Thursday, July 30, 2009

I feel like crap

So I wake up yesterday with what felt like a golf ball stuck in my throat. I'm assuming it was my allergies acting up since I spent most of the evening out in the yard destroying invisible fleas.

But it never fails when I wake up with a sore throat it turns into an all out sinus infection. Which of course is what I woke up to this morning. Needless to say I feel like crap today. Scratchy throat, itchy eyes, stuffy nose, insane headache...yay!

My boss had pity on me today and let me leave work early. Was it because he didn't want the germs spread around the office, because he knew I wasn't accomplishing a darn thing, or because he really felt some sort of sympathy? Either way that little bit of kindness and the extra thirty minutes of freedom had me crying the entire drive home.

Usually when I feel this crappy there's a husband waiting for me at home to help me put my PJ's on, make me chicken soup, give me drugs, and tuck me into bed.

And I don't have to worry about taking out the trash, playing with and feeding the dogs, cooking and then cleaning, or doing anything at all for that matter.

Will someone please come and make me some chicken soup?

And yes Gus was really sleeping with his face in my shoe. It was the oddest darn thing I've ever seen. And sorry if the graphic Sammy pictures offend...he is a dog though so get over it, he was being so silly rolling around on his back that I had to snap some pictures.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lizards and Scorpions and Snakes - Oh My!!

Hello all. For those of you who are still tuned in this is the post you’ve been waiting for. Allow me to introduce you to some of the wonderful wildlife that I get to share my world with around here in the great wide open spaces of Iraq. Now bear in mind that I still have at least one other animal to get a pictures of eventually. But really, the Jackals only come out at night and don’t care for humans so they won’t stay still long enough really or be in a well enough lit place, so I won’t make you wait until I accomplish that feat.

Without further ado – the animal that you all should know for sure I get to have visit our abode is the wonderful scorpion. And in this case, the Death Stalker scorpion seems to be the most popular around here and this is the 3rd one to find in our office in a month. It shouldn’t kill a healthy Soldier really, but that’s no guarantee and doesn’t mean that getting stung wouldn’t suck big-time enough to make you wish you weren’t dead.

This next guy most folks have heard of. Welcome to the wonder and beauty that is the Camel Spider. While not really a spider (it’s actually part of the tick family) that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look like some demonic alien species hell bent on sucking the brains out off all civilization. Read the hyperlink – there is a lot of rumor and exaggerated stories about these guys. But I can promise that they will eat a dime to half-dollar size hole in your skin while you’re asleep if they get the chance. Happened to one of our guys last tour. These freak-a-zoids are mostly nocturnal as well but can sometimes be found in the shadows. We’ve found one before in the office and this beauty in the barracks area.

This guy’s torso is about as long as a standard cigarette lighter and with the legs fully spread probably measured about 6” across. I’ve only seen one bigger but it got away before I could catch it. They are fast enough.

This area of the world also has its share of snakes. And of course, if you want to be anywhere near the top of the food chain in this land you have to be poisonous – so pretty much all the snakes here are. This guy got caught on a sticky pad that we use all over the place to catch mainly mice, but also anything else that wanders around too much (we usually put them across the doorway into our rooms as well). The sticky pad is about 6”x3” so I have to guess this guy at about 2 feet at full length. Oh, and the huge freaking flying cockroach looking thing on the pad as well – yeah, we have those too.

Well that’s enough horror show time for most of you so I figured I’d give you a slightly lighter side of the wildlife here. This little lizard guy is one of plenty that we have here around the FOB. Pretty much any night you can find a few running around the barracks area, and that’s a good thing. Not only are these guys harmless and somewhat cute, they also eat a lot of smaller bugs throughout the night – so these guys are my heroes. This little dude in-particular I found hiding behind the water bottles in my room. It was a heck of a task to run him out of the room, and I learned that they can actually scream. I kid you not as I was trying to usher him out each time he was scurry from point A to point B I could hear a very quiet and very high pitched whining sound. I though I was delusional the first time I heard it. But sure enough that guy was cursing me out for sending him out of the nice air-conditioned room all the way out the door into the summer sun, and I could hear it.

Last but not least – this cool looking bug here landed on some paperwork at my office. There are plenty of small gnat – fly sized bugs and most are plain desert colors. But this guy I thought was pretty cool with his neat little red markings across his back. Just for size reference – the “Y” you see on the paper is in 10pt font. So yeah, hommie was pretty small.

