Wednesday, August 22, 2012
So the other day there was a military plane coming to pick up some stuff (vague) from here. We are in a VERY austere location, on a base owned by a country who often doesn't seem to understand that they have an Air Force. We don't get these planes very often, so it seemed kinda weird to me that no one had called us to ask some simple questions like "is there a runway" and things of that nature. We're in the desert, and the airfield doesn't have the normal capabilities you would expect at say, DFW. They don't have some of the capabilities that they have at even small airfields at home. But yes, they do have a runway. And its dirty.
It doesn't seem to bother the Iraqis much, or the contractors that work with them either. It may ding a plane up now and then but its no big deal. So, since I'm such a nice guy, I called the guys flying here and let them know that. I said "the runway's a bit dirty, so use caution."
What they heard was "upon landing a giant Kraken will rise from the depths and swallow your aircraft whole. It will then slowly digest you for 1000 years and sell your wives and children into slavery."
You would think that I had just told them that the wings would spontaneously combust when they touched the eeeeeeevil dust on the runway. They, of course, cancelled the mission and forwarded my clearly ingenious and well-educated comments up the chain. Waaaay up the chain. Like lots of stars up the chain. And my name has been all over it.
If anybody got the license plate of the bus that they threw me under, please contact the appropriate authorities.
So, for the last 72 hours, I have been having extensive conversations that have a lot of "sir's" in them trying to convince them that it really isn't THAT dirty, and that we DO actually fly here. Every day. In small planes. With students. Who can't land.
Unbelievable bureaucracy like I've never seen it. Equally unbelievable ass-covering. But I'll save that for another post.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Monkey just caught a great wave on her boogie board. Cowboy and Odie are knee-deep in muddy sand as they build a sand castle. Princess is probably asleep, since right about now is her normal nap time.
I watched a guy leave today, after a 365 tour. He's a civilian, and could've left at any time, but because he "signed up" for a 365 he stuck around. Despite the frustrations and loneliness of being stationed here, he stuck to what he originally said he would do--and stuck around.
I'm probably right. But SW is also right in that 20 years from now I would regret not being here. If, God help us, this "experiment" works, 20 years from now I'll be able to look upon what we've done here, and know in my heart that I was there at the beginning. I'll know that despite the frustrations of a culture and mindset that I offered a small part to the creation of a vibrant and rising nation. I'll know that the General that I mingle with on a practically first-name basis is the rising chief-of-staff of their fledgling air force.
That doesn't change the fact that my 3-year-old is asleep right now, on a blanket on the Texas coast.
And I'm not there.
Monday, August 13, 2012
To bring my meager seven observers up to date, I have a very good reason why I haven't posted on here since I showed up.
Because nothing happens here.
Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration. Stuff DOES happen here. But the experience I've had since I went BOG (Boots on Ground) is significantly different than it was the last time I deployed.
The last time I was I theater it was a completely different journey. I was one of several thousand troops. I watched daily as our CAOC wreaked havoc on the bad guys. There was something--every day--that was worth writing about.
The simple fact of the matter is that that hasnt happened here.
Ok,ok--I've got stuff to write about. We got mortared a while back, which was determined to be that we weren't. I had dinner with the Iraqi generals here during Ramadan. I had an impromptu Katie-Couric-style interview with the chief-of-staff of the Iraqi Air Force. Yes there has been stuff to write about.
But I haven't been inspired.
Sorry, I know thats a weak excuse. But it's the truth.
The fact of the matter is that I have a grand total of 5 people reading this blog, 3 of which I talk to on a regular basis, and it hasn't been a burning desire of mine to chronicle it. I plan on that changing.
If only for my sanity, I promise I'll update this on a regular basis.
So, I'm still here. Hope to see you soon.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
After an hour long helicopter flight, I finally made it to Tikrit on Tuesday.
