded out by 20:00. I slept 11 hours and now I am the only one in the house awake.

I'm here, safe and sound with the ones I love but still feeling guilty because of all the fine people who I left behind. Even momentary escapes leave you feeling that way. I should be ecstatic to be away but I still feel like I should be there even though I was getting pretty close to burn out.

I will enjoy my next couple of weeks and the it is back to Taji to collect my gear before I leave for Kuwait. I may have to retitle this blog. If anyone has any ideas let me know. Since we are the tail of the Army there may be some ideas there.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Big News

I just found out that I have been promoted and will be transferred to Kuwait. This is the equivelant of being promoted from Brigade S-3 to Brigade XO. I am excited and sad all at once. this place has been my life since February of 2004 and it is hard to leave especially since all my 1st Cavalry buddies are coming back next RIP-TOA.

I will miss the people but I won't miss the mortars, rockets, IEDs, VBIEDs, snipers, camel spiders, helicopter flights after midnight, and being on "The Island" of a FOB.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In Baghdad Again

I'm in Baghdad but not on a Tiger Team debating copier toner deliveries. I'm actually in a 4 day class. Can't say what but it is incredibly boring as most of it is a rehash of what I already know. It's an interesting group of people to be sure and it is great to meet some of the people I have only had email contact with.

The PX here just blows the doors off of ours. They have frozen ribeyes from the USA and have a full scale "Power Zone" just like the PX at permanent bases. There is even a stand for Oakley sunglasses. I had to laugh at that one. I don't know how many times I have driven past Oakley's World HQ in OC and I still don't like their gear even though they are a home town company. I am going to pack up some ribeyes in a cooler (They sell those too) the day I fly back and carry them up to my fridge. I'll grill it and smoke a real Cuban Montecristo afterward. No Scotch, no Port afterward but you take what you can get. Getting Cuban cigars is weird. So many things are restricted and we have a trade embargo against Cuba but it is OK for us to buy the, have them, and smoke them. Ah, The Army in it's infinite wisdom.

I do get to spend some time with my favorite Lesbian though. I love Amy like a sister ("Brother?") and after class I go to her office and set up to wade through the 3000 emails I received while I was being "teached". She loves taking care of the men she loves and she dotes on me when I am around. I enjoy her company and it is nice to be able to talk with some one from SoCal with whom there is no competition or any sexual tension.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Music Reminds Us

All of us have times in our lives that certain types of music remind us of and some songs put in "That Special Place." Gary P Nunn wrote and sang probably the best example with "London Homesick Blues." He waxes very eloquently for a Texan who is in London in the wintertime and is getting ready to go home to Texas.

Some music takes us back to younger days or makes us happy. Some of it makes us sad. "Roundabout" by Yes reminds me of my Mom because it was on the first album she ever bought for me and we listened to it together. "I grow my fingernails long so they click when I play the piano" by Joe Ely takes me to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas in 1987.

Led Zepplin takes me back to High School as does "Rumours" by Fleetwood Mac. I started thinking about all this because sometimes we rediscover bands and music that meant a lot to us and upon revisiting it we enjoy it even more. In my case it has been my reawakening of the music of XTC.

They were one of my favorite bands in the early and mid 80s. They never toured America and that crippled them. Had they done so they would have kicked "The Police" ass! I have recouped every CD they have put out and did so through their website at Idea Records.

Last time I was "Home" (I'll cover that thought in another post) I went to my nephew's birthday party at a club in Austin. There was this Hair Metal band playing and we were all busy trying to be the witty ones making snide comments but at one point the lead singer (Who by the way had a sweet air blower that kept his big hair flowing) acknowledged another musician in the audience who played in an XTC cover band. I could not see who he was but I asked my nephew to find out. He did and even gave me their website. They are called "The Dukes of Simpleton". The name is an inside joke to XTC fans.

I surfed their website and they even had some mp3 downloads. I have them all on my iPod as many of the songs they cover have never been performed live by XTC. The reasons and history are long and torturous but this bands existence means that I will get to hear these crafted tunes live one day.

I have been in email contact with one of the band members and he sent me this jpeg of a poster for a concert they play tonight. Man, I wish I were there! I would be swilling Newcastle Brown and nodding my head like a metronome.

If you get a chance drop by and see what's happening in their world. If you have never heard XTC I suggest the CD English Settlement. It is their best as far as I am concerned.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Happiness Postponed

I have to postpone my R&R. It is killing me inside and I feel like I have let everyone down but it is what it is and there is not much I can do about it. I was going to meet some friends in Dubai before they left for France. Nope. I was going to meet friends in Greece for a few days at this huge house they have rented complete with a sailboat. Zip. I was going home to be with the two people I miss most in the world, my wife and my son. Nada. I was taking my son to Sea World. Nyet.

