Sunday, July 30, 2006


I was on a dirt track with one of the engineers heading for a post and we saw these ungainly beasties. They were out there wandering around. A drover was nearby watching them. I took these on the fly with a El Cheapo Deluxe digcam I have while on the move. They were rolling around in the dirt like my dog does. Maybe they have fleas.

I will take my SLR with me next time. These shots are not very good and after taking thousands of photos of war machines it is nice to get some flora/fauna shots for a change.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

There should be more like him

Your alarm goes off, you hit the snooze and sleep for another 10 minutes.He stays up for days on end.

You take a warm shower to help you wake up.He goes days or weeks without running water.

You complain of a "headache", and call in sick.
He gets shot at as others are hit, and keeps moving forward.

You put on your anti war/don't support the troops shirt, and go meet up with your friends.
He still fights for your right to wear that shirt.

You make sure you're cell phone is in your pocket.
He clutches the cross hanging on his chain next to his dog tags.

You talk trash about your "buddies" that aren't with you.
He knows he may not see some of his buddies again.

You walk down the beach, staring at all the pretty girls.
He walks the streets, searching for insurgents and terrorists.

You complain about how hot it is.
He wears his heavy gear, not daring to take off his helmet to wipe his brow.

You go out to lunch, and complain because the restaurant got your order wrong.
He doesn't get to eat today.

Your maid makes your bed and washes your clothes.
He wears the same things for weeks, but makes sure hisweapons are clean.

You go to the mall and get your hair redone.
He doesn't have time to brush his teeth today.

You're angry because your class ran 5 minutes over.
He's told he will be held over an extra 2 months.

You call your girlfriend and set a date for tonight.
He waits for the mail to see if there is a letter from home.

You hug and kiss your girlfriend, like you do everyday.
He holds his letter close and smells his love's perfume.

You roll your eyes as a baby cries.
He gets a letter with pictures of his new child, and wonders if they'll ever meet.

You criticize your government, and say that war neversolves anything.
He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.

You hear the jokes about the war, and make fun of menlike him.
He hears the gunfire, bombs and screams of the wounded.

You see only what the media wants you to see.
He sees the broken bodies lying around him.

You are asked to go to the store by your parents.
You don't.
He does exactly what he is told.

You stay at home and watch TV.
He takes whatever time he is given to call, write home, sleep, and eat.

You crawl into your soft bed, with down pillows, and get comfortable.
He crawls under a tank for shade and a 5 minute nap, only to be woken by gunfire.

You sit there and judge him, saying the world is probably a worse place because of men like him.

If only there were more men like him!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

10,000 Visits

Visitor 10K please contact me. I have a groovy OIF souvenir for you!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Surreal Life

I have trouble sleeping.

It's too quiet. There is no endless drone of a window mounted A/C unit. No subdued crackling of a radio handset by my bedside. No Black Hawks flitting about at 75 feet and 100 knots over my billet. No IEDs on Highway 1. No OPs firing in the FOF to keep Haji honest at night. No Big Voice making announcements. Just the sound of my thoughts, my guilt at being here instead of there.

I have fresh milk every morning. One of the girls was looking at me this morning and I asked her what was up. She stated that I was staring at the milk. I guess I was. I look at it and realize that it is such a small thing that my friends up North don't get. We have fresh fruits and vegetables every day. No power outages, no fuel shortages, no kevlar, no T-Walls, no weapons everywhere.

It is surreal to me, like another dimension of existence. I had managed to make the mental differentation between R&R and Iraq without problem but this is different. I still have a mission but the biggest danger I face is from traffic here.

I heard some of my CAV buddies were at an installation today. I tried to find them but couldn't. OPSEC prevented the folks there from telling me where they were and I understood. I was dissapointed but I did understand. I really wanted to see them and be with them again. These men are bona fide killers but they are just like me in many, many ways.

All in all this is great. Everyone tells me I earned it but I still feel guilty, especially at night in the quiet, still, cool apartment I am billeted in. Maybe Josh over at Talking Salmons will send me an endless loop tape of some outgoing fire so I can get to sleep.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Surreal Life

I have trouble sleeping. I used to have trouble because of some things I had seen but lately it is because is is too damn quiet. There are no IEDs in the middle of the night, no endless drone of a window unit A/C struggling to keep the room cool, no Black Hawks flitting overhead at 75 feet and 100 knots per hour. No radio chatter at night. No war.