After skimming over the outskirts of Baghdad, the landscape slowly changed until it became...nothing. For as far as the eye could see--nothing. Just an endless sea of sand. I've seen this before, while flying over Saudi Arabia in the 90's, where we would fly for hours and not see anything but sand. It was a little different than that, though, as we went further north. The horizon, which was hazy enough, slowly began to disappear until it blended into the desert itself. There was so much dust in the air that the desert seemed to just blend and then overtake the blue sky itself. By the time we landed in Tikrit, in an enormous cloud of dust, the only place I could find blue in the cloudless sky was straight over my head--and that was kind of hard to see too.
The job should prove interesting. On a base of hundreds of American and international personnel, I am one of three Air Force people. This has plusses and minuses.
When I was in Qatar I was one of thousands. As a result I fell into a group of about a dozen people that hung out together, and we became close. I blended in to the massive crowd of blue and green (or tan, I guess). Here--the big news on the compound is that there's a new Lt Col in town. In 36 hours I met no less than 50 civilians. Eventually I caught a clue and started writing everyone's name down. In the military, everyone wears a nametag. I might seem like I immediately remember your name, but the reality is I just look at your nametag.
"Hi...uhhh..." Look at nametag. "Joe!"
Can't do that here. Everyone's wearing civvies.
My job is also way out of my area of expertise. I'm essentially responsible for massaging all the dozens of contracts that the Iraqi Air Force has hired to get their training program off the ground. In typical fashion, there isn't a single company name that isn't spelled with an acronym. "He's from Triple Whisky." "ABC has that job." Not only do I not know what the acronym is, or what it stands for, I don't even know what the company does. I'm picking it up, but once I hit my limit of 100 acronyms for the day, it starts becoming gibberish to me. During a brief the other day the Army put a new acronym on a slide. It was sixteen letters. Sixteen. And it didn't even spell anything. Something like "The Office That Runs the Water to Supply the People Who are Responsible to Fuel the Trucks to Carry the Water to the Office that Fixes the Pipes to Carry the Water to the Office that Runs the Water (OTRWSPWRFTCWOFPCWORW)." No shit. I cracked up and everyone in my office looked at me weird.
Yesterday was the first day I felt like I had a clue. Like a 15% clue. Shooting for 20% today.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
As we flew over the city it occurred to me that I wasn't as nervous anymore. With my camouflage uniform flapping in the wind from the rotors I looked over the vast desert city and thought about what I had done for the past week, and considered the job that my boss had laid before me as I get ready to go north to Tikrit. For the first time a feeling I haven't had yet washed over me.
This is cool.
I'm finally looking forward to the next few months. Yes, I would obviously rather be with my family, but my confidence is a little bit higher now--and I'm doing something I thought I would never do.
If in January you had asked me where I thought I would be today my answer would have been sitting behind a desk in San Antonio. Iraq would have been the last possible option.
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Today is in processing day. Again I amazed, as the last time I deployed the time from departure from home to "on the job" was 3 days. It has been over a week and I have yet to get to my final destination.
It started with yet another overnight bag and a trip back to the airport where I met one of my Baghdad counterparts, another Lt Col who I flew with many years ago. After passing through customs (we're only going to the other side of the city…not sure what the obsession with passports is in this country) we loaded up on a helicopter for the trip to the largest US Embassy in the world. Beyond the fact that I can't remember ever flying on a helicopter, it gave me my first real glimpse up close of Iraq.
|Helicopter ride to the Embassy|
The Ba'ath Party Headquarters is home to the majority of the military offices and operations in Baghdad. It is also my most memorable snapshot of the night of "shock and awe." A massive square building, it is larger (as far as I could tell) than any other building in the city. After a drop straight down to the landing pad, we dismounted and were met by my CAST roommate. It was awesome to see someone that I actual knew.
|Helicopter ride to the Embassy|
The HQ building is awe-inspiring. Beyond its size, it is made of unpolished marble and with unreal architecture. To have to have set this building on fire is tragic.