My wife hates me right now. I can't come home as scheduled. I have disappointed her again. Jewelry only goes so far. I wonder sometimes how far we have drifted apart the past three years. I worry about it. What has happened to the woman I left behind and who will the person be that welcomes me home when I wrap this up? How has everyone else changed.

I am shocked everytime I see a new picture of my son. He is getting so big, so fast. I cried the other night looking at a picture of him. I don't do that very often as my authoritarian, Methodist upbringing does not allow boys to cry.

I tell people coming over here that they are never going home again. You change, they change, everything changes. Things that were never important now are. Mail is critical, DVDs are priceless. Things that were important before now are not. Sports don't matter one whit when you are listening to incoming.

This place has a way of screwing with everything. I feel like a victim of the butterfly effect sometimes. Abu Mukamelfoqwa decides to plant an IED and wastes a truck load of copy toner. Now we have no toner to print with and have a major crisis because Major McWackanut can't get his special event flyers printed. Now he complains about how bad we suck and the next thing you know I am tasked to put together a "Tiger Team" to figure out how to solve this issue and make a presentation to a board of Officers in Baghdad.

I must now figure out how to A: Stop the rebellion B: Clean the roads of explosives C: Perform a Just In Time delivery service to a place with calendar 600 years old. D: Develop a fall back plan in case we ever run out of printer ink again.

Mind you to pull this off they now want me to risk my life flittting about the countryside in a helicopter with an airframe made from metal so thin that a BB can penetrate it. Body armor, schmody armor. It does not help much if a rocket has hit the tail rotor and you are going down in an uncontrollable spin at terminal velocity.

Unless they let me go out and kill the bad guys myself there ain't a lot I can do about the IEDs except whoop and holler and use coarse language. There are times I want to do that too. Killing something would be a pressure relief. Of course it does not have to be as drastic as you may think. Killing a 6 pack is more of what I have in mind.

Oh well. No one promised it was going to be fun.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Another Time, Another Life, Another Army

Before I came to the Sand Box I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to do some work for the Army in Bosnia and Hungary. I don't think much about it now but one of my former students came to the post today on a TDY and I spent some time with him talking about how sweet it was to be posted there at that time.

You could leave the post and go into town to get a meal, a beer, talk to other people. You could have a walk down the Corso and people watch. You could shop, even go to McDonald's. No BS, Mickey D has made it to Kaposvar, Hungary and it tastes just like it does in Long Beach or Boston.

Most of the military was gone as the situation in Bosnia had wound down and the EU was taking over. Businesses were willing to cut you a deal because the cash cow that is the US Military was packing up and heading off to a new adventure.

Hungary was an interesting place. A language like no other, interesting influences of Germany, Austria, and the Soviet Bloc. The Hungarian Air Force still uses Russian built aircraft even though they are part of NATO. I took this photo of a MiG 21 up close one day. The HUF MPs would have given me a hard time but they were busy sleeping or playing cards or whatever MPs do when they are not shaking down traffic.

It was only 3 years ago but it seems like a lifetime ago. It seems like a dream, like it was some one else's life. I want to go back to the many, many places I have been and take my son. I just hope he will have the same curious spirit that I do. I will encourage it.

I am working on sanitizing my travel website so that I can link it here. As it is I need to remove a lot of personal references and facial photos so that I can remain basically anonymous. I know my family would appreciate that.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Best Pledge of Allegiance I Have Ever Heard

I remember when I was a small boy how I would watch Red Skelton on TV with my Grandmother. I remember how hard we laughed when he did his "Freddy the Freeloader" skits. You could not do that today because instead of "bums" we now have "homeless". Red Skelton was a clean, non cursing comedian who never took a mean stance toward anyone but I guess today he would be brought up on some kind of charges because he would be considered insensitive.

It is known that Red Skelton had another trait that may be considered to be non PC today. He was a patriot. He knew, as we know now, that even though we are not perfect, we are a damn sight better than any other group out there and that even though other countries may have longer lifespans, better health care, be more tolerant, have kids better at math, it does not matter one whit to me. Like Red, I would rather be an American than anything else on earth.

I thank God every day that I was born an American. I know what misery exists in the world. I have seen it first hand. I have seen abject poverty. I have seen violence of the worst sort and I have witnessed every sort of mistreatment to fellow man that can just about be inflicted. I also know that as an American I have an inalienable right to escape all of that. My ancestors braved the cold waters of the North Atlantic in wooden boats to escape all that, to give their future generations a chance to have a better life.

