Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Desert - sand and sun - It's like the beach right?

I really don't know how to describe it accurately in words, but to say it's like the beach would be saying that lite beer is like beer...it's NOT! But just to give you an idea of how much fun the weather can be here, I figured I'd give you some photos of what the day was like this past Thursday - and pictures of what it should look like on a clear day (for comparison's sake, of course). I definately encourage you to click on each photo to open the full resolution shot instead of trying to rely solely on the image displayed on the main blog page.

I have done my best to keep with the angles and distances that I shot the photos from for each of the days. The below photo is of our barracks area. Notice not only the obvious resemblance to a martian landscape. But try and take in the sand-bag area that was only about 20 meters in front of me, and the vehicle in the foreground that was only about 50 meters away - if that.

And this is what the same view should look like on a normal day. Much better right?

Here's a shot down the street towards the intersection near our living area. Notice if you can the vehicle on the cross street only about 40 meters away. And see if you can find the STOP sign.

And again - the view on a normal day.

Here is what the sun looked like at around high noon this past Thursday. I have no idea how far this dust cloud rose into the atmosphere, but it was really high. And the craziest part was that there was virtually NO wind. Now this is in an area where there is nothing to stop the wind and where flights are grounded more times than not because of the whipping wind. All I can figure is that all this dirt got blown up somewhere far away from us and just rolled in overnight. It was probably the finest particle dust I have just about ever seen. And of course by the end of the day it had pretty much covered anything that was sitting still.

Yep - that's what kinds of fun you can have out here at this "beach" like country here. I have some land I'm willing to sell you as well if you're interested. The good part is that days like this past Thursday are fairly rare and usually any dust that's blown up by the wind goes away as soon as the wind does. But this was an exceptionally interesting phenomenon indeed.
Hope all is going well and that your week has started off on the right foot. Things are rolling along here, and hopefully I can keep getting you some regular updates to make up for my lack of blogging over the past couple months.
For now - back to work.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome to the first installment of “Life in Iraq – Part Deux”. In this episode I am able to reflect momentarily on the fact that the last time I was here we were liberating the country and then building up the military footprint in the area as fast as possible. Also, we were just getting our feet wet on figuring out the culture and learning that stabilizing this place after the overthrow of a 30 year dictatorship by a mad-man was going to be far more difficult than first imagined. Now we are in the beginning process of pulling out our troops and trying to shrink the military footprint even faster than it went up. This isn’t to say at all that I believe we will be fully out of this place any time earlier than already planned. No significant numbers have gone home yet without replacements and I don’t think that’ll happen until after the elections at the end of the year. But inside the populated areas bases and the even smaller “Joint Security Stations” are closing down at a break neck pace.

In all reality the best case scenario would be a re-negotiation of the Status of Forces agreement to allow for US training and counter-terrorism forces to remain after 2011. Such a development would be a sign that, for starters, the Iraqis ARE successfully taking care of their own security AND that the attitude towards Americans and the security situation overall would allow such a residual force to exist. But that’s just me thinking out loud – let’s get to some pictures from our first week why don’t we?

I’m going to have to jump around in time a little and my next post should actually cover events prior to this trip posted below. But I need some more photos before I can go back in time (you’ll understand when I get that posted). For now, this photo set is from a trip I took on Saturday out to one of the remote Joint Security Stations close to the city of Nassariyah. The true purpose of my being there was to pay out a micro-grant to a local business man. The idea for these grants is to help local business people get a business going or expand a small business in order to help improve the overall economy and quality of life in their area. In this case the gentleman receiving the grant is a blacksmith by trade and is getting the money he needs to purchase welding equipment in order to run a business making doors that can be sold to Iraqi homes and businesses. If all works out, the roughly $3000 to buy quality work tools will enable him to support his family by providing something that most Iraqis lack – a decent front door…really. Below is a photo of the transaction taking place. The Soldier in the photo is the guy transporting the money. This is his last payment to make – after this it’s going to be my turn to start paying out the cash. And my first payment was today, Sunday (that was just a payment to a local hotel operator for use of the hotel for a 2 day agriculture seminar that our PRT orgainzed for the area). The guy next to him in the black hat is the translator, and the dude in the blue shirt is the businessman. The suit on the right is the Mayor of Nassariyah. He was basically there because of the base hand-over (next half of the story) and since we try and put an Iraqi face on everything we let him get his mug into the publicity as well. Personally, I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea of him being there or the Iraqi media filming for various reasons that I won’t go into detail on here – but it’s not my show – not till tomorrow.

