Saturday, May 26, 2007

The T-Man's first underwater portrait

I took this with my wife's Sony Cybershot with underwater housing. The extra $100.00 we spent on the housing is the best hundred bucks Ive spent on camera equipment in a long while.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Under Armor

OK, its weird but I love this stuff. I started buying the t-shirts back in 2004 when they first started hitting the PX. I was at a town hall meeting in OIF II and BG Hammond (ADCS 1st Cavalry Division) was addressing uniform issues as some of the troopers wanted to go without their blouse in the heat. He countered that by showing us all one of these t-shirts. I bought one the day they arrived at the PX and was hooked.
I don't wear anything but under armor when I have an over shirt. It is light weight and wicks away the sweat so that you don't have that heavy, stinky, salt lick all over your body at 16:00 when it is 110 degrees.
They came out with skivvies and I started buying those. I have been getting a few pairs at a time because they are $20.00 each. I have just about replaced all my cotton undies.
Now I have socks! Crew socks and heat gear socks too. I have long sleeve cold gear, tactical for under blouse, and loose gear for wearing as a top cover. I even bought a couple of camp shirts. This stuff is really expensive but in this climate it is worth every penny because when it is this hot you are just miserable and anything you can do to allay that by an iota becomes a cost worth incurring.
My wife thought it was weird until she got some of it for her work outs. Now she likes it too. I wish I had bought stock when it went IPO.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The value of human life

Everyone has a tough time over here with labor brokers and construction type firms when it comes to how they treat their workers. Our values and sense that all men are created equal just do not compute here. These brains are hard wired that if you are of a certain religion, nationality, caste, or tribe other than their own, you just don't count.
Even though I have been coming to this part of the world for over 20 years I still shake my head at how badly people from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are treated. They are just the lowest of the low here. There is indentured servitude in the form of up front labor contracts; there is a problem with people being paid and lots of sexual misconduct. Filipinos get treated a little better but not much.
Basically the Kuwaitis think that you use Lebanese to count your money, Filipinos to run your shop and work in your house, Indians for technical jobs, Pakistanis for construction and Bangladeshis to clean toilets. Us? Well, we don't work for the Kuwaitis, we work for Uncle Sam.
I took this photo behind my apartment complex. It is a typical construction scene here. A Pakistani or Indian construction hand with no PPE, no fall protection, shoddy scaffold, and no real tools performing dangerous and tedious work. As a former safety professional I cant help but be appalled at times but I understand that this is how they do business.
Sad but true, they just don't value human life. It goes to show why they fight the way they do. They don't care if they kill innocents. If the innocents are another religious sect or religion its OK. After all Allah only loves their particular sect, tribe, and belief system. Just ask them. Or if you really want to deliver a hard hitting question ask John Murrah or Nancy Pelosi if they understand that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Iraq from the air

I went up to Iraq last week to check on some operations which fall under my custody. I go occasionally now but don't tell anyone at home that I am heading north because they worry all the time. It used to be that they did not worry because I was in Iraq full time and only worried when I was in a convoy or flying in helicopters but now they worry when I go.
To tell you the truth I used to not worry myself about just being in Iraq but since I have been here in Kuwait for the past few months the immediacy of the war has faded away for me. Even when I return I feel more like an interloper and a tourist than anything else. When I was stationed there full time I always felt a little superior to those who visited and then split. I felt like they were just coming up to say they had been there and to suck up some serious payroll uplift or combat pay.
Anyways, I flew and slept on the way up in my stressed out snap in chair on a cargo aircraft similar to a Sherpa. On the way back though I took some photos with my cell phone camera. I did not take my regular photo rig because I was travelling light and fast and because of the weight limitations. Every person and every bag is weighed because of fuel and cargo considerations.
I still managed to get some interesting shots though. The first one is from a bend in the Tigris River about 50 miles south of Baghdad. You can see canals and irrigated farmland. this is ancient Mesopotamia and there has been some form of agriculture here for over 3000 years. The second pic is from a fade to the left of the first photo and it shows just how close the desert is. It encroaches to a point where there is a dramatic change between green and white. Green being crops and white being hard pack sand. The third pic is an open flare from a wellhead. That is a burning oil fire. it would be about an 80K per day fine in California were this to be there but as it is Iraq no one cares or monitors it.