And NO, I didn’t kill it! Everything I catch I try and set free. The scorpion died accidentally as I was trying to trap it under a cup. And the snake was screwed before I got to him. But I did put him out of his misery just after the photo. I just couldn’t bear to see him like that especially knowing how long snakes can survive without sustenance and knowing the trap poison most likely wouldn’t get through the scales. Call me goofy – call me crazy (many who know me do) but I have a soft spot for strange, deadly, and/or poisonous creatures. Besides…they all serve a purpose. As far as I know, Mr. Camel Spider is happily freaking someone else out elsewhere on the FOB at this point.

Well, that’s the way of the wild here in good ol’ Al Kut, Iraq. I hope I’ve brightened your day and helped you can an appreciation of those innocuous ants and flies that we all complain about back home.

Before I leave I will say that if you know of anyone looking to send a care package to some troops, I have 8 more here and a ton of civilians who could all use some random tastes of back home. Standard junk food is always appreciated, just avoid the chocolates and other melt-able foods at this time of year. Regular personal hygiene items (body soap, GOOD razors, shaving cream, Q-tips), baby wipes, AA and AAA batteries, games (travel size or regular), books (used are 100% fine and even encouraged), and if you’re trying to be creative and think of stuff I haven’t mentioned here, just think - “other items that you might get someone who is living in a dorm type setting”.

Items can be sent to me and I promise they will be opened up and the contents available for all to benefit from.

SFC Jason Hoyt (8974)
Wasit – PRT
FOB Delta
APO AE 09317

That’s it for me for now. Time to get back to whatever it was this war needed me to do next. I already have some photos for the next blog, so hopefully you won’t have to wait as long till the next one. For now, of course, have a great rest of your weekend.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

For Those Who Pray

Hello there all and sorry that I didn't get around to a post this past weekend. The days have been pretty busy but really nothing exciting for the most part. Largely it was getting the old team out of here and dealing with a million and one tasks that we now all have to ourselves. But the good news is that the time away from the blog gave me the opportunity - just this evening as a matter of fact - to photo the one last creature we share our world with so I can post it when I show you all the wonderful wildlife here. So all is not lost my friends. I promise the next post will have photos.

The purpose of this quick post will be a little on the heavier side than what you're used to seeing here. Basically, I wanted to remind those who pray to please do so for our men and women here. I have learned this past week in talking to several folks that there are a few here who are really home-sick and really somewhat hurting from the time and distance away from family. Of the 40+ "employees" here only 8 are military. About another dozen or so are full blooded American citizens who happen to hold high level degrees and/or positions back in the states which make them uniquely suited to help in our efforts here to teach this country how to run itself. Well, they get recruited in various ways and sign up for a 1 year tour here out of either curiosity, looking for a change of pace, looking to serve America, or usually a combination of "all the above".

The thing is - the term culture shock can not be understood by those who have never suffered from it...but they use the word "shock" for a reason. And the isolation that you feel at times from being so far away from home can be pretty great as well. Me, I hate it. But I'm not going to lie, I'm OK with it because I understand it, it's what I need to do for this one year, and at least I have done it before sans the wife and dogs - kind of like a "dry run" we'll say. I won't say that I wasn't quite surly and somewhat pissed at everything and nothing when I was getting on the plane to leave the States. But now that I'm here I'm in something of a routine and the time is passing faster than I expected so I'm doing quite alright. But unfortunately, that's not the same for all of us here. I have already talked to two civilians and one Soldier who isn't taking it all in stride and they are really hurting inside. I can honestly say that I've never seen a 50+ year old man cry in front of me before and hope to never have to see it again...unless of course he's crying for joy because he's going home that is.

I and others continue to offer a sympathetic ear and all the support we can. For those of us in the military we treat the civilians pretty much the same as we do other members of the military. After all, as we say, it's "one team - one fight" no matter who you are. And when one is hurting the rest do feel it. But hopefully as with most things "this too will pass" and I really think it's just a rough patch for these guys and in the long run they'll be quite fine.

But in the mean time I do ask all those who pray to please remember not just me but those other folks on my team, military and civililan alike, and all those serving so far away from their family, friends, and a home and in a culture that we understand because we're used to it. God gives us his strength when our own isn't great enough - and it rarely is.

