Sunday, December 13, 2009

That’s right – it’s 2 blogs in 2 weeks. I’m on a roll I tell ya! What can I say – I’m in an overachieving mood these days (and avoiding real work maybe a little as well).

Well, in this installment of our Chronicles of Iraq me mark a very important benchmark of our deployment. Finally, the Air Force folks we deployed here with are going home! We’re not excited to be loosing them, as they were a great couple of Soldiers (and I don’t bestow that title lightly to some Air Force folks) and they really helped to hold things together at times around here. But the truth of the matter is that we always knew that their deployment would be shorter than ours. So their leaving means one thing to the rest of us…that it’s TRUE!! There IS light at the end of the tunnel after all!! People really can escape the PRT and go home eventually.

For all personnel arriving to and leaving the PRT we throw a party and this one was a pretty big affair. Robinson and May were definitely loved by all in the PRT and it’s no coincidence that they earned the highest award they could have during their time here (the Meritorious Service Medal); and also no surprise that they were the ONLY Air Force personnel of the 20 that deployed with our 10 teams to earn the award as well. And we are all very happy as well that by the time you read this they should hopefully be already back home with their family and children and getting some well deserved hugs and rest. But enough talk, how about some photos from the party huh?

One of the first awards and presents for Robinson and May to receive were their Department of State awards. These are two Department of State Certificates of Appreciation which were presented to May and Rob by the Team Leader, Mr. Blackstone. He’s the Department of State equivalent of a full Colonel or One Star General.

Later that night we had our official party. We always eat well here and the regular chow hall provides meals for use to bring to the parties on occasion. But our local employees also like to put on something special every now and again. This here is a photo of Kamil cooking up some traditional Iraqi Kabobs for everyone to eat. They are typically made with lamb meat or chicken, occasionally beef, and are VERY tasty and a crowd favorite.

Later on it was time to recognize May and Rob with some “tokens of appreciation” from the PRT and from others within the PRT. I like to jokingly refer to them as “parting gifts” or “door prizes” for those who are escaping. This first item here is the infamous PRT Guidon. The story basically is that one of the former team leaders made it since he was a former Army Officer. At some point a legal officer tried telling the PRT that the guidon wasn’t authorized because of this regulation and that pertaining to unit symbols and insignia for military units. To which the official reply was, “We aren’t an Army unit, we’re a Department of State organization, and if we want to have a piece of embroidered cloth then damn it we will.”

Which reminds me – I still have to tell the story of me and my run in with the legal team here in theater. But not right now – maybe closer to my R&R leave date.
Next was the present from the local staff who got May and Rob embroidered prayer rugs. They are small prayer rugs embroidered with some common logos, the U.S. and Iraqi flags, their names, and dates of service here.

My gift to them was (I think) the most symbolic of their time here really. Everything in this whole base is surrounded by 20 ft. tall T-Walls. You can almost never see a building itself – you just have to know which set of T-Walls to walk into. Also, our FOB is nicknamed the “FOB of Choice” and a lot of things have “_____ of Choice” as their name. So I got them these mini t-walls and had them pained up as the “T-Wall of Choice”. They were painted by a local Iraqi and really came out pretty darn good.

After all the gifts it was time for everyone who wanted to say a few words to do so. And what gathering or Hail and Farewell wouldn’t be complete without a few words from Dr. Khan. You’ve met him before in this blog. He has a penchant for saying some of the most inappropriate things at times…but he always speaks from the heart that’s for sure. So here he is regaling us with stories and often times saying whatever comes to his brain without going through the requisite filtration system before it comes out of his mouth. But hey – it’s always funny!!

Well, that was our party for the outgoing Air Force personnel. It was definitely an honor and a pleasure working with such a great pair of folks. We do have replacements for them who have been here for just over a week now. They are already working out well and it looks so far at least like the Air Force has dedicated itself to use this deployment to shatter all my pre-conceived notions about their personnel. They really have been fielding some real winners – at least to this team here at this PRT.

That’s all for now folks. I already have some photos set aside and hopefully later this week I’ll put up a short story about our trip to our 4.5 million dollar project – and what a flat tire on a 30-ton vehicle looks like and how much it sucks when it happens 40 miles outside the base in the middle of virtually nowhere.

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