Also – many of my photos will have edits to protect identities, be it name tapes or whole faces. Even though the Iraqi media was there I still edited this one, and here’s a story to illustrate why. We have an interpreter with our group who has been working with the Americans since May of 2003. He has been living in the city and coming onto base daily, virtually every day, since that time to help us win the fight in his country – even after nearly dying from injuries sustained while working for the Special Forces a couple years ago. The only thing he fears are the other local Iraqis that come to work menial jobs on the base (cleaning, painting, etc.) each day. And that’s because those are the people who might tell someone who he is and what he does and there-by endanger his family. Therefore, I will take measures to keep the identity of most Iraqis who work with us hidden even on a US blog. Because if you think the enemy doesn’t have internet, even here in Iraq, you are wrong.
As I mentioned previously – the other events at the JSS Saturday was the turn over of the station to the Iraqis. Below are photos from the ceremony which was quick and quaint but for reasons explained in the first paragraph pretty profound for me.
In this photo below you can see an American Army element and an Iraqi Army element in formation for the ceremony to turn over the small outpost. The units are at attention and saluting while each country's national anthem is played.

In this photo, the commanders of both military units sit at a table and the Americans sign purely ceremonial documents turning over control of the dirt-hole to the Iraqis. I promise you...none of the American's were sad about leaving, and I'm sure the Iraqis were thinking "Great - like we don't have enough dirt holes in our country...no really, you can keep this one if you really want".
I'm only slightly kidding - again, it's the ceremony and the symbolizm that's important more than any single structure or location.

At this point in the ceremony, after the hand over was signed by both commanders, the Iraqis had a flag tied to this flag pole. They had a color guard march up, untie the flag, and then.....

...of course, raise it high on the flagpole to symbolize that this is now an Iraqi Army security station.

I, for one, have no illusions that this Army and these Police are ready to truly own their country in the manner that I’m sure most Americans would like. Terrorists will be able to move around here as freely as they do in Pakistan and Iran. Corruption and incompetence will continue to be a problem; but it’s a problem in Chicago, New Orleans, and plenty of other places in the US as well...so the difference there is minimal really. But hopefully by the time we are ready to leave they can be formidable enough to keep the neighboring countries from crossing over the borders and the bulk of the society will be friendly to US interests and that – truly – is the main goal. And hopefully for the next 9-10 months I can help further achieve that goal. For now – thanks for all the thoughts and prayers and feel free to drop me a line at:

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

And have a great rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fun with Mom in Law - Part 2

After mom and I tied in our weekend sleep-off we decided to go check out the Newport Aquarium. I always enjoy going to the aquarium...fish are cool. One fish in particular caught my attention...

It's a monkeyface eel! How perfect for the Monkeyface and Baldy blog! I think this should be the blogs mascot.

We saw all sorts of cool creepy creatures, mom even pet a horseshoe crab. Wait a minute...

Watch out mom that giant octopus is about to get you!!!!!!!!!

Mr. Turtle is not amused. Mr. Turtle? Mr. Turtle, where did you go? Snakey, you better give Mr. Turtle back!
Anyway. Clearly there was much more to look at than just fish. They had a really neat new frog exhibit, and a jellyfish exhibit.
They put cool neon lights in all the tanks to give the fish funky shades. Mom and I were quite mesmorized for a time just watching the jellies going blorp, blorp, blorp. It was very pretty...and peaceful.
The shark tank was a different story. This is where you can stick your hand in a huge tank and pet some sharks. Hmmm so let me ask you something...is it a good idea to grab a shark's dorsal fin and then hold on while the shark starts thrashing around in the water to get away? Yeah I didn't think so. That's what one very intelligent red-neck decided to do. I thought the staff was about to tackle her away from the shark when they saw that. Not to mention that she had her whole family including her children with her. Really? Really? Well at least she and her red-neck family got a good laugh about getting yelled at.
I of course was very respectful of the sharks...mostly because they're bigger than me, and they can chomp my hand off.
I think mom enjoyed her trip to the aquarium, I know I did!
Afterwards we were starving, and luckily the aquarium is located at Newport on the Levee that has tons of restaurants and shops, all looking over the Ohio River. We stopped in at Johnny Rockets, which was a first time for both of us. I loved the fifties diner theme, and the ketchup smiley faces were superb! Even though neither one of us eat kethcup...it was the thought that counted.
We decided to stroll around the levee after filling our bellies. There's always a huge crowd wandering around. And lots of neat things to watch. Like balloon men on stilts. I just couldn't get over how cute the three little boys were next to balloon stilt man.
The next day we took my mom out for the day. This entailed lunch at Ruby Tuesdays and a trip to Target. My mom is totally that crazy cute older lady that you can't help but giggle with. And she lets me do things like this to her.
I love my mom...and I love my mom in law. She was very patient with the eccentricities that make up my family. I beyond enjoyed her visit to Cincinnati. It could be because she reminds me so much of Jason, or because we ended up being so compatable. At any rate I'm super lucky to get a great mom in law.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Finally - "Home"