As I cruise above the strife, heat, danger, poverty, and misery I reflect on how fortunate I am. I am fortunate to be an American, a free man who can make the choice whether to be here or not. Those folks below me can't make that choice but I can. They can't run and I won't run. Dangerous or not, I am committed to finishing my part in this honorably and to the best of my ability.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Arabian Gulf Sunrise

An interesting issue in this part of the world is what to call international areas like waterways. What you routinely call the Persian Gulf is called the Arabian Gulf by the Arab nations so that they are not constantly reminded that at one time they were all subjected to the boot heel of Persian domination.

The Shatt al Arab or Waterway of the Arabs is the confluence of the Tigris and Euprhates and is the primary waterborne route into Iraq. In Iran it is called the Sha' Fao as it indicates that the Fao peninsula is the primary geographical influence here.

Just east of me is a gigantic oilfield known as Marjan by the Arabs and Nowrouz by the Iranians. It is the same oilfield and is bisected by an artificial economic zone which makes for some interesting sights and conditions.

In 1986 I was on the deck of a derrick barge and watched Iraqi Super Entendards (French built of course) fly low and just above sea level around the Marjan 1 GOSP (Gas and Oil Separation Platform) as they had vectored on the radar aero racon signal. They kicked in the aferburners, gained altitude and shortly after we felt a concusion and the heard the explosions they bombed the crap out of Kharg Island. Remember those days? The Iraqis were the good guys against the Theocracy of Iran.

I was thinking of all of this the other morning as I stood on my balcony watching the sunrise over the Arabian/Persian Gulf. I saw the most beautiful golden cast upon the water and ran in to get my DSLR. I almost missed the shot and actually did not get the one I really wanted. I'll try again later.

I have so many thoughts and memories like this. I want to one day capture them on paper or digits but I have to slow down for that to happen. As it is I am really pressed to write this or even take care of routine issues like picking up my laundry or getting my hair cut. One day I will visit this part of the world with my son and tell him how his father was raised in America and spent his adult life as a wanderer of the world. I'll be able to show him why daddy is always gone and why daddy is so weird because he likes to drink cider, eat greek food and watch soccer. Daddy loves hot dogs, baseball and southern fried foods too and in this part of the world that is weird.

Oh well, the coffee was good and for a few moments I was lost in my thoughts. Just a few moments away from the Army, the war, the constant push of men and material into the maw of the beast up north. A few minutes to be a regular person, just enjoying a sunrise in an Indian built building drinking Italian coffee made in my German coffee maker shooting photos with my Japanese camera and scratching my American butt. Ain't that weird?

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

If you ain't Cav.......

I was archiving some shots and came across this one from early 2004. It brought back a flood of memories and a rapid succession of thoughts.

All of a sudden I was back in Taji with Fritz, Bob, Lou, the 39th ECB Arkansas National Guard and three brigades of the 1st Cavalry Division. The troopers had a lot of fun tagging all the armor in the bone yard and I saw this everywhere. It says it all about the Cav attitude. "If you ain't 1st Cav, you ain't shit."

I heard fired up young stud warriors yell this at each other before they went through the gates for patrol. I heard it when they came back with no injuries or incidents but with kills. I heard it yelled between escorts during convoy runs. I heard it when they played in MWR sports with other units. I heard it from COL James J. McConville when he was addressing his Aviation troopers in front of Ted Nugent and Toby Keith. I heard it from Brigadier General Hammond when he dedicated an new PX.

This Russian made APC was tagged by proud troopers as were many other things at Taji before the PC folks made us start painting over everything so as to not upset anyone. American soldiers have been writing graffitti for 200+ years and will do so in every war but it eventually gets painted over.

Not so the mind set of the soldier who wrote it. He ran the gamut of emotion that only those who have been in a combat zone will know. He has that deeply ingrained sense of the wonderment of exisistence after having come so close to death. You can't paint over that.