I feel guilty. I am living in a luxury apartment (luxury to me) and commuting to work. I see people wandering around without weapons, vests, helmets, and wearing civies all the time. The PX and DFAC have fresh milk! I have been scarfing down milk ever since I got here. That and eating salads. Everyone thinks this is funny but they have been here instead of up North.

Milk up North is the irradiated type in a wax box. It tastes like rehydrated Elmer's Glue. It's awful and the only thing you can stomach it in is a sweet cereal. Salads are at the mercy of Haji and the FFV (Fresh Fruits Vegetables) truck. Sometimes it gets there and some times it does not. The most amazing thing is that we have olive oil and red wine vinegar for dressing. I can't get enough.

I have a window in my office. No sandbags, just a tree outside. I can walk around and not worry about where the closest bunker is in case of a mortar attack. I don't slightly cringe trying to make myself smaller in a vain attempt to avoid sniper fire when I am around the perimeter.

I will do the best I can here but I will always keep in mind why I am here in The Surreal Life. I am here to make a difference for those up North. I am here to remind the people living this cush life that there is a real war and people are dying every day. I know that there are soldiers who did not get a salad or a glass of milk after they left home. they didn't get to swim in a pool or see a movie. I will be able to.

I'm not a religious man and I hardly ever pray unless it is a social setting and/or church related but tonight I will say a prayer for the finest soldiers on the face of the earth and for all their supporting cast. God Bless them all.

It is surreal to me. I woke up yesterday and wondered if I were on R&R. I know I'll get used to it but I really don't want to. I am a veteran of OIF and when I finish this assignment I will go back with no hesitation. Not because I love war. Not because I love Iraq. I will go back because I love my brothers and sisters up there and I need to be with them.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


During my life I have had lots of friends. Acquantances, buddies, pals, and even some true friends. I laughed, loved, cried, and shared wonderful and tragic experiences with many of them. I have always thought that the measure of a man is reflected in his circle of friends.

Yesterday I was reunited with a lot of people here in the Sand Box because of a meeting. I saw some of my friends from here. None of us has ever had a beer together, gone to a movie together, skiied together, rode bicycles together, or even met each other's families, but these are the friends I care most about.

When I am at home I think about them all the time. I think about my CONUS buddies when I am here but not to the degree of compassion or caring that I do for these people. We are all part of something of profound importance and magnitude. We are all volunteers. We have some common experiences that will never be recreated anywhere else in the world and many which we do not or cannot share with our loved ones back home.

When I am at home I don't talk about any of this with anyone except in measured doses to my family. I can't tell them everything. Some of it they would not believe, some of it I don't want them to know and some of it I just can't talk about. When I run into others who have been here the same thing always happens. We get animated, we start to talk and share and those family members with us both can't believe how we open up. We may have never met each other but we are instant friends. We have had experiences no one else ever will.

In Jamaica last year on a family holiday I spotted a guy with a regulation haircut at the pool. We got to talking and discovered that we were both in Baghdad at the same place, same time, same mission, different commands. We talked for hours. We drank beer and toasted those who were not with us as both of us know how much longing there is for normality when you are over here.

His wife came up to me later the next day and thanked me. She said that was the first time she had ever heard him talk about it and that he told me things he had never told her. She also said that he cried that night and let out some long repressed emotion. It was catharic for him. He got it off his chest. You have to or it will drive you mad.

Since I am transferring to another place it was my last time to see some of my friends from Taji. I had a going away luncheon with folks there and it was hard to hold back the tears, especially when Big Lou hugged me in front of everyone. It was a real loving, brotherly hug. He and I have been through so much together. Being stuck in a convoy while rockets landed around us was terrifying but he and I have laughed about that many times. I was yelling,"GO! GO! GO!." He was yelling,"WHERE? WHERE? WHERE?" We took a$$ chewings from Generals, ate MREs in the rain, built construction projects no one thought we could, worked ungodly hours, had our material stolen, stole it back, put up with Iraqi and Jordanian contractors, suffered some hurricane management, and COL Tuna. I love Lou. In the purest and most brotherly way I love this guy.

At the luncheon I had to speak. It was hard to keep from choking up but I managed to do so. I told them all that I loved them and will miss them. I meant it. They are my friends.

I had another bear hug from a LTC from Taji yesterday. It was a real hug too. I won't name him but this man is a great American and a true defender of freedom. I am proud to know him and to be able to call him a friend. I love him too.

