Saturday, December 31, 2005

Moments


I’ve said this before, but one thing that occasionally happens around here are moments present themselves that are rare and unique—moments that I will never forget for as long as I live and imprint themselves on my heart, never to be erased.

Last night I witnessed two of those moments.

The O’Club here had a New Year’s Eve party. The parties they’ve had in the last few months have been nice, but they really outdid themselves this time. The guards at the gate came in to ask the manager why there were so many people there, as they had run out of visitor badges and were having to turn people away. Approaching midnight the bagpiper from Christmas Eve climbed up onto the bar to overlook the crowd. They rang the bell that is customary when they want silence in the club for whatever reason and the player addressed us solemnly. “New Year’s Eve is a traditional day to gather with friends and celebrate the oncoming New Year. It is also a time to remember the past. Before we celebrate in a few moments, we should remember our brothers who have fallen this year.” You could hear a pin drop. He then went into a rendition of “Amazing Grace” like none I’ve heard before. I bowed my head and tears filled my eyes as he played the most beautiful hymn in honor of those who were unable to celebrate with their loved ones this year.

Shortly thereafter the bar staff began handing out champagne in plastic cups to the crowd. Corks were flying everywhere as they rushed to beat the clock. Two of my friends from the night shift, Santini and Michelle, couldn’t take the night off and had to go to work an hour earlier. As the crowd started to get ready, the four of us who were able to be there--myself, Magnum, Karen, and Allison--grabbed an extra two cups of champagne and wandered out of the bar and over to the CAOC with our noisemakers and hats.

In the front of the big, dark, room that I had arrived bleary-eyed almost four months ago there is a giant red digital clock that keeps the time for the guys controlling all of the massive airpower fighting this war. We all joined under those enormous TV screens for what may be the last time as the original night shift and watched as the clock went from 23:59 to 00:00. The Combat Operations floor (all twenty of us) erupted in cheers, and we blew our noisemakers and hugged each other. It was, to the outside observer, probably pretty sad to see. But to me, with those friends that have been unlike many others I have known, who I have become closer to than many of the boys I sweated and died with in college, pilot training, or any squadron, it was a priceless memory that will never be forgotten.

Short of being at the foot of my children’s bed with my hands on Emily’s belly there was nowhere in the world that I would rather have been to ring in the New Year.

Make All Things New


Another year.

This year I resolve not to resolve anything, but to actually do them. I guess my list of things to do when I get home will suffice.

They’re throwing the base a huge “end of rotation” / New Year’s Eve party on the compound today. No it’s not First Night, but it will do.

I have a great deal to be thankful for—this has been a hell of a year. By the end of 2006 I pray that I have another child in my arms, a better feeling of myself and my place in the world, better health for myself and continued health for my family. There is a strong possibility that next New Year’s Eve I will be beginning the early stages of preparation to come back here, also. I guess we’ll see.

I Am the New Year

I am the New Year. I am an unspoiled page in your book of time.

I am your next chance at the art of living. I am your opportunity to practice what you have learned about life during the last twelve months.

All that you sought and didn’t find is hidden in me, waiting for you to search it but with more determination.

All the good that you tried for and didn’t achieve is mine to grant when you have fewer conflicting desires.

All that you dreamed but didn’t dare to do, all that you hoped but did not will, all the faith you claimed but did not have—these slumber lightly, waiting to be awakened by the touch of strong purpose.

I am your opportunity to renew your allegiance to Him who said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

-- Bible Illustrator

May He that makes all things new bless you and keep you and yours this year.

As always, from the desert, Happy New Year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

It's Getting Crowded Around Here


Seats on the bus are getting hard to come by.

The replacements have started showing up, and will be trickling in over the next month at a steady rate as we start flowing in the opposite direction. It’s a pretty exciting time, though it can be frustrating. The entire is base is beginning to bustle with activity, and you can definitely see the difference in attitudes between those who are just arriving and those that are getting ready to go home. Those just getting here are all kinds of motivated—the gym is packed more than usual, the track has twice the number of people on it, and everyone seems to be in a good, if apprehensive, mood. And those of us leaving are equally motivated if for other reasons—the knowledge that soon we will be headed home.

The frustration I feel from the inconvenience of having to wait an extra ten minutes in the chow line is offset by the awareness that somewhere in this cast of thousands an officer is going to arrive to replace me, enabling me to go back to a little boy who grows sadder each day that he wakes up expecting me to be there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

My Top Ten


Since the trend among blogs at year’s end has been to make “top lists,” I figured I would make one of my own—what I plan on doing different when I get home:

1. Make Breakfast. We have been lucky enough to have a wonderful hot breakfast every morning here, and although I occasionally get noxious now at the sight of eggs, it is something in our lives at home that simply doesn’t exist.

2. Reduce the Load. Being away from home and all of my material possessions has demonstrated one thing to me—I really don’t miss anything. That having been said I plan on making some big trips to church to drop off a lot of stuff I don’t need.

3. Build a Wild Playset. I promised mcgdo before I left. Maybe she’ll let me coast until it warms up a bit.

4. Walk With the Kids. I spend a lot of time with my kids. But most of it is spent watching TV or putzing around. mcgdo’s going to learn how to ride her new bike and we’re going to do more stuff outside.

5. Help Around the House More. I do, actually, already do this—but Emily has worked hard enough for one pregnancy.

6. Keep Blogging. With this I really don’t know what direction I’ll go in. One thing I do know is that starting this blog was one of the best things I’ve done for myself psychologically, emotionally, and creatively in a long time. As I’ve said, my job at work isn’t the most taxing thing I’ve ever done so I imagine I’ll be able to come up with stuff while I’m there. I definitely need to find a designer to spruce the place up with some layouts, though.

7. Start Flying. I’ve already started taking steps towards this, but I haven’t been behind the controls in over a year. Time to go back.

