Sunday, September 27, 2009

Before and After

So we just recently had a landscaper come out to regrade the backyard, add sod, and redo the back patio area. As I've complained about before, anytime it rains the backyard turns into a swamp and the dogs have a grand time tromping around and sharing the muddy goodness with my house. And since Jason left there hasn't been anyone to keep up with the yard work...because I am not really the yard work kind of gal. As a result this is what the patio area looked like before the landscaper began.

Yeah, that's pretty scary. And here's after the landscaper finished...

The little area under the stairs is super cute

Here's what the yard looked like before. There were green stakes in the ground from Jason's attempt to rope off the worst parts from the dogs...but they would just run under the fencing. We also had been throwing our grass clippings in the worst area in an effort to build it up and absorb some of the water, so we had a huge patch of dead rotting grass...very nice.

The landscaper evened everything out and resodded it.

In the end the yard looks much better. I'm a little apprehensive though. It's been raining here for about a week straight...and the yard is very smooshy. Very smooshy indeed...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Happy Ramadan - The Eid is Near

Greetings once more from the land of Allah, and I hope you’re having a happy Ramadan season. Soon all your fasting and sufferings will be over and you will be free to enjoy three days of raucous celebration during the Eid.

Well, while most of the Iraqi’s are exercising shorter work days and more time off in the afternoon and evenings (due to no drinking or eating during daylight – and then pigging out at night) we are still quite hard at work here and even catching up on a little “Army Training” as well.

Let’s start off with the courthouse I was at in the last blog. These few photos are from the follow-up trip to insure that the work is finally completed. Progress had been slow coming on this project, but I’m happy to report that it is finally done and by the time you read this the ribbon cutting will be over with (I type these blogs in Word at night – they copy & paste once online.) While doing the inspection we happened upon a unique opportunity for some impromptu assistance for the judge, and for one of the prisoners. You see, the prisoner featured in the first photo below here doesn’t speak Arabic. He doesn’t even speak Farsi, the language of neighboring Iran. He actually speaks Urdu since he is from the Kashmir region of Pakistan. Apparently he is a poor only son who was trying to support his mother by working jobs in Iran and sending money back home. While traveling Iran in search of jobs, he actually ended up at the border crossing with Iraq near the town we were in. The story goes that he was working as pure labor off loading Iranian trucks with goods onto Iraqi trucks. The story further goes that he strayed into the Iraqi side of the border and was arrested. Now I know there are two sides to every story…but that’s not the point. The courthouse where we were didn’t have anyone who spoke Urdu, so this guy has been in prison for about 2 months without even a hearing because of the language barrier. Well, Dr. Khan (the guy with his back to the camera) is an American citizen who is an immigrant from India and speaks Urdu. So in this photo Dr. Khan is translating what the Pakistani is saying into English during an impromptu hearing that was arranged while we were doing our tour.

And in this next picture, our local engineer translates what Dr. Khan is saying into Arabic for the local judge. Hence, we basically had a 3 language hearing conducted with the assistance of a local Iraqi translator and one of our own principals.

In the end it was decided by the judge to have this prisoner sent to our town of Kut where they can arrange a translator and a trial. The judge even said that he put in a recommendation that the judge try the case soon and recommended release of the prisoner based on the testimony at the hearing. It’s those random incidents like this that separate Civil Affairs from the rest of the military. No one else that I know of other than Special Forces even has the opportunity for this kind of interaction with the local populace and the ability to do so much good when the opportunity presents itself. We may have only helped one person – but I can guarantee that he’ll have a favorable opinion of the U.S. from now on.

OK, on to more pictures. I said that we got some Army training done this week, so here we go.

This first photo is of us at the Special Forces shooting range. Since Civil Affairs is part of the Special Ops community we have an “in” with the “snake eaters” and are permitted to not only use their range (which is a lot more informal than a normal Army run range) but also had a couple of their shooters out giving our guys (and gal) some instruction on how to actually employ a weapon in real-world situations instead of just on a rifle range – something that, sad to say, the conventional military seems to keep forgetting that it needs to keep its Soldiers proficient on. This is actually the shooting that I teach at my home unit so for me the practice is mainly refresher, yet still invaluable. But for my new Sergeant and especially for our Air Force personnel who typically only shoot once per year (maybe) they have been having a blast (pun intended) with all the ammo they have been able to put down-range in their time with us.

This photo is of Justin and I lining up for some repetitions of controlled pairs.

And this one is of me pumping lead into some poor defenseless piece of paper two rounds at a time in rapid succession. Really, that poor piece of paper never had a chance!

Next, nothing like scorching heat to motivate folks to practice their skills at starting an I.V. drip. Not only do you get to practice how to help a potential casualty from fatal blood loss and/or shock. But once you get the I.V. yourself, then you can just go ahead and “drink up” the whole bag of fluid and get really well hydrated for the rest of the day. This photo is of C.J. practicing his skills on Justin.