When he hugged me I looked over his shoulder and saw my senior commander looking on. He is another Army veteran who is well respected and bemedaled and he was smiling at this public display. He told me later that I had the qualities that exemplify the Army values. I just about busted at the seams with pride on that note. The Army value system is one of honor and integrity and is not mentioned lightly.

War does funny things to people. In some it brings out the worst. Unfortunately those are the ones who get media coverage. War also brings out the best in some people. There was no media at any of the other events and they don't know about any of it. Neither do the American people. It is something private that we share.

I can't say that this war has brought out the best in me but I can say that I appreciate the beauty of a sunset, the joy of music, the laughter of children, the smell of my wife's neck, the taste of a cold beer, the shades of green flora, the morning paper with a cup of coffee, and the smile of a friend more than I ever have.

When this is all over I will never, ever be around a finer set of people than I am now. I will also know that I have friends. Real friends; not phony, plastic people who are only interested in material goods and perception of themselves by other phonies.

I have known people longer, and I have had more varied experiences with my friends back home but my best friends are right here, right now. They are the best friends I will ever have. I love them all.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Back in the Sand Box

I am back in the Sand Box and getting ready for my transition to Kuwait. I was exhausted from the merciless trip back but the earth's rotation, time zones, airline schedules, Coriolis effect, bad food, dehydration, and godless communism all conspire to just wear you out when you travel this way. Going back West is easy. You leave at 01:45 from Dubai and arrive at 14:10 the same day in Austin. On the way back you leave at 12:45 and arrive at 22:30 the next day.

Anyway, I saw some of my Cav buddies in Killeen and I am packing CARE packages for them. I am leaving my coffee maker (Braun) , a grinder, and 20 pounds of coffee beans plus all my dished and flatware for them. That may not seem like anything special but believe me that after you eat out of styrofoam boxes and plastic forks for a few months it seems like place settings from the Queen of England's own banquet table.

I'm looking forward to the change. I still feel guilty that I am leaving a job so unfinished but I am still part of the Army tail except that instead of being in the middle of the Sunni Triangle, I will be in a relatively quiet area. Off I go to pack and ship. You gotta love APO to APO shipping. It is FREE!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Red Dragonfly

This is something I have never seen before. I took my family to Sea World on Thursday and right after we entered the park my wife pointed over and beckoned me to look at this bright red dragonfly. I quickly switched to a telephoto lens and snapped this shot from about 50 feet away.

If anyone knows anything about this species of Dragonfly I would appreciate some insight.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The 4th of July

Yesterday was the 4th. I guess that I dissapointed because I did not write something intensely patriotic but since it was the first 4th of July I have had in the USA in 5 years I spent the day doing what I do best. I fired up my smoker and spent the day smoking brisket, sausage, chicken, and ribs.

It's a labor of love. I started out at 08:00 and it took me over an hour just to get the fire right. After that I started the meats. Nothing came off until 16:30 and it was the chicken first. I used the beer can method and there is just no other way to keep it juicy that I know of except that.

I drank beer all day too. I love beer becuase I just don't get drunk on it. I get to certain level and just buzz along. Shiner (a local brand) has come out with a Kolsch (Cologne) style of summer brew very similar to an India Pale Ale. Crisp and no bitter aftertaste so I pounded down quite a few whilst tending to the matters at hand.

I did all of this and purposely avoided public places, fireworks displays, red/white/blue bunting and other over the top displays of patriotism. I don't feel the need to "have to". I know what I have done, I know what my friends have done. I didn't call a bunch of friends and family and wish them a tepid,"Happy 4th, how's the wife, kids, and dog? I called some of my Army buddies who are here in the states. They are getting ready to redeploy back to the sand box after being home for two years.

I wanted to talk to them and hear their voices. We spent 4th of July in 2004 sitting on top of an abandoned flight line control tower smoking cigars and talking about all the wonderful things we would do when we were home. When I called I found that their holidays were as low key as mine. I found that their hope for the holiday was the same as mine. They said the same thing I was feeling. They said,"I hope no one over there gets killed today."

I talked to Fritz. I love this guy. He is one of the finest Americans I know and I miss his daily council but he does keep in touch. I wanted to talk to Big Lou also but he is in Greece celbrating the 4th by yelling,"Opa!" and smashing dinner plates.