We finished the day with a trip to the bazaar so I could get a better shoulder holster, and then a drop-off at our latest accommodations--square trailers stacked up on top of each other across from the HQ.
As with many other moments thus far, it was very surreal. My room is pretty crappy, no doubt, but it isn't a tent and has a private bathroom. It is also less than 50 yards from a building I watched almost 10 years ago get incinerated by massive explosions by US airpower. Due to proximity and amenities, I can bet that someone very important stayed in this room many years ago--now it is relegated to an overnight stay by me.
Four more days until I finally head to Tikrit.
Monday, May 28, 2012
After getting our bags off we were shuttled to a makeshift terminal off the side of the flightline. Several C-130's, a few Beechcraft prop planes, and one or two I didn't recognize was all the sat on the ramp. I had to imagine in my mind what the scene was like five years ago--where parking space was a premium to the hundreds of US aircraft shuttling troops in and out. I then went further back, and imagined what it had to be like on the night we unleashed hell on this city--with massive explosions in the distance, and some here on this very ramp.
The heat was there, but as in Kuwait it is bearable. Now granted, this is not summer and the heat has not reached 130 degrees. But even more so, we are definitely in the desert as there is not a spot of green to be seen.
After dragging our bags in I was met by two officers--the AF site lead for Baghdad and his deputy. Fortunately I have a history with the site lead going back to my Tweet days, so the transition was easy. As I processed through customs I found it interesting that the customs officer claimed that I did not need a visa if I had an official passport--I'm still debating whether or not to bring that up in the future.
Once we left and were on the main compound, an annex of Baghdad International Airport, one thing is abundantly clear: this is a war zone. Bombed-out bunkers, 50' high walls, and armed guards are everywhere. Things are improving as there is construction everywhere, but it is definitely still considered a high-threat environment. As I suspected, the withdrawal of US troops did little to diminish the constant threat of violence this city holds. But one thing is different--its not the military here anymore, it's civilians.
From what I gathered when the military left, civilian corporations moved in to do the job that we were formerly doing--and likely at a much higher price. Americans are still risking their lives here, but now it is for the benefit of the companies they serve rather than their country. Funny how you don't see a whole lot of that on CNN.
My room is much like it was in Kuwait--a sparse trailer with a bed, a refrigerator with water, and not much else. The difference between here and Ali Al Salem, however, is that this trailer is surrounded by 50' high concrete walls and a giant roof to protect from falling mortars. Very kind of them.
Tomorrow I will head out with an overnight bag (again) to the embassy via helicopter to meet with my bosses and inprocess the country. Hopefully the reasons I am here will begin to crystallize and I will finish the day closer to getting to my final destination.
Sunday, May 27, 2012
Ali Al Salem Air Base is divided into two sides--one controlled primarily by the Army, and one by us. The one I stayed on was the Air Force side, fortunately. I was given a small trailer with four beds, a refrigerator with water, and not much else. When the sponsor I was picked up by dropped me off at 8 am on Friday I asked her what was expected of me. "I don't know, catch up on your sleep?"
Excellent. Three more days of my life to spend doing absolutely nothing.
One thing they do have here is reliable internet. I was able to Skype with SW and the monkeys quite a bit. The first time I did it, Princess was curled up on SW's lap and refused to talk to me. Half way through the conversation she began her silent crying, what she does when she's genuinely upset and trying not to lose it. I guess seeing me on the little computer screen let her know that I wasn't coming back for a long time.
On the first day I woke up at 3 am. After watching movies on the laptop for a few hours I decided to go exploring. The first thing I noticed was the lack of people. I made it from one side of the base to the other (it's relatively small) without seeing a single person. I did, however, see the movie theater, coffee shop, rec center, gym, huge chow hall, several internet cafe's, a decent BX, and a church, as well as several independent eateries that sell arabic food and pizza. All of this led me to a single question:
Why the hell is this base here?