8. Buy a DVR. One thing I have gotten here is that I finally found quality TV again. Or at least TV I like. The catch is that I don’t have a desire to schedule my life around it, nor do I feel like sitting in front of the TV all day.

9. Go Somewhere, Anywhere, Once a Month. We’ll start off small. But we are going to start going places and doing things. We’ve been so busy with our lives that we haven’t really been living.

10. Manage My Time. I’ve gotten pretty good at this here, although it may be due to my schedule not being as hectic as it is at home. What I have lost from being here are a lot of things that were priorities at home that are essentially meaningless to me now. I have no desire to stay at work late for whatever reason. I have no desire to stay online for the first hours of the day. All I really want to do right now is hold my kids.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Boys


Got to talk to Sammy tonight for a little while. He’s pretty upset. We had told he and his sister that Daddy was going to be home after Christmas—mainly as a way to take his mind off of it and to let him focus on something else. Unfortunately, he wasn’t focusing so much on Christmas than he was on the fact that Daddy was going to be home the very next day (which I won’t be for another couple of weeks). I couldn’t even get him to tell me about the Harley motorcycle (big wheel) that he got from Santa that’s just like mine. I think it was a combination of being sad and pissed off.

I haven’t said much about Odie lately. Apparently he’s a pretty active kid, since he moves and kicks more than his other two siblings combined. Poor Emily hasn’t done any shopping or anything for him since she’s waiting for me to get home to help her. We’re planning on rearranging the house a bit to accommodate for the little one—I’m just not sure how or what we’re going to do. We’ve settled on a few finalists for his name: Jacob, Daniel, and Max. My vote is to have John be his middle name, since the other two have names based on family history (my Dad’s name is John).

It definitely turned to winter here—temperature dropped about 15 degrees in the past couple of days. Guess I got spoiled with the 77 degrees on Christmas Day.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Cold Front


A cold front came through today, bringing with it some pretty high winds. Since the consistency of the sand here is like talcum powder, the winds carry it pretty well—so a constant haze is over everything. Within seconds of walking outside your mouth is filled with grit, and your eyes start to burn. Pleasant. I’ve been sick recently with a head cold so that makes it all the more comfortable.

I tried to call the kiddos last night as they were opening their gifts from Santa but the lines were so clogged that I couldn’t get through after an hour of dialing. Finally got Emily at the normal time that I call her, at around 2230 at night their time.

A little over two weeks left to go. In the home stretch.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Bagpiper



The mood was what I expected last night—kind of a reserved festive atmosphere. I got dressed up for the first time since I’ve gotten here and went to mass at 1800, rather than midnight, since I still had to be here this morning at 0500. I grabbed Magnum from his Christmas play (he played Joseph in the service), donned my Santa hat, and we headed to the O’Club for the party.

I guess everyone else had the same idea, since pretty much everyone had the ol’ Santa hat on. They had brought out the full spread of shwarma’s and other Qatari cuisine, so dinner was taken care of. We threw darts, had our three drinks—what I would call a pretty typical night at the club. Until the bagpiper got there.

At around 2245 or so a noise blared through the tent. The conversations stopped as everyone was caught in what I could only describe as awe as a guy playing bagpipes strode into the bar. We had a bagpipe corps (about 20 or so players) that marched with us when I was in college so I was familiar with the emotions that the sound coming from a live performance can stir. Tonight he was playing “O Come All Ye Faithful” and it sent chills down my spine. The entire room was dead silent as he played through the verses, and then we all began to sing on the last verse. It was something I will never forget.

Today they have an equally impressive spread set out for us at the chow hall, with what I imagine will be an equally impressive menu. They’re cutting me out early, so I plan on going to Christmas Dinner with my friends and then watching some movies in my room. I’ll call the family tonight and try to take advantage of the 15 minutes they give us to talk.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a Happy Holiday from Qatar.

God Bless.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Eve


The horizon is a deep purple, gradually fading to a light orange glow and then back to black, with stars shining brightly overhead. All is silent, save for the steady “flip, flop” of my sandals as I make my way from the showers in the chill morning air. Suddenly the roar of an F-15E Strike Eagles’ engines shatters the stillness in the distance. I look up to see the twelve-foot long blue streaks of rocket thrust as they take off into the pre-dawn glow. Without warning I watch as they pull straight up to avoid any threats that could feebly attempt at bringing them down. Before I reach my room, they have disappeared into the darkness.

It’s Christmas Eve in the desert.

Everyone knows it--that back home in the States the most festive days of the year lay ahead. For us, we’ll make attempts at having some festivities of our own—a Christmas Party at the O’Club, gathering to watch a holiday movie at the rec center, a little extra food for us at the chow hall. But no one mentions home. Especially for those of us with children, no one breathes a word about what they know their families are doing right now. The only speak of the date, soon approaching, that we will board planes, much like we did four months ago, and leave this place behind us.

Up range the soldiers that the warplanes are going to protect carry on as they normally do. The terrorists don’t take a break for Christmas. They don’t care that the soldier they have targeted in their sights has a two-year old at home opening gifts from Santa Claus as he waits for him to drive over the IED he has set. So they will take no holiday—perhaps wishing a few “Merry Christmas” greetings and dream of a day that they can go home, leaving a peaceful Iraq behind them.

I can’t begin to imagine what those warriors are going through. I know I may have given the impression of misery here where I am, but it is nothing compared to what those boys face every day. The only real hardship that we have to face here is being away from home, away from our normal lives. But even given that, if they asked me to stay for another four months I would without hesitation. And Emily would understand. Because they are a large part of what we are here for, what we fight every day to protect. And without the support of those husbands, wives, and children celebrating their holidays at home right now we maybe wouldn’t win this war.