For now, I'm signing off and heading home for the night. And praying myself that nothing in my photo collection for the next blog is waiting for me in my room.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Then and Now - Here and There

Well, I have to admit that it's been a fairly boring past couple of weeks for the most part. With the June 30th deadline to have all combat troops pulled out of the cities pretty much the whole entire Army ground to a halt when it came to missions outside the gate starting June 29th. The logic was two fold. One, that if anyone was going to try something funny on the 30th and try and take some degree of credit for "driving us out of the cities" we would not be available for them to have their fun. Two, the Army wanted to reduce the moving pieces so to speak around this pivotal time and give everyone an opportunity to think through the plans for conducting operations outside the cities, and to go over the plans for how we were going to conduct non-combat operations in the cities and keep the overt appearance that it was with permission and by invitation of the Government of Iraq. Since about 95% of our missions are inside the cities, this was the biggest piece for us to concern ourself with. Now, everywhere we go we are escorted by Iraqi Police or Army personnel, which requires a lot more extra preperation than it actually sounds like. By the end of this past week it seems like most of the wrinkles have been ironed out and things are getting to be a bit more on-schedule and work is pretty much back to usual for us for the most part.

The level of boredom this past couple weeks is why I have choosen this post to give everyone an idea of our living conditions here in beautiful FOB Delta, and I will also share how "the other half" lives since I just returned from a trip to the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad. First off - let me say that by my standards the living here at Delta is the closest thing possible to paradise. My first deployment we were based in Baghdad where, I must say, it wasn't that bad. Even still, though we had A/C there and even indoor showers, we still slept on cots until about the last month and in a room with about 20 other folks. Not to mention, I spent probably 50% of my time on missions outside of Baghdad. On those 1-2 week trips we slept in cots either outdoors, or if it was nice, inside a non-airconditioned cinderblock structure. Sometimes we slept outdoors near a helicopter flightline with choppers taking off and landing at all hours. Sometimes on the roof of buildings, or in the back yard of a safe-house with nothing but a cot and a mosquito net. OH, and let's not forget the "piss-tubes" (3-4 inch PVC pipe buried in the ground at a 30-45 degree angle) or the fun of burning a 55 gallon drum full of, well, what you can't do in a "piss tube". While the adventure of liberating a foreign country is a memory that myself and only about 100K other troops can ever say they got to experience, it often fell short when it came to availability of "niceties" that we have here now.

Here at FOB Delta, I do have to say that things are much different than before. And for us, it's even better really. While most soldiers are living in 1-2 man trailers (called a "CHU" - or - Container Housing Unit) we actually have our own couple of buildings that apparently used to be a supply warehouse of some sort. The design is closely related to a Motel 6 really with the doors on the outside (no interior hallway) and about a dozen rooms per building. Each soldier or civilian has their own room and they're about the size of a Motel 6 room as well. We have A/C and about a half-dozen power outlets per room. These pictures here are a little out-dated since today I picked up the TV, DVD player, and Satelite decoder from one of the guys leaving tomorrow. The Satelite gets about 13 English channels with 2 music, most of the rest movie channels, and 1 channel that seems to be dedicated to FOX series and movies. I've already seen The Simpsons twice today, and watched an episode of CSI NY (only because I could) before I went to the gym.

This is the view from the front door - the TV is now located to the right, on this side of the wall locker. I say that now I have a living room and a bedroom...just like a studio apartment. Hey, if you can't lie to yourself, who can you lie to right?

This is the "bedroom" area, complete with collapsable wooden desk (I don't think it was built to be collapsable - it just turned out that way.

Now, the rooms don't have their own bathroom unfortunately so it is about a 50 meter hike to get to the showers and toilets. But at least it' s not port-a-johns (though we do use those at the office). There are two trailers, one for showers and a couple rows of sinks, and another for toilets, urinals, and another row of sinks. And yes, the trailers are air-conditioned as well.

Sorry for all the "sprinkles" - it was pretty dusty outside.

Now for how the "other half" lives. The NEC is the largest U.S. Embasy in the world. And the best way most people describe it is "a five star hotel - considering that you're in Iraq". It's certainly no Ritz Carlton, but each living space is a small dining room area, a kitchen with all stainless steel appliances (fridge, microwave, stove, coffee pot) a bathroom with a full bathtub, and two bedrooms which can sleep 2 each. The bedrooms have internet (wireless and CAT-5) and cable TV which has about 30 English channels.

Here's the kitchen.

And the bedroom - with me chillin' and watching ESPN.

I can't get into any specifics about the compound itself for fear that burly men dressed in all black toting really cool weapons will take me away in the middle of the night for compromising security. However, having spent 9 years working for university security and another year for corporate security, I do have an eye and appreciation for certain things that improve the physical security of a building. And let me say, I think I'd rather try and break into a bank in the U.S. before I ever try anything at this joint. But hey, if I was going to build an Embasy in a war-zone in the middle of a region of the world filled with people who want to kill the entire population of my homeland - well, I guess I wouldn't cut too many corners when it came to security as well.