He has the sense of unit pride that comes from sharing those days, weeks, months in such an environment. The guy next to you is your best friend and you will share anything with him including you last can of Dr. Pepper even though the PX ran out weeks ago. The unit is your family. The Division is your family. You can't paint over that.

Being Cav is special. Soldiers who were not Cav were delighted to find out that they could claim a Cav combat patch since they served under their command. I have seen a lot of troops come and go but whenever I see a Cav combat patch I always ask them what FOB they were at. If they were at Taji I tell them I was too and I now have a new best friend for the next few minutes. I may have never met him and may never see him again but that connection will harness us together for that moment. No matter what went down I have his back and he has mine. You can't paint over that.

I saw a friend (Newly pinned O-6 too!) the other day when he transitioned through on his way to Afghanistan. He has the new Combat Action Badge. This is a new badge issued by the Army because only Infantry can earn a CIB or Combat Infantry Badge. So many others have seen action in thie war but were not eligible so the Army issued this new badge. Butch had it on and even though he is National Guard from South Carolina he had on a Cav combat patch. I asked about it and he said,"You know, I will go all my life knowing that I served under the finest combat division in the US Army." I asked if he remembered the engagement where he earned that badge and he said he did. He also remembered that I was there too and was under the same fire as were Bob and Lou.

So here it is. Butch, Bob, Lou and I all earned our CABs that day. We also earned our combat patches from the Cav. Some may argue that we don't deserve it but anyone that was there on that hellish day would argue with you. Haji does not care what unifrom you wear, he just wants to kill you because you don't think like him. Tell you what Haji. Come at me again. Cause if you ain't Cav, you ain't shit.

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Rock

Ali Al-Salem Air Base is a KAF (Kuwait Air Force) base located smack dab in the middle of the country. When you consider that the country is only the size of Connecticut you can understand that it makes it literally an matter of minutes before anything going or coming crosses the border and then is overhead.

As a result of this proximity the Iraqis bombed the crap out of it when they invaded and they set up shop. We bombed more crap out of it and then when we invaded we set up shop. A a result of this it still has bunkers with huge gaping maws atop the structures and they are mostly off limits.

This base in now the home of the USAF in the region and has an Army LSA (Life Support Area) also. Since the base is co-occupied by the Army, Air Force, KAF, Australian Air Force, Korean Air Force and remnants of Japanese and others it is the most international base here in Kuwait.

AASAB is affectionly known as "The Rock" by those who serve there. Compared to most military installations is is cush. It has first class DFACs, MWR facilities and a BX/PX. Paved roads, running lanes and hard stand buildings for barracks combine to make it a place compared to other bases.

It is very secure and remote and only a few folks are allowed to go there. I make regular trips out there so I am indeed one of the few. This photo is the only Kodak Moment sign I can find in Kuwait. I see a constant parade of people getting their photos there and I see unit formations in front of it. It is one of the few places you can take a picture of an airbase over here and not be put in jail.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Big Sombrero - Kuwait

I know I have been remiss in posting. No excuse except that I am dead tired all the time. The surge has never ended and now it is part of the landscape. We have met the challenge and done evrything we needed to but it has taken its toll on us all. We are all tired right now.

I'm really looking forward to Memorial Day because we get a holiday and can take it 14 days either side of the holiday. I will take it as early as I can so I can just sleep in and do nothing for a day.

The other day I was driving to the northern end of the country on the 6th Ring Road and saw how far they have come on constructing the new Kuwaiti National Stadium. It has a fabric roof that makes it look like a sombrero. Sort of like the stadium in Tampa Bay but with a roof.

The Kuwaitis say that they are trying to promote tourism and this is one of their steps. It will take more than this, A stadium without beer stands is just not going to attract a huge influx of fans. Then again, there are constant rumors that just any day they are going to begin restricted alcohol sales but I don't see it happening. The way that Islam is becoming more and more strident I can't see the Kuwaitis loosening up on those laws.


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