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!!!

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