Life gets really simple once you have looked the elephant in the eye. Holidays don't have the same impact. False diplays are irritating. Most people you know are so different and oblivious to the world that you just don't even want to be around them anymore. You can't scream at them. You can't grab them by the nostrils and shake their heads and yell," Wake up! Your world is phony!" . They just don't get it.

The 4th of July is a huge holiday on the calendar. It is the celebration of our decision to cut the ties with the UK and go it alone. It was a watershed event in history and deserves celebration. I celebrated the same as everyone else in the past. I wore red, white, and blue and said,"Happy 4th. How are the wife, kids, and dog?" My wife and I discussed the "Mother of all 4th of July parties" that my roommate and I threw in 1996 in Long Beach. We had over 50 guests, played beach volleyball, drank two 55 gallon trash cans of beer, 20 gallons of rum punch, and made several trips to 7-11 to clean out the rest of the beer stock. We cooked, set off fireworks, watched fireworks in the harbor. There were several sunburns, one fist fight, and two cars towed away. By our measure of success it was a smash hit party. I will celebrate differently now.

To me the 4th of July has become intensely personal. I sat and thought a lot yesterday. I sat under a willow tree tending the fire and playing with my son. My wife and he played in the back yard with water hoses and water toys. The pool is on the fritz and it didn't stop him one bit. He filled his water toys up and took turns soaking us both. My sister came over late in the day and we had dinner together. The meat came out perfect except for the brisket. It was a little tough but brisket is hard to cook well anyways. It was the best 4th of July I could imagine. Nothing public, just the back yard.

Everything I need in the world was in that back yard. Everything our founding fathers dreamed of was in that back yard. The reason we are in the fight in Iraq was in that back yard. Yep, it was the 4th of July all right and it was just what I needed.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Religious Truths

In these serious times of this world, it is important for all of us to recognize these Four Deep Religious Truths

1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as God's chosen people.

2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.

3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian World.

4. Baptists do not recognize each other at Hooters.

That should just about explain it all.

Monday, July 03, 2006

An Indian Liberal Viewpoint

My email at gmail has a built in search engine for certain words. Any of these words may pop up an article. Because of this search engine I read many different writings and viewpoints from around the world. Today saw a different kind of anti-American lambasting from the Hindustani Times. Normally the HT does not print such virulent diatribe but this one made me a little angry. I reprinted it in full followed by the response I penned (typed?) back to them.

What else do you do at 05:00 when everyone else in the house is dead asleep and you can't use the Tassimo coffee maker because it makes too much noise?

Tearing down the Velvet Curtain guest column Anand PatwardhanJuly 1, 2006

I’m convinced that our attitude towards the global control exercised by the Anglo-American combine is a key to understanding and improving relations between the regions of the South. It is the key even to improving relations between the various peoples that vie for survival and self-expression within the bounds of our own respective nations.

If we accept the American paradigm of lies and more lies, all without apology, we set ourselves the worst possible example. Did they ever apologise for being the only country to have dropped atomic weapons on human beings? For training, arming and importing Bin Laden from Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan? For telling the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction? The list of American or America induced crimes against humanity is a long one. If we accept their version of these crimes, if we get spoon-fed by them, then we become a party to all these crimes without apology.

Today if you are a journalist in the print or electronic media anywhere in the world, it is difficult to escape embedding. Corporate and government interests exercise near total control. The media is too powerful a weapon to be left in the hands of those who seek the truth. If we understand this we can move forward and search for the cracks and crevices through which to push our stories through, but if we fall prey to the usual rhetoric of the “Free World” and start believing that censorship is something only exercised by countries like China or by explicitly military regimes, then we are in trouble.

Let us look at just a few of the missing stories that directly affect our region.
In 1970-71 West Pakistanis were kept completely in the dark both about the extent of popular support for Bengali nationalism in the East and about atrocities perpetrated there by the military. From the 80’s on, the Indian people have been kept in the dark about similar aspirations and similar atrocities in Kashmir and the North East.

Both in Pakistan and in India, fundamentalism, religious bigotry and violence grew exponentially in the 80s. Was this an accident? Who armed the madrassas in Pakistan and preached jihad against communism? One day the Taliban was a friend, the next day it became the enemy. In India, which had aligned itself with the Soviet Union and a semi-socialist economy, suddenly Sikhs demanded a separate state, Kashmiris demanded Independence and militant Hinduism became popular enough to demolish the Babri Mosque and ride to power amidst communal carnage.
The Babri Masjid was still standing when we completed a film called Ram Ke Naam at the end of 1991. The film was meant to be a warning to the nation of the dangerous rise of communal forces but the government run Doordarshan TV refused to telecast it. We finally won a court case to have it shown on DD in 1996. By this time the Masjid had been demolished with terrible consequences for the entire sub-continent.