So tonight I will go to midnight mass, and go to bed dreaming of those kids who will just be waking up to see what was left for them under the tree. And they will remain free. And protected.

By those of us celebrating Christmas in the desert.

Another Christmas Poem


Came upon another Christmas poem today:


A Christmas Poem for Our Military

I had no Christmas spirit when I breathed a weary sigh,

And looked across the table where the bills were piled too high.

The laundry wasn't finished and the car I had to fix,

My stocks were down another point, the Dolphins lost by six.

And so with only minutes till my son got home from school

I gave up on the drudgery and grabbed a wooden stool.

The burdens that I carried were about all I could take,

And so I flipped the TV on to catch a little break.

I came upon a desert scene in shades of tan and rust,

No snowflakes hung upon the wind, just clouds of swirling dust.

And where the reindeer should have stood before a laden sleigh,

Eight Hummers ran a column right behind an M1A.

A group of boys walked past the tank, not one was past his teens.

Their eyes were hard as polished flint, their faces drawn and lean.

They walked the street in armor with their rifles shouldered tight,

Their dearest wish for Christmas, just to have a silent night.

Other soldiers gathered, hunkered down against the wind,

To share a scrap of mail and dreams of going home again.

There wasn't much at all to put their lonely hearts at ease,

They had no Christmas turkey, just a pack of MREs.

They didn't have a garland or a stocking I could see,

They didn't need an ornament-- they lacked a Christmas Tree.

They didn't have a present even though it was tradition,

the only boxes I could see were labeled "ammunition."

I felt a little tug and found my son now by my side,

He asked me what it was I feared, and why it was I cried.

I swept him up into my arms and held him oh so near

and kissed him on the forehead as I whispered in his ear.

There's nothing wrong my little son, for safe we sleep tonight,

Our heroes stand on foreign land to give us all the right,

To worry on the things in life that mean nothing at all,

Instead of wondering if we will be the next to fall.

He looked at me as children do and said its always right,

to thank the ones who help us and perhaps that we should write.

And so we pushed aside the bills and sat to draft a note,

to thank the many far from home, and this is what we wrote:

God Bless You all and keep you safe, and speed your way back home.

Remember that we love you so, and that you're not alone.

The gift you give you share with all, a present every day,

You give the gift of liberty and that we can't repay.

~author unknown

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Day 106


Someone was talking about Christmas Day the other day. My spirits weren’t exactly soaring so I said “Sunday’s not Christmas, it’s day 106.” Talk about a bad attitude.

Time is slowing to almost a standstill. Our replacements should be getting here sometime early next month, and I should be excited being so close to getting out of here, but I’m not yet. I guess for me it’s just like it was on Thanksgiving—not really Turkey Day unless I’m crashed on the couch watching football with the kids.

The Army did something pretty cool yesterday. Their guys, as you know, are in even a worse situation than we are—they get to stay for the full year rather than just four months. Last night they set up a VTC (Video Teleconference) with a conference room back in the States. On the other end they had a children’s Christmas party going on where they could see their kids open some presents and say hello to their families. Man, technology is incredible sometimes. My buddy here is an Army guy—goes about 220 and can probably bench press twice his weight. Big dude. Former artillery officer. He was relaying the story of what he got to do last night and his eyes filled with tears as he was saying this—and he still has 8 months to go. He’s missing his daughter’s entire second year of life. At least he gets to go back for a week sometime in the summer.

I really wish the MSM would lay off of us for a little while and remember that being here is hard enough even with all the care packages and cards we get here. I truly think that the general public in the United States is overwhelmingly in support of us, but you couldn’t tell that from some of the stories that you see on TV.

AFN (American Forces Network) had a special dealio go on back in October where you could videotape yourself saying hello or wishing Merry Christmas to your family and they would air it on TV in your hometown. For some reason I declined to do it. Wish I had. Everyone that did has been able to have their families see it back home.

The kids are getting excited—both for Christmas and the prospect of their Daddy coming back. I’m trying to avoid telling them an exact day because I don’t want to disappoint them when I get extended here.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Poem


The elementary school from Aviano Air Base sent pictures out here again (those kids rock). This time they’ve drawn a bunch of holiday scenes, and a few wrote poems and such on them. One such poem really struck me—enough to copy it down and post it on here. It is written by a kid named Drake DeTienne, from the 4th Grade at Aviano Elementary School in Aviano Italy.

I understand that you miss your family

I appreciate you for keeping us safe

Have a happy holiday in a land far away

I have faith in you to keep us free

I am working hard in school, and using freedom wisely to learn all I can

God Bless you, Drake. You are wise beyond your years.

Christmas Spirit


Ah the wonders of Christmas.

As I approached my desk this morning I was greeted by a pile of gifts and envelopes that was heretofore unprecedented. Couple that with some of the things I have had the opportunity to see children write recently and dare I say—the Christmas Spirit may be eeking its way into my corner of the desert and the cold heart it has produced this year. Amongst the gifts were a couple of care packages—(mind you, this is in addition to the monster care package I received from my Mom last week), one from none other than Richmond from One For the Road with enough cookies to feed the entire CAOC (to which they are happily obliging). There was also a care package from the office at home (before you begin to think that they’ve changed completely, read on), and an envelope from Sarah’s school.

Sarah’s school took addresses from the kids that go there of family members who are deployed overseas. Inside the manila envelope was a bunch of pictures that the kids from the 4th grade had drawn to distribute to the other guys in the CAOC. Really adorable, and it is extremely cool to see what kids that age see in the world. Some adults had put some Christmas cards to me in there as well—all of which were really nice of them to do. Sarah’s Brownie Troop is putting some stuff together as well to send out here—can’t wait for that to show up.