Well, in all seriousness, the last two days have actually been downright chilly. We were talking about starting a pool to see what the first day would be that we didn't hit 100 degrees. And truth be told, it may very well end up being today the way things are going. It's a sign of the environment when you walk outside and say, "man, it's pretty cool outside" only to realize it's 88 degrees at midnight. But it's a lot better than saying, "I think it's going to be over 120 again today" like we were almost ever day last month. Ah - the time is ticking by and the season are starting to change. Pretty soon - that little counter on the Blog won't start with a 2 anymore.
For now - enjoy some fine fall air over whereever you are, and just know that when they start talking snow on your news chanel - I'll be nice and toasty at around 70-degrees!
- Hoyt

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

What the...



Every pair of shoes???

Yeah, every pair of shoes

Pug, you are silly.
These pictures brought to you by Gus the pug.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Progress and Courthouses

Greetings again all, and welcome for another installment – this time, it’s SEPTEMBER!

Honestly, the time here does – more often than not – fly right by. I for one kind of work things though one week at a time. And boy do the weeks seem to fly right by. For this week’s blog however it’s not so much about me, but instead I have a great example of how our efforts here affect the things going on in this country. It’s the kind of good news story you just can’t get on CNN really. Not only does no one die, but it also shows how there ARE seemingly small but none the less very significant victories being had here. Below is an excerpt from the USAID representative here describing the long-term effects of his efforts working with the head of education here in Al Kut. This is a great example of what it means when I say that our job here primarily is to “advise and mentor” the people of Iraq so that they can take care of the country themselves. So without further ado – here you go…..

About a year ago just prior to the beginning of the school year and in
one of my first meetings with the Wasit DG of the Ministry of Education,
I asked him and the MoEd senior team sitting in the office for
statistics on the pass rates of high school students who took the final
exams in Wasit. I was a bit disappointed to find out that not one
person in the room amongst the top leadership of the ministry could give
that information. And perhaps to make matters worse, they did not seem
to be able to find the information in any one document within the
ministry to present to me. That day and in my next few meetings, we
talked about the need to keep such statistics especially as a basis to
plan ahead; but I do not recall ever bringing up the subject again after
November last year.

Yesterday, I very casually asked the same question, and was quite
pleased to see the DG himself give us the pass rate stats for high
schools , detailed by high school categories without using notes.
After doing this, I thought I noticed him smile while saying that with
our help he hopes to get higher pass rates next school year. The DG has
changed in a lot of little ways and all for the better too........... (
he does not answer his phones or make calls in the middle of meetings
like he used when I first met him...was certainly one of the worst cases
and was known for this by PRT staff). Though these changes are quite
small, I feel blessed to be a part of and to witness such positive

But lest you be fooled into thinking that I’m just sitting back and watch other people work, the reality is that this past two weeks has been beyond busy. I recently took over as the “Project Purchasing Officer” for 13 projects for our province. Basically, I’m in charge of putting together all the paperwork for large projects in that we are doing for the country, monitoring the progress of those projects, and insuring that the contractors get their money – and that the U.S. and Iraqi people are getting their money’s worth. The U.S. government adopted a second “Surge” strategy that went largely un-noticed called the “CERP Surge”. CERP stands for “Commander’s Emergency Relief Projects” and these are projects that are supposed to (in a nutshell):

  • Address a immediate humanitarian concern
  • Provide for the advancement of the legitimacy of the Iraqi government
  • Must be something that the Government of Iraq (GoI) can sustain once complete.

Today’s only photo is me on tour at a courthouse that (as I like to say) “I am buying”. This one is a medium sized project to refurbish a courthouse that was in serious disrepair in a poorer city near the Iranian border. This project:

  • Provides pretty decent employment for semi- and unskilled labor (humanitarian assistance).
  • It helps legitimize the GoI by giving them working facilities.
  • And they should be able to maintain the building once complete with the money from the usual maintenance budget from the government.

Courthouses are really one of our biggest "money makers" when it comes to impact/dollar and they are a huge focus, especially since we’re leading up to the elections in only about 4 months as this is where a lot of the voting is going to be conducted. Also, there has been a lag up until now in the judicial system in the country mainly due to the fact that up until the security agreement the locals had only been handling “misdemeanor” type crimes mostly while the bigger criminals usually ended up at U.S. (or at least joint US/Iraqi) facilities. Now, they have to take care of all of the bad guys themselves.

This is a photo of me sitting in the head Judge’s chair. I figure if I’m buying the dang thing then I can sit in his freaking chair right?

And last but not least for today – I have to leave you with one of the strangest things I’ve seen anywhere when it comes to computers. I guess it was only a matter of time until Microsoft decided to just admit that random system errors were normal. But this little dialog box just proves that we have gone way over the line here really.

I swear I am not making this up. It’s not Photoshop or anything else. This is a 100% genuine error message received when one of my folks put their smart card (to log-in) in the computer.

Well that’s all for now. In my next post I’ll try and have more pictures of courthouses that I’m buying around here, and probably a photo to show you what about 7 million US dollars in paperwork looks like.

For now – have a great hump-day…and I can’t believe the week is already half way through.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Weekend Fun

This past weekend our super cool 20/30 somethings church group decided to take over Norris Lake.

The fact that all of us were even able to find the lake house in the middle of nowhere Tennesse was a miracle in and of itself. Friday started off peaceful and relaxing...

Not a care