Down in Al Udeid they have a bonafide mission: to flow personnel into theater, and to run the air operations from their CAOC, where I was deployed in 2005. Here? I have no idea. I left here after three days still having no idea. I went to see "Hunger Games" at the theater on Saturday and it was packed. My impression is that we have a few hundred airmen there that are working very hard to justify the existence of a base that has no reason to exist.
When I departed at 0330 (effectively destroying all attempts I had at getting my clock back on schedule) on Monday morning, I went to the Army side. Now they have a mission. Three flights went out that morning fully loaded, and a huge tent city resided just outside the terminal. It was run extremely inefficiently (I showed there at 0345 for a 0800 flight) but at least there was a purpose.
I'm not sure if I would be happy or pissed if I was deployed to Sleepy Hollow for 6 months to a year. After three days I was so bored I was making stuff up to do.
Saturday, May 26, 2012
0900 EDT: Depart Leipzig for Qatar
Enroute: Close out "Nikita" Season 1. Good ending.
1430 EDT: Arrive Qatar, almost immediately told to expect a 4 hour delay due to weather. They stick us in a tent with a few power cords, and the promise of WiFi. WiFi barely works due to there 100 people trying to send messages home.
1830 EDT: Depart Qatar for Kuwait. Sleep the whole way.
1930 EDT: Arrive Kuwait Intl. Immediately told I was the chalk commander, responsible for all 100 or so airmen on board. We then proceed to unload the bags and load up on two busses after I select two bus commanders. They then take us to a holding area while we await police escort to take us on a 1.5 hour bus ride to Ali As Saleem Airbase. Remnants of a dust storm are settled all over everything, indoors and out. After lengthy wait, we depart for the airbase.
2115 EDT(0415 Local--21 hours after arriving at Terminal in Norfolk): Depart for Ali As Saleem with blacked out windows and a police escort. We are instructed not to use headphones and to avoid going to sleep to stay alert. Didn't realize there was that much of a threat in this country.
2230 EDT (0530 Local, Friday): Arrive Ali Al Salem. Fortunately the PERSCO team knew I was coming and hustled me along to get my body armor and chem gear, and got me to my room as fast as they could. Arrived my room at 0700 Local, roughly 30 hours after waking up in Norfolk).
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
I arrived at the terminal at 1130 via shuttle. The first thing I noticed was that the atmosphere was significantly less charged than the last time. In 2005, when I arrived at the hangar to head out they had rock music blaring, families around, and a super-charged atmosphere that motivated everyone to go. This time it was different--more like everyone was waiting to get on a prison barge. Why? Beats me--it could be one of many reasons. All but three of the 150 of us were going to Kuwait or Qatar, technically not war zones. War fatigue is another possibility--most of the people there were on the second, third, or fourth deployments.
With a planned 1300 departure, we didn't have much time to hang out. I called and said goodbye one last time, and waited for the boarding call.
At 1245, we were advised that the boarding call wouldn't come--until 2100 that night. 150 people in a hot terminal, with no transportation.
By 1600 I decided I was hungry enough to spend the $20 to go eat at a restaurant. I took a taxi to Chili's, by myself, and directed the waitress to bring glasses of Blue Moon as fast as she could. An hour and half later I was back at the terminal, feeling much more relaxed than when I left.
2100 came and went. And 2200. By 2300 we were finally boarding and I got the first perk of the trip--first class. I always thought those seats looked comfortable (and yes, they were better than coach) but they're not as good as I imagined.
After a 30 minute taxi we were finally airborne into the midnight sky. I looked across the aisle, thinking of the kids and how this was the furthest away I had ever been from Ben and Lilly. The thought lingered on my mind until I saw the lights from the eastern seaboard drift into darkness.