Well - I am back from Baghdad and back in Delta now. Sunday is our down day, mainly for the health and welfare of our security detatchement, and this next week comming up I start working a lot more for the head guy in charge of Economic reconstruction helping him deal with the banking system, business development, and whatever else we can do to bring this country into the 21st century. Since I want to get my MBA when I get back from this deployment this'll be a great learning experience...and hopefully I'll be able to get you some more entertaining photos. Though I will say - I think the next post is going to be a collection of all the fun animals that we get to share our living and office space with. Natalie might not want read that one.

Take care all - and, um, well, um, - GO CUBS!!!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fun with Aunt Michele

This past weekend my Aunt Michele and John came down to visit me over the 4th of July holiday. And apparently I'm very uncreative when it comes to finding fun things for my guests to do.

We went to the dog park...

Neither Aunt Michele or John had ever been and were excited to see what all the fuss was about from my previous posts.

And I took them to Johnny Rockets

Maybe it's the cute ketchup smiley faces.

But we did do some super fun things that were very Cincinnati, and although I have lived here the majority of my life have never done before.

We took a BB Riverboat tour down the Ohio River. Captain Frank you're my hero.

It rained the entire time on the tour though so we couldn't sit outside. But it was still an enjoyable hour moseying around the river.

We of course had to visit fountain square, eat Greaters, and feed the pigeons. Well only Aunt Michele fed the pigeons...she said they looked hungry. John and I pretended not to know her.

Can anyone guess where we went next? Anyone? Here's a hint...

No guesses? The top of Carew Tower of course.

That's a long way that fountain square...?

It totally is! You all look like tiny ants from up here.
And of course no post would be complete without gratuitous doggie pictures. These were actually taken by my Aunt because she was absolutely in love with the dogs. Especially Mr. Edgar because he looks almost exactly like her dog Ginger. I was actually fairly suprised when I got home from work today and Edgar hadn't been stolen. I had a great time with my Aunt and John in town. I don't get to spend a lot of time with them so it was good to be social and spend time with family. And if anyone wants to go to the dog park and Johnny Rockets give me a call!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Greetings from the land where “It’s only getting hotter!” Actually, I think I need to say something about the wind here as well. It’s not enough really that it’s averaging around 115 daily with really only about a 2 degree difference between a “cold front” or a “warm front”. But even 115 isn’t really too bad when you consider that it’s at least 10 times dryer than Steven Wright’s humor – you Arizonans and New Mexicans got nothing on this version of dry! At least you can grow cactus.

The problem is the wind. You see, for over a hundred miles in any direction there really is virtually nothing to slow the wind down. Therefore it has nothing to do but gain momentum until it gets to you. The past 3 days have seen sustained winds of around 15mph and gusts of around 30-40mph. That being said, it’s more “gusting” than it is “sustaining” outside. One of our Airmen put it best when we were in Kuwait; he said, “It’s like someone is chasing me all over base with a gigantic hair dryer set on full blast”. Natalie said that she and a friend were wondering “if we dumped sand out of our boots each day.” The answer to that question is “no”, but with the wind blowing like this I will say that cleaning out the ears is a revelation each time!!

Anyhow – while I’m sure that there are plenty of folks wondering about the living conditions here I’m afraid that I haven’t gotten around to taking too many pictures yet. It’s not because I don’t care about you folks back home, it’s just that it’s really nothing at all to write home about (no pun intended – OK, I lied there, it was intended). One of these days soon I’ll remember to drag the camera around base and post some photos of our fine facilities. Don’t you love how I keep stringing you all along here – isn’t this blog keeping you on the edge of your seat??!!

In the mean time – let me give you a little humor and a little “good story” you’ll never see on CNN.

First and foremost, I won’t go into great detail on the hell that was Kuwait. But I will say that it’s amazing how one single person can make or break a simple 2 week “reception and acclimation” base. Waiting for a flight to escape to Iraq was a 4 day ordeal in-and-of itself. Once we did get a flight, it wasn’t even to the base we were supposed to be going to – and the guy telling us what to do couldn’t explain why. So, like any good NCO I took charge, got my officer on board with my idea and swore that once off this guy’s base (the reception base and the “fly out” base were an hour apart) and away from his grasp we were not getting onto the plane for Baghdad.

