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.


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