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
They both knew I was leaving--Monkey had broken down a few days earlier because we told her I was leaving after my birthday, which we had celebrated. As we dropped them off at school, with me wearing a desert uniform that they had never seen before, Sammy gave me a hug and ran off to his pre-school. He clearly had no idea. Sarah, however, did, and it was a very difficult separation, with both of us crying pretty hard. Eventually, she was strong and went into her classroom, and I cried the rest of the way to the base.
|Just before the waterworks were turned on|
I was overwhelmingly nervous, since I was alone this time, versus one of three hundred deploying last time. Like shaking nervous. On top of that I was an emotional wreck due to the fact that I was separating from all of them for the first time. After the bags were on the curb, Ben lost it first. He actually got out of the car crying and was hysterical by the time I was pulling my bags away. Sarah and Sammy were as expected, as we had gotten the hardest parts out of the way the night before. SW was holding her own, and I was too, until I started pulling away and something happened.
Lilly, in all her three years, figured it out.
With all her siblings and mother crying around her, on a busy side street with daddy hauling over 100 pounds of bags, something HAD to be amiss. As I was walking away she very quickly ran after me to hold my hand, as if she thought she was coming with me. I kissed her on the head and brought her back to mom. As I walked away she did the same thing again. She didn't cry, she didn't pull me back--she had a very serious look on her face and appeared that she thought it incredulous that I would go anywhere without her.
I lost it.
Eventually I made it into the building and just sat down for a minute to collect myself.
This is going to be a long six months.
Monday, May 21, 2012
At about 10pm, when I was in the garage finishing up trying to zip my bags closed, the door opened and Sarah came out. At first I just said hello over my shoulder. When she didn't answer, I turned. She was sobbing and holding a card out to me. She had colored in a felt cartoon cardstock of a princess with a rainbow in the background. On the back she wrote:
I love you so much! If you were here I'd give you a hug. But, know that me and the kids are safe. We just want you to come back home safe.
P.S. I've gotta say it again I LOVE YOU!
For ten minutes we just held each other in the garage and cried. It was so hard for me to see my oldest this upset about anything, let alone something I was having to do.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
We bailed out of Iraq, and I am constantly reminded of how irresponsible we were as a service in doing so. My experience thus far has been that we bailed and didn't leave anything behind to lead the support structure in regards to what the plan was after we left. It was (and should always be) obvious that when we leave a war zone we are not actually leaving. We will always plan to have folks that stay behind to take care of business. And thats what we did this time. We just took all the play books with us.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
Friday, February 24, 2012
Friday, February 17, 2012
I am not thrilled--but I'm not complaining either. This is going to be a very difficult challenge for me and my family, but it is yet another Desert Odyssey.
Monday, January 16, 2012
On the Eve of Greatness, how do you feel?
Do you feel empowered, just, and prepared? Or do you feel weak, lost, and hopeless?
On the Eve of Greatness, how did those who have achieved felt? Did they feel "I have done enough, it is time to move on" or did they say "My time has not yet come--I am ready for more."
On the Eve of Greatness, what is your state of mind? Is it one of promise or depair? Are you willing to accept the challenge or do you sit quietly on the sidelines hoping that destiny finds you? Do you accept the mantle of responsibility or do you hope that the next day will never find you--waiting in the shadows for your time in the sun?
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
My time here in Del Rio is coming to an end. It's funny how fate throws twists your way every now and again. This time around I was actually, for the first time in my career, not looking forward to leaving an assignment for the next one. Despite multiple assurances that I was in the overall plan for the base, when the time came such assurances fell through. As a result, we're moving on soon. I just don't know when.
As I am looking back on what can be described as the best and worst assignment of the last 17 years, I have been debating. What were the moments that defined this tour for me? What am I going to take with me once I depart the location that has been home to my family and I for over six years of my career? I have some time before there's a farewell party for me--we shouldn't be going until sometime is summer. So I have decided to start writing some of these down.
I've been looking for an excuse, or inspiration, to get my Odyssey going again. Hopefully this will be the catalyst.