Again, I know it's been a while since a post - but internet access hasn't exactly been plentiful, and the past two weeks not all that exciting anyhow. But I'm dropping a line to let everyone know that yesterday while most of you were already asleep for the night we arrived at our "Home" for the next 9-10 months. The accomodations are spartan by most standards, but in reality quite nice for "American Base in Iraq" standards. Each of us has our own room with A/C, an old bed (but a bed none the less), a couple dented wall lockers, and some 220 outlets. Life will get even better in about a month with the unit we're replacing leaves since I'll be inheriting all the ammenities of a guy here who used to be with our unit. He's giving me his TV, DVD Player, chairs and coffee table, mini-fridge and the few other niceties he's compiled over the past year.

Tomorrow we officially start working learning everything that the group here has been doing and finding out how we fit into the big picture of working with the team. We are going to be working as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team, and without a bunch of typing on my behalf you can get a basic idea of what that means by checking out:


and for our team in particular:

Well, time to log off and let someone else on the computer here. Hopefully in a couple weeks we'll actually have internet in our rooms here (one of the advantages of working for the Dept. of State) and I'll be able to blog much more often.

Take care all and have a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fun With Mom In Law - Part 1

Jason's momma came in to town this past weekend so we could have some fun and commiserate over Jason's absence. Luckily she's super easy going and told me not to plan anything big, we'd just play everything by ear. This of course meant sleeping in, reading lots of books, going out to dinner every night, and pedicures!

Our toes are so pretty now!

Even the doggies agreed!

But I didn't want us sitting around all weekend long with no fun experiences to blog about. So we took the dogs to the dog park. This was my very first experience taking all three dogs at once so I was a little apprehensive. I also had never stuffed all three dogs into the back of my car, so I was even more nervous about that. It seems that Mr. Gus can find mischief wherever he may be. He managed to somehow open the window shades that I have to keep the sun off of my windshield. Poor Edgar didn't know what to do. He sat like this until the car stopped and I moved them out of the way.

But once we safely extracted all dogs from the car and headed into the park everyone seemed to have a good time.

Gus met another little puggy. A younger much skinnier version. I think it may have given him a complex. He spent the rest of the time there just hanging out.

The little puggy friend on the other hand found a nice shady spot to chew on a stick

Just be happy that I didn't return home with two pugs instead of one. This little girl was beyond adorable.
The last time I took Edgar he didn't seem to be enjoying himself as much as I had hoped. He usually loves playing with other dogs, but I think he felt a little too much out of his Edgar comfort zone. Having Sammy and Gus with him this time really brought him out of his shell.

He ran and played and chased the other dogs. He had a huge grin on his face the entire time. He also met a bunch of his cousins. There were at least four other huskies at the park that day, and one in particular looked very similar to Edgar.

Can anyone tell me which puppy is mine?
A funny thing happened with Mr. Sammy. He apparently decided that it was his job to monitor and patrol all the other dogs at the park. Anytime dogs would start playing or barking at each other Sammy would charge over to them as fast as he could and try to break it up. If that didn't work he's start barking at everyone until a human would come help. It was embarrassing at first, until one guy decided that he was sergeant Sammy and kept saluting him anytime Sammy would pass by. I found it fairly amusing that I would have two sergeants in my life. At least Sammy is stepping up to fill the empty man of the house role...even if it is only at the dog park. He took his job very seriously...the other dogs didn't really seem to care.

Mom and I enjoyed ourselves, relaxing in the beautiful weather and watching all the different dogs running and playing.

And it helped me feel a lot less guilty about all the sleeping and lounging Mom and I managed to accomplish that weekend.

I love this picture. This isn't Edgar, this is the other husky. But I just keep thinking that if this were Edgar that kid would be missing a hand in exactly 3.2 seconds. Keep in mind kids, don't approach strange dogs! The kid was ok of course, the husky didn't mind a good tail pull. But still...don't approach strange dogs...I'm just saying...

I had to include this picture of Gus. This may be my favorite doggy picture of all time. Nomming on the monkey's ear! You cannot tell me looking at this doesn't make you smile.

Well, this post was really more about the dogs than about fun with mom...but mom and I had fun with the dogs! Next it will be fun at the aquarium!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Complete Randomness

Watch out Jason for the...creepy alien, zombie, skeleton, monstor looking thing!

Quick hop in the Mystery Machine and we'll make our get away

Wait...here comes Super Sammy to the rescue!

He's the protector of the monkey

The wrangler of the Edgar

And the chaser of the birds

Thank you Super Sammy, for keeping this family safe.