Well, we didn’t really even need a plan. After 4 days of being jerked around for flight times, then given a crap flight, we weren’t even out the front gate before the bus we were in felt like it had a flat tire. We got out, checked around, and found nothing. We got back into the bus, drove for another minute or so, and stopped again. This time we realized what had happened. A rock about 4 inches across had wedged itself between the two tires on the back passenger side of our mini-bus. Imagine our fun for about an hour working to try and dislodge this stupid rock from between the two wheels. In the photo below you’ll see my Sergeant C.J. and another random guy on our bus trying their best to pry from one end while the other whacked away at it from the other side. Really, it was quite humorous to all on our team and was simply symbolic of our time in Kuwait. I don’t want it to sound like it was a miserable two weeks there – but I certainly won’t volunteer to “re-do” that part of this deployment either.

Now for the good part you will NEVER see on CNN. This past weekend one of the units that had been working on civil-military projects in the province and was about to leave had their last big event. It was really their mission, but there was coordination as well with the PRT and that’s how we ended up being around to participate in our own little way. The unit had been working with a local orphanage in town and decided to rent out a local park for Operation “Hard Knock Life” where they basically had music, dancing, games, prizes, and other fun for the orphans and other local kids from the area. The event was a huge success and even with no real publicity (didn’t want to be broadcasting to the bad guys where they can come and blow up a bunch of Americans and children) the crowd was bigger than expected. The event was a huge success and it was often difficult to tell if it was the American Soldiers or the Iraqi children who were having the most fun.

We have a job to do and usually it is quite serious and stressful and the definition of victory is vague and you might not even realize it till months or years down the road. We might not be kicking in doors and dragging away bad guys. But at least when you do that the target is simple, the objective straight-forward, and the tactics quite precise. In our line of work, “civil-military operations focused on capacity building”, there is no real script for one engagement to the next. Roughly 60-70% of the population needs a job and everyone wants more money. For Iraqis position means power and not necessarily competence or honesty – but we have to figure out how to help those in power help their people but without helping to promote and/or trying to prevent corruption. Therefore, events like this “party in the park” as we called it are a great reminder not only of who we are really working to win over – the People of Iraq – but that even here in this otherwise strange land the people are very much like us when it comes to the simpler things in life and the desire to be able, on the weekend, to just relax and have fun with their kids in the park.

This photo above is me passing buttons out to the kids. Some female soldier from the Division Band (who was a teacher back home) had her 5th grade class make buttons that all said "I'm Special" on them. And boy, can those kids make buttons. I think we had around 300, and were quite glad when they were finally all gone.

The photo below is a soldier from the unit that actually coordinated the party. I just happened to turn around in time to see him playing see-saw with these three Iraqi kids. I think we're just lucky it didn't break and no one got hurt and then we'd have to come back and pay 5 times too much to replace the thing.

I will say, during the first tour and even in the beginning stages of this tour, I would rather spend 5 minutes with a “common” Iraqi than all day with some alleged “big-wig”. First off, all of the key leaders are politicians – and they’re just as much fun as anywhere else in the world. Except here there are virtually no controls other than the Americans to try and curb corruption. On the other hand, the common Iraqi has nothing to hide and nothing to fear. They know we won’t hurt them for anything at all that they say (unlike Saddam and his police and Army) and – unless you’re talking money – they are really an overall honest and otherwise “blunt” group of people. Talking to them you really get an idea of how the population feels about Americans, about their own government, about their prospects for the future, etc. Also, if this democracy thing really does work, and it really does have a chance, then the common folk are the ones who we need to have on our side. In that regard, any genuinely positive interaction with the Americans is a great thing, especially when it comes to the children. We need to be able to walk away with them remembering something good we did, or some fun they had with us around, and to know that we are just as human as they are and that our intentions really are good. And again, I’m not talking about anything to do with money – just like in America, once you bring money into the equation, there are no “friendly” relationships…just cordial and polite or rude and ruthless (often times the former masquerading as the latter). So long story short, this event was a great thing to see and take part in. Not sure how many more times I'll get to be a part of something like this. But who knows, things here seem to be a lot more stable than last time, so maybe by early 2010 we can put on many more of these types of events.

For now all - have a great day. Have a great weekend. And when you think about the celebration of the birth of our great nation, take a few minutes to realize that it's not just a day off work to party and shoot off fireworks (don't get me wrong - that's all fun and good and wish I was there for it), but to reflect on how our United States of America came into existence, and how great it truly is. I've been a handful of places...and nothing even comes close.