Red Skelton knew this too. I am attaching a link to a site where you can hear Red Skelton give his version of the Pledge of Allegiance. Listen to him describe his mentor and think of some one who imparted those values on you. I think of my grandmother (Mammaw). She survived the Great Depression, WWII, and lost her husband at an early age but she never let down, she never gave up and she loved her country. She believed in God, Country, and Family and she imparted these beliefs and values on myself and my sister. May she rest in peace, this one is for her.

Red Skelton's Pledge of Allegiance

Thanks to Dinah for contributing the link! She has a great blog, read it sometime.

Monday, June 12, 2006

A Bucolic Scene

This mural was painted on the wall of the officer's mess (Chow Hall) in the Iraqi Chemical Weapons Research Building which is here on post. Chemical Ali himself ate here many times. The building has been abandoned ever since we got here and has not been used.

It is strange to me hwo we found these type scenes all over the base. This is not a scene from Iraq and in fact the closest places that look like this are in Iran or Europe. We found murals and paintings of lush, green landscapes, wildlife, mountains, etc. It almost seems like they wanted to forget where they live and see something relaxing for a change.

I know the feeling. Everything here is brown, tan, or sand colored. I wrote once before about the Khaki world I live in but it seems that the Iraqis think that themselves too. I know that when I show them pictures of California and the Pacific Ocean they marvel at it. I guess it is just hard to fathom that much water being in one place.

Oh well, something different from my usual postings. FYI - I still feel good about that bastard Zarqawi getting offed by the Zoomies. I just wish he could have stayed alive and suffered a little longer. I wonder how he is reacting to the 72 Virginians who were waiting to kick his ass in the afterlife?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi is DEAD!

This is the best news we have had in months!

I can't begin to tell you how elated I am or what hope it brings to mind. This jackass is a child murderer, a torturer, a heinous villain who deserved nothing less. I'm glad he does not get the pleasure of Gitmo or a public trial. Maybe now the Sunnis will come to their senses and come to the table to talk with the Shias, Kurds, Turkmen, etc.
I would hoist a beer with you all but General Order #1 still applies so I will just have a virtual near beer instead.
09JUN2006 Update: This post was picked up by Jules Crittenden at The Boston Herald and linked on their editorials page. I love the title of his OpEd. He titled it "That warm, fuzzy feeling when a murderous thug is blown to hell". Thanks to Jules for the recognition and for being an MSM writer with big brass ones!

The Wading Birds

Sometimes you find wonders of nature in the strangest places. Even a place as dismal as Iraq has things that make you pause and reflect, sometimes to genuflect what we are doing and why we are here.

This wading bird is one of a pair that live close to us. I have seen them many times foraging for whatever it is that they pluck from these pools of fetid water. They have a pair of chicks that I have seen too. The chicks are gangly and long legged and don't fly yet but the parents keep close watch on them. I was out getting some progress photos when I saw this one in the pool beside a road. I stopped and got the photo. I didn't see the chicks but I am sure they were not far away.

Whenever I see the birds (I don't know what species they are) I think about my wife, my son, and the swallows that they have been watching. We have a swallow's nest in our breezeway at home and my son has been watching the chicks ever since they were hatched. They have since fledged and left the nest to fly but swallows mate for life and return to the same place to nest every year. I know that my son has seen the first parts of the cycle of life with building a nest, mating, birthing, and then the chicks becoming young adults. I hope he learns from these observations. I wish I was there to talk with him about it. I wish I was just there instead of here but this is what I do and this is the path I chose.

If these birds can exist in such a harsh environment then so can I.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Home Sweet Home

This is what it looks like from several thousand feet. A buddy of mine took this photo a while back when he was transiting between Baghdad and Mosul and flew right past us. The sandy colored area is the post and it is almost 9000 acres or 21 square miles. You can see the Tigris River just to the upper part of the photo. The view is looking Easterly so North is to the left.

You can see a lot of greenery. This is an alluvial plain and has been flooded many, many times over the past few thousand years. Even though it is sediment and silted topsoil it is still only good for a few crops as it is very high in mineral content and salt. Not much grows but what does flourishes. We have been very dissapointed in soil and water quality here.

It makes it hard on the Civil Affairs guys as they are used to dealing with folks on hardscrabble existences but not with soil this bad in an area that should be fertile. The water is foul at times too. Fresh water is dear here and it should not be. Like many former Soviet bloc nations, Saddam and his gang of thugs had contempt for the environment. I try and suppress it but the California Tree Hugger in me comes out at times.

Don't worry, the pic is unclassified. You can share it.
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