The package from the unit was also very nice and thoughtful—a nice stocking stuffed with goodies, a video game, stuff like that. There are four of us out here from back home in my specific unit, three majors and a SSgt. I’m not exactly sure where the disconnect occurred, but the three majors got our stuff in the box. The SSgt didn’t get bupkus. I truly hope that hers is just in another box somewhere on its way out here—until then we’re not mentioning the gifts to her.

Downtown



Went downtown today, against my dear mother’s wishes.

To start off with, Doha is a very beautiful city. I’ve been to many locations throughout the middle-east and I have to say that this was clearly the best. It’s very clean, the people are nice, and there was a ton to do. Unfortunately we only had time to see a few things.

The trip started off with a run to the Doha Harley Davidson Dealership, the only location I would have left here disappointed for not going to. Although it was small, it was really cool to see how world-wide Harley’s influence is. The bikes were absolutely gorgeous (as if there’s such thing as a Harley that could be described as anything but), and they had enough items there that you could go and still blow some serious cash. I kept it to a relative minimum, buying only the t-shirts I needed to prove I had been there. Unfortunately, on my way there, the batteries on my camera died as they normally do due to it being an old camera. I really need to get a nicer smaller one if I plan on keeping this blog thing going.

From Hog Heaven we headed into town to eat. We stopped at a place called “Three Ships” due to the fact that the three restaurants there are shaped like giant boats. Although the food was awesome, and the scenery (right on the water) was pretty awesome too, it took us an unbelievably long time to eat due to the fact that the general pace in Qatari restaurants is relatively slow. For $25 I got enough food to last me several days. There was a group of ladies sitting at the next table that were smoking from these giant bongs (for lack of a better word). I don’t know what was in there but it was a very sweet-smelling aroma. It reminded me a lot of the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.

From the ships we finally headed into the main part of the city for our shopping spree. The first stop was the “watch guy,” who sells Breitlings, Rolexes, Tags, and pretty much everything else under the watch sun for remarkably cheap prices. I got a $4500 “Breitling” (no, seriously, it really is a Breitling J ) for a mere $55. Not that I question the quality of the watch, but I bought two just so that when this one breaks in a week I’ll have another one. They look nice, anyway.

From there it was off to the jewelry corner to look at some real quality, and real cheap stuff. They had everything you could ask for, but pearls are their specialty. For about $50 I could get Sarah a pearl necklace, bracelet, and a set of earrings. Not wanting to buy anything without consulting Emily, though, I held off and bought them cartouche’s with Sarah and Sammy’s names on them (only about $10 a piece). I have an idea of everything I want to get now, though. There was a beautiful set of pearls for about $75 that Emily’s going to get for Christmas.

Traffic in Doha is an adventure, and I’m glad I wasn’t driving (never got my license here). It’s pretty much a NASCAR race on the highways, and traffic circles are everywhere. Fortunately we made it back to the base all in one piece.

Upon arrival back home, the security coming back onto the compound was impressive, if inconvenient. They line all the cars up in a garage/tent and stick everyone into a holding room for about an hour. They then proceed to tear your car apart looking for anything suspicious—bombs, transmitters, anything like that. Again, although it was inconvenient to have to wait I was real happy that the security here is so tight.

All in all, I had a real good time. I doubt I’ll be going back downtown during my time here, but at least I have an idea of what to tell people to get me when they go shopping.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Trash Detail



I’ve learned a lot about the other services since I’ve been here. One of the biggest differences I’ve come across is how officers interact with the enlisted.

From all the way back in my days at The Citadel I’ve always had a feeling, both from experience as the junior guy and experience as the senior guy, that the officers that get the biggest amount of respect from the enlisted, and consequently get the most work done, are the ones that aren’t afraid to get dirty with them. Since then I’ve done everything I could to show them that I understood how much being enlisted can suck sometimes and went that extra mile for them. I’ve done walkarounds and worked on planes with wrench-turners. Every single time we landed with pallets on board I never left that Herc until all the cargo had been offloaded, usually with me helping push. When my T-37 would break in the 115 degree Texas heat I would wait on the ramp with the crew chief until the parts arrived instead of going inside into the air conditioning. After every C-9 mission I would clean the trash all the Space-A’s had left in the back of the plane with the med-tech’s. Not everyone would do this, and I never ordered a junior officer to do these things with me—I just learned from example over the years that the guys that did this tended to be the best officers. And it has paid off big—whenever I needed these guys to go the extra mile for me, they have never let me down.

This mentality doesn’t exist across the services. One, in particular (and I won’t mention it here), has such a complex of the difference between officers and enlisted that I wonder how they have ever managed to get things done. This has carried over to the point that they come across as arrogant, holier-than-though SOB’s to even other officers in other services, in particular the Air Force. I pity the enlisted ranks in this service, because they must absolutely despise the people they have to work for.

An example happened today. We have a pretty high-level DV coming through the CAOC. My boss asked me to check and see if floor was in a state of general cleanliness. Someone had dragged a bag of trash down the stairs and messed things up pretty bad. There is a schedule posted of those responsible for cleanup on a daily basis. This one section, a liaison section for this particular service, is due to take care of things today. Unfortunately for them, they only have two officers (same rank as me) manning the shop. Incidentally, they only work about four hours a day.

When I went to ask them to check on things they looked at me as if I had just asked them to betray their country. The conversation went something like this:

“Hey guys—you’re on the schedule for cleanup today. Would you mind taking a look around?”

“What?”

“The (their section) is on the schedule and we could use some help.”

“Oh, well that’s not us. You can call (apparently their superior) upstairs and ask him.” The guy was an O-6.

“Ok, so I can go ask the O-6, but not you.”

Blank stares.

“Look, we have (DV) coming by today and we need to clean things up.”

“Well you’re asking the wrong people. Don’t you have any enlisted guys that can do that?”

“Thanks for your help, guys.”