Both India and Pakistan are likely beneficiaries of economic and cultural ties with Iran. So where are the stories about Iran other than the usual propaganda dished out by Condoleeza Rice and company? For that we have to turn off our TV sets and go out in search of the odd International Film festival that shows some of the many beautiful Iranian films that challenge the stereotype of a fundamentalist world where women peep out sadly from behind their burkhas.

Both India and Pakistan did nuclear tests in 1998 and celebrated in the streets. Yet how much do we know about the price we continue to pay for our nuclear nationalism, both in financial and health terms? How many investigative reports have appeared on our TV sets or newspapers about the hazards faced by villagers living near the uranium mines of Jadugoda in India or those living near the Chashma nuclear reactor in Pakistan, located on a seismically sensitive site despite warnings by many Pakistani scientists and activists.

None of these stories have been adequately investigated and analysed in the mainstream. All serious attempts to talk about these issues have been sought to be suppressed. Enron Corporation’s blatant rape of India ended not because somebody listened to what the whistle blowers here had to say but only after Enron collapsed in America. The price our nations are paying for mammoth dams on the Narmada and Kalabagh is equally well hidden despite the heroic efforts of activists and dam oustees.

The reasons are not hard to seek: 80 per cent of the mainstream media in India and Pakistan is either controlled by the state or by 6 to 7 large family empires. Almost the entire media of the US is under similar monopoly control. And in the South at least in the most influential English language media, most of the reporters are also recruited from amongst the tiny class of beneficiaries. Perhaps this explains the unqualified media support for upper class/caste agitations against reservations in India and the very concept of positive discrimination.

If not just the governments but also the elites of our region aspire to get closer and closer to America, this is largely the fault of the omissions and commissions of the media. Pakistan has for long been seen as a client state of the US with only Islamic fundamentalists, themselves largely a creation of US Cold War politics, offering occasional resistance in recent years. India, which played the non-alignment card from Independence on through the mid 80’s, has recently laid claims to be America’s newest bride. We are thrilled to be seen on the arms of George Bush Jr. It’s what we call an arms deal. Meanwhile we have not noticed that the FBI has opened office in several Indian cities. We have not noticed that Halliburton has begun serious business operations in the region -- the Halliburton that brought us the war on Iraq.

And yet resistance is not only possible, it is happening, it has always happened. In the last century we saw resistance to the violence of the State, to the very idea of violence itself and to consumer culture and consumer nationalism. The story of one giant resister, Mahatma Gandhi, did break through corporate and State controls to register on the conscience of the world. And there are the resistance stories of today. One has to search for them and join hands with all those who have embarked on the project of tearing down the velvet curtain.

(The writer is a documentary filmmaker)

The following is my response:

Anand Patwardhan Raises some interesting points but then does not follow through on them. He attempts to paint all America as a big bunch of liars in regards to foreign policy yet uses hyperbole and rhetoric rather than facts to deliver his message. I hope his films are more factual than that.
When he reads history he may even come to the conclusion that the adage "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." This sometimes leads to events unthought of during a current crisis.

The USA allied with the USSR in WWII to defeat a more dangerous foe. The USA and the USSR then faced off against each other for 50 years. The USA paid the price in lives and money for the support they rendered during the other struggle in WWII because now the USSR was emboldened to believe that they could export communism around the world. While the rest of the world wrangled their hands and practised appeasment the USA and their allies stood firm.

The USA supported the fighters against the USSR in Afghanistan and now faces them. This is yet another war that has been brewing and whether you are Christian, Hindi, Buddist, or Jewish, you are not Muslim and that is enough to deliver the death penalty in their eyes.

Anand Patwardhan should read and listen before he speaks. It is easy to believe that the USA practises hegemony but the truth is that while everyone else sits back and watches, the USA and their allies are taking the fight to the enemy.

Will the USA create yet another enemy during this fight? Who knows? The fact is that the fight is here and on top of us and if the USA backs off and lets their boot off of the head of this snake, it will bite the nearest one it can strike out at. India is too close for comfort and will eventually be a target.
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