These guys were doing nothing, whereas I was already getting behind just asking them to do their job. In the end, an Air Force TSgt who probably had more time in the military than they did volunteered and cleaned things up in about 10 minutes.

Thank God, I joined the right service.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"I Try To, Daddy"


“I try to, Daddy.”

That’s what Sammy said on the phone yesterday when I asked him if he was being a good boy. I thought it was one of the most profound things I have ever heard a four-year-old say. What I wanted to tell him was that there is nothing on the planet that he could do that would change the fact that he was not only a good, but an incredible boy. He has a heart bigger than his father’s ever will be and is one the three (and a half) most important people in my life. He understands now why I am over here, and what I’ve been doing, and he handles it well. I thought about that conversation with him for the rest of the day.

When I was a kid growing up my father and I had one real connection—Star Wars. Once I got older, we developed more and more in common and he’s my best friend in the world today. Back then though—the relationship we had focused a lot on science fiction and baseball. One memory I have very clear in my head was listening to the soundtrack to “The Empire Strikes Back” on a record we had bought one Saturday summer night. My sister and mother had gone out to do something, and it was just us in the house. It was by a group named “Meco,” and had Star Wars music set to some funky disco tunes with special effects in the background. We got so excited listening to it that we dropped what we were doing and headed out to see the movie, for the third time, in the theater. I’m not sure why, but I remember that night as if it was yesterday.

With the advent of downloadable music, I managed to find one of the Meco tracks online somewhere. Long ago, before he could even talk, I had Sammy watching Star Wars. He absolutely loves it (reference R2D2 he carries with him). Shortly before I left to deploy I put my headset on him (incidentally, if you ever want to see pure wonder, put a headset on a young child and see what happens) and played that song for him. The look in his eyes was priceless. He laughed through the whole thing and listened to it about 100 times before finally falling asleep with the earphones on hours later. Since then I listen to that song all the time when I want to think of him.

I heard it on my mp3 player this morning on the bus on my way to work. The sun hadn’t come up yet and all I could se was barbed wire and desert rushing by. Tears filled my eyes when I thought of that look on his face when he heard that music.

God, I miss them.

33 days to go.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Slappy


One thing I'll miss when leave here are the haircuts.

For those who haven't been to the middle-east, they have a slightly different method of finishing things up than we do in the States. Whereas a typical American barber just shows you the mirror and walks, these guys make that extra $2 tip worth your while. I was pretty familiar with these from my time at Prince Sultan Air Base a few years back, so it wasn't as much a surprise as it was then.

When you're done, the guy puts some funky-smelling cologne on his hands and proceeds to beat the living crap out of your noggin. We used to call them "slappies" from the incessant slap-around your head takes while getting this massage. Once you get a little comfortable getting a massage from a guy in a room full of guys, it absolutely rocks. By the time my rub-down is over I have feelings for Habib that I shouldn't have for a grown man. He ends up getting a $3 tip today due to the eye massage. It's probably my last haircut here until I come back in 17 months.

I've been updating past posts with pictures I've taken and pictures of the kids and family, so if you feel like scrolling through there's a few on there. I can only get in here every few days so I'll try to stay on top of it. After taking pictures of the compound here I found that everything pretty much looks the same, so the scenery photos probably aren't so hot. I'll work on it.

Tomorrow is election day. Say a prayer for the folks uprange. The general said today during the breifing: "This is what we are working for. This is what all the lives, long hours, and months away from family culminate in. Be proud of what we are doing."

Amen to that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Postal



I’m having one of those days. I’m just waiting for the right person to say just the wrong thing to give me an excuse to go postal.

Unrelated to that, the MSM is killing me here. This week 15.5 million Iraqis are going to the polls in a major historic event—electing their first permanent parliament. What a lot of people just don’t grasp, or aren’t interested in, is the sheer bravery it takes for those people to go do that. We need to hold special campaigns at home to convince people to vote, and then barely half of us do. These people a risking death and they still go. So something that monumental is the top story, right? Nope.

Tookie Williams.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m sure he’s done some wonderful things in his life, but also founded the Crips and killed people for fun at one point in his life. Either way, that’s all I’ve seen on TV for days now. Not the terrified people uprange that are chancing murder themselves by simply going to vote. Why aren’t these people on TV?

Couple that with the multitude of people that have pissed me off today and you get close to my reasons for being on the verge of going postal.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Sunday Recap


Five more Sundays to go.

If you have a chance this week—swing by the Milbloggies (button on the right) and drop a vote my way. It looks like my counter is about to go over 2000—that’s almost a 1000 since Thanksgiving J!! I have managed to figure out a way to get on an unrestricted server here, so I plan on putting some more photos up soon—maybe today if I can. Emily should be mailing the kids’ Christmas photos to me soon.

I’m not sure why—but the number of people linking me went kapooty a short while back. Wonder if I pissed somebody off…wouldn’t surprise me with my occasional burst of rage I take out on here.

Here’s this week’s recap—have a good week!

Donate some love to Soldiers Angels: Soldier’s Angel – Holly Aho

A Great View of Family—funny as hell, too: Dooce

“The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” came out this week—a fave of mine when I was a kid: Narnia

A Different Christmas Poem from Blackfive: Christmas Poem

A Call to Arms from Smash: No More Patience

Ok…have a great week.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

6 Years Old



I think the hardest parts for me here are stories about children.

For some reason they always seem to be 6 years old. Maybe it’s because Sarah’s 6 and I only hear the age when they’re briefed. It’s not always what you see on TV—sometimes it’s the bad guys using them to help the bad guys, sometimes (well, actually, always) they’re innocent victims, sometimes they’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time. As far as helping the bad guys I really think if I told Sarah that Santa Clause was a bad guy she would believe me and do whatever I asked of her to help stop him. I wish I could go into specifics on what I get to see but I can’t. Suffice it to say that if I end up waking up at night when I go home it will be because of these kids.

I remember the first time I yelled at Sarah. I think she was 2 or just under. She had dug into the kitchen cabinet and gotten into a box of dry food (I think it was rice). We had scolded her many times for getting nosy like toddlers do but of course she didn’t listen like toddlers don’t. Amidst her digging the box of rice fell out onto the kitchen floor and spilled everywhere. I don’t know why I lost my temper (it’s happened many times since) but I guess my voice was louder than it had ever been up to that point in her life because she jumped. Without crying or running she squatted down on her haunches and feebly began trying to pick the rice up with her hands to put it back in the box, except her fingers were too small to grab even a grain of rice. I felt smaller than she was. I have tears in my eyes writing this now and that was almost 5 years ago.

What motivates a person to bring something as precious as that into the front lines of a war? Most of them don’t have a choice—again being in the wrong circumstances. But to willfully use a child as a “soldier” in your own sadistic and twisted war…that, like many of the things I see the insurgents do, I can’t understand.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Airport


Ok, so maybe that was little bit too over the top.

I’m sorry, but I was pissed.

Got to go see some culture last night, in the form of going to Doha International Airport. Believe it or not, it was the first time I saw the other side of the gate. I’m hoping to be able to go downtown at some point. Anyway—I went there to pick up a guy from his R&R mid-tour trip (guys that are here for a year get to go home about halfway through for a couple of weeks). As I was waiting for him in the arrivals area I got to take a good look at the local populace. They were exactly like what you’d see in the movies—long white or colored robes, head coverings, and sandals for the most part. Some of the women wore the complete traditional garb—covered from head to toe where all you could see was their eyes and their hands. As I was standing there, my first thoughts were how weird everyone looked. After a short time though, I looked at my outfit—grey t-shirt, khaki cargo pants and leather shoes.

So who really looked weird here?

And then some morons get off the plane. They were clearly western, and sounded like they had a British accent. The girl had about 72 piercings in every spot visible. The guy had hot pink hair. They were loud, boisterous, and apparently loved the attention. I was mortified to be identified as a westerner standing there, since I was positive that the hundreds of Qatari’s there would associate me with them. I wanted to get up on a stall and scream at the top of my lungs “I AM NOT LIKE THEM!!”

Sometimes Freedom has its downsides, I suppose.

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

Dean


Ok. Time for another rant.

Howard Dean gave an interview in, of all places, San Antonio yesterday in which he (in his infinite wisdom and judgment, as evidenced in his election run) gave his views on the war and what we are doing here in particular. What he said on there was tantamount to a slice to the throat of the guys fighting uprange. Included in the crap he spewed forth:

"I've seen this before in my life. This is the same situation we had in Vietnam. Everybody then kept saying, 'just another year, just stay the course, we'll have a victory.' Well, we didn't have a victory, and this policy cost the lives of an additional 25,000 troops because we were too stubborn to recognize what was happening."

You know, before I came here I didn’t know what we were doing. I didn’t know the strategy that was being utilized. But since I’ve had the privilege of being here (incidentally, has Howard Dean even come to this side of the planet recently?) I know what we’re doing. I know why we’re here. And it absolutely INFURIATES me that jackasses like him say things like this when there are troops from his OWN STATE fighting and dying here with the only hope to continue being that the leadership at home supports them and what they are doing. You absolutely cannot compare this to Vietnam. It is a completely different situation. But wait, he goes on:

"I think we need a strategic redeployment over a period of two years," Dean said. "Bring the 80,000 National Guard and Reserve troops home immediately. They don't belong in a conflict like this anyway. We ought to have a redeployment to Afghanistan of 20,000 troops, we don't have enough troops to do the job there and it’s a place where we are welcome. And we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country to fight (terrorist leader Musab) Zarqawi, who came to Iraq after this invasion. We've got to get the target off the backs of American
troops.”

What, in the name of all that is holy, is he talking about as an expert on military affairs? He has absolutely NO military experience. And why exactly it is that Guard and Reservists don’t belong in a conflict like this anyway? I’m sure that the victories they’ve attained and hard work they’ve done, never mind the injuries they’ve sustained, are a demonstration that they don’t belong here. I, for one, am damn glad they’re here. As far as re-deploying to Afghanistan, on what planet does he think that we’d be more welcome there than in any other middle-eastern country? I wish I could pass on to him the details of what I have seen. We are no more welcome there than in Iraq. By saying that he is just demonstrating his complete ignorance of what is going on here. And as far as a target on their backs, my man—you have just made the target all the more clear for the insurgents.

The reason we lost in Vietnam is partially due to the fact that the bad guys had one strategy—maintain a will to fight longer than the American people will. Every time we gain a victory here and push the bad guys back some assclown like this guy announces his complete ignorance to the world at the expense of American soldiers. As a result, I think this only emboldens the insurgents. This is what they have been waiting for. This is what they want, for morons to step up and start pleading their case to the American public. If we leave now, the target will not be so much on the backs of American troops as it will be on the backs of American people everywhere.

What makes this even more dangerous is that this idiot is the de facto LEADER OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY. What they (and mind you, I don’t think the Republican Party, or politicians in general, are too spectacular either) want is a timeline to get out. If we had set a timeline in World War II Hitler would never have quit. Millions more would have died, since all they had to do was wait it out until that “magic date” that we had set to get out. That’s all they’re waiting for. For our will to fight to collapse. In a couple of weeks the Iraqis will have their own elections. The media doesn’t often connect the military with the elections (I guess they are just sort of “happening” up there) and they fail to mention that if we were not here, those elections would not happen.

Dean’s counterpart in the GOP, Mr. Ken Mehlman, had a good counter:

"I can't remember any time in history where the leader of a national party, one of our two national parties, predicted that America would lose a war we were engaged in. I think it sends the wrong message to our troops, the wrong message to the enemy, the wrong message to the Iraqi people."

Yes it does.

American politicians that are as reckless as this are endangering the lives of American soldiers.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Christmas Story


I walked outside this morning to find fog so thick that I couldn’t see ten feet in front of my face. By the time I had taken a shower it had lifted enough that it was about 10 feet above me. It was like walking under the bases of the clouds I used to fly under. Pretty surreal.

When I was 10 years old I wrote a story about a midnight meeting between myself and Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. I can’t remember all the details but it was centered around how Christmas wasn’t wrapped in presents but was the magic of being with friends and family. It was only a few pages long but I kept it for quite a while. 10 years later I wrote a sequel to it, now from the eyes of a 20-year old college student. This one was considerably longer, with my concerns being that the magic that he had described was leaving me because of the vast separation that had split my family apart—my grandparents and aunt had moved to Florida, we had moved to Virginia, and my sister and I had gone off to college. His answer this time was to take me on a journey through the past ala “A Christmas Carol.” We flew through time on his sleigh to my childhood home in a city in Massachusetts, to my grandparent’s house in the same city, and then finally to a more recent one at my grandparent’s house in Florida when I had a conversation with my late sister Jenny as the Christmas bells rang through the night from midnight mass. It still is probably the best writing I have ever done in my life.

I often wonder what Santa would say to me today, more than 10 years after I wrote that story. Christmas at home, or at least the season, brings with it a lot more stress and burden than was there way back then. I have kids of my own now, and it has been years since I have seen my grandmother and aunt. I see my parents every 6 months or so, but for all intents and purposes the holidays for all of us just aren’t the same as they were before. And now this Christmas I won’t be with any of them, my family or extended family. I find myself year after year saying that “next Christmas will be better” since we are always either on the road or rushed at the last minute to try and give the kids whatever they ask Santa for. Last year we were living out of our car since we were moving from Del Rio, TX, to Tucson, AZ over the holiday. I made the mistake then of saying “what a sucky Christmas” to myself while on a stopover at my brother-in-law’s on Christmas Eve. Obviously at the time I didn’t know where I would be this year.

I think it’s a good time for Santa to visit me again.

Darts at the Muff


The officer’s club here is a British bar affectionately (and also clearly not American-like, since whoever named a bar this would be charged with sexual harassment) called “The Muff Inn.” This place is one of the coolest bars I think I’ve ever been in, even if there is a 3-drink limit whenever you go there. All it is, essentially, is a medium-sized tent that people have, over the years, decorated with whatever they had from their prospective countries and made into a bar. It is run purely by volunteers, usually low-ranking officers (Lt’s and a few Captains), and only open a few days a week.

When I got here one of my goals (along with learning to play the harmonica—we saw how far THAT went) was to increase my proficiency in shooting pool. The last couple of weeks before I came here I spent hours upon hours shooting pool with my Dad in my parent’s basement drinking copious amounts of Bud Light. I was surprised how quickly I got better (though he still managed to kick my ass every time). So, upon arrival here, I figured I would take that momentum and keep going. Unfortunately, the pool tables here kind of suck after being used so much. So my buds (Jason “Santini” Smith and Brian “Magnum” Hard) and I started throwing darts. Good for us—the Muff has their own dart board. We have progressively gotten better over the past three months, to the point that we rarely lose—except to one guy.

On Saturday I stopped by the Muff for my standard couple of hours of darts. Brandon Hevron, an Army dude that I’ve gotten to be pretty good friends with, is virtually unstoppable at this game. On this particular night, however, he sucked. To make matters worse, I can’t just sit back and watch him lose—I have to heckle him the entire time. Eventually, he got pissed off enough that he demanded I play him one-on-one, instead of the normal team format we play. I did, and in only about 10 minutes, cleaned his clock. Granted, on any other given night I wouldn’t have stood a chance—but the defining moment came and I defined it.

Sometimes memories are presenting themselves here that I won’t soon forget.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

News Mention


I was mentioned (albeit briefly) in a news story about milbloggers by NewsMax.com. Read it here.

Milblogging.com, which has been charting the phenomenon for some time, currently has registered 815 military blogs in 22 countries. It wasn't long ago that the number was just 50.

Some of the names are colorful enough: "MY WAR: Killing Time in Iraq," "Who's Your Baghdaddy?" "Combat Medic in Iraq," "Middle of Nowhere and Two Feet from Hell," and "Desert Odyssey….."

J

Sunday Recap


The question has been posed by several readers as to what I am going to do with this blog after I go home. The answer is currently a big “I Don’t Know.” I imagine I’d like to keep this going for at least as long as it takes for me to get readjusted back home, if that is ever fully going to happen. I would love to have even marginal success as a regular blogger, but I just don’t see my life or activities as something others would be interested in. As most of my family knows, I am notoriously bad at keeping in touch with really anyone—so maybe this place will be a place for us to meet. I don’t know. As I’ve said, I love writing. I’m open to suggestion.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it earlier but I got to see pictures of my inbound son this week via sonogram. Definitely a boy. I can’t wait to see what he looks like.

Sunday’s are usually pretty slow around here, so I’m going to try to start doing a weekly recap of anything that I’ve seen online that was interesting. I’ll try to avoid doing the standard news and political stuff and stick to well just things that have caught my eye.

The Opinionator: My Hero Takes a Fall

Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone: Saddam’s Shop of Horrors

The Washington Post: Blast in Pakistan Kills Al Qaeda Commander

Black Five: The Post That Started It All

A Soldier’s Perspective: Cindy’s Book Signing Flop

Lastly, stop by and check out the Milbloggies for 2005, and maybe toss a vote or two my way. Not like I’m a threat to the Mudville Gazette, but it would be nice to know that more than 2 people have liked reading my words J.

Friday, December 2, 2005

Freedom


A problem that a lot of the anti-war protesters have is their concept of freedom.

When we talk about how we’re over here “fighting for freedom” some people disagree because they don’t see how Americans fighting over here is defending their freedom. When they speak about what is worth fighting and dying for, if it goes outside america’s borders, then it is not of our concern. And to be honest with you, this global war on terrorism is only partially a defense of American freedom. Call me a na├»ve optimist, but I see our role in Iraq, the global war, and the planet itself as much higher and much nobler than that. I don’t see us so much as defending a particular country’s freedom but defending freedom for the human race as a whole. Take the borders of countries out of the picture—for a moment imagine that we are, in fact, one world, one civilization. If Rhode Island was being oppressed, I highly doubt that the other 49 states would say that it wasn’t worth their sons and daughters lives to defend their right to freedom. The Iraqi people, as human beings, have the right to freedom. All people on the planet share this right. We have the responsibility not only as the world’s only superpower but also as human beings to defend their right to freedom. This is the burden that we have as a result of the lives we have been gifted by God to have—to ensure that others have the same opportunity to exercise this right. The fact that others won’t jump in with as much sacrifice and commitment as we have is irrelevant in my eyes. If we turn our backs and leave others to the mercy of evil people whose hatred drives them to kill children on the streets to prevent this opportunity, then we have diminished our worthiness to this right ourselves.

As most of you know I’m not a big proponent of quoting polticians—even when said politician happens to be the Commander-in-Chief. However, the speech he gave a couple of days ago at the US Naval Academy had a lot in it that mirrors my views of the war and what our goals and objectives are, and consequently what our strategy should be. I’ve only taken a few of the statements in order to keep this short:

This is an enemy without conscience -- and they cannot be appeased. If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle. They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders. By fighting these terrorists in Iraq, Americans in uniform are defeating a direct threat to the American people. Against this adversary, there is only one effective response: We will never back down. We will never give in. And we will never accept anything less than complete victory.

Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a message
across the world that America is a weak and an unreliable
ally. Setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would send a signal to our enemies -- that if they wait long enough, America will cut and run and abandon its friends. And setting an artificial deadline to withdraw would vindicate the terrorists' tactics of beheadings and suicide bombings and mass murder -- and invite new attacks on America. To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of car bombers and assassins so long as I am your
Commander-in-Chief.

One of those fallen heroes is a Marine Corporal named Jeff Starr,
who was killed fighting the terrorists in Ramadi earlier this year. After he died, a letter was found on his laptop computer. Here's what he wrote, he said, "[I]f you're reading this, then I've died in Iraq. I don't regret going. Everybody dies, but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so they can live the way we live. Not [to] have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark.

There is only one way to honor the sacrifice of Corporal Starr and
his fallen comrades -- and that is to take up their mantle, carry on their fight, and complete their mission
.”

Thursday, December 1, 2005

What's a Blog?



Warning--the link on here may not (ok, it isn't) be suitable for children.

As I have been venturing out into the blogosphere I am finding out more and more that blogs aren't exactly what I thought they were. I thought blogs were, in general, like journals--you write whatever is coming to mind for you on that day, share photos, and maybe someone is interested in what is going on in your life. An example of what I thought it was (and here's a BIG warning--this woman is a bit on the "risque" side) is at "Bored Housewife." She is definitely proud of herself, has some serious feminist issues, and likes showing off a herself a lot, but her writing is exceptional (from the two or three posts I read). As far as the written content goes, that's kind of what I imagined this place being a ways back, or maybe what it will become after I leave here.

What I have found, instead, is that most of the bigger blogs, or the more popular ones, are simply recaps of the news, or of other blogs--there's not a whole lot of real creativity in them. Now I'm not bashing them--they are the reason that I ended up getting as many hits as I have in the past few months--because I read them every day and they certainly have their value. They just seem to read a lot like a newspaper to me. I've always wanted to write a book, to really explore whatever creativity I have that I would be able to mystically put on paper. I wrote a lot when I was younger, but those words never really meant anything or were even seen by anyone outside my own family. The blogs that I have seen become the most successful aren't exactly journals--they're like collections of clippings.

Anyway--I thought it was important to point that out. Blogs like hers are the ones that should be being nominated for the bloggies awards. Someday I hope to have the freedom to post like she does on her site.

Critter


People have commented on their theories as to why there are never any crumbs or food that gets dropped on the floor in here. I mean its dark, people are always eating, and you never, ever, see anyone come by and sweep. You’d imagine that there’d be crap everywhere.

I normally get my food from the chow hall and bring it over to my desk so that I can watch TV, surf the net, whatever rather than sit either by myself or with people I hardly know in the dining facilities. A strange taste that I have is that I put ketchup on virtually anything I eat—in this case, the omelet that I get every morning (they were so good 3 months ago….not so much now). Well, I wandered back from the hall and opened my food box to discover, lo and behold, that I had forgotten my precious ketchup. Not to worry! I’ve done this before so I keep a stash of them in my desk drawer where I used to sit. So I saunter over, throw open the drawer, and start digging for my ketchup packets.

About 5 seconds later I see what I thought was a gag mouse that someone stuffed in there. Before I know it, said gag mouse sprints up my sleeve to get out of the way. He makes it all the way up to the patch on my shoulder before he realizes (and I agreed with him) that this wasn’t the approved method of escape. So he pulls a 180 and sprints back down my arm. Of course, by this point my cat-like reflexes have kicked in and I start flailing, and the mouse parajumps back into the drawer and hauls out of sight. If anyone ever wanted to hear a grown man--air force Major, jet pilot with over 3000 hours in flight--scream like a little girl, this was their opportunity. I also didn’t know I could move that fast, because I was 15 feet away before I knew what had actually happened.

Needless to say, I had cocktail sauce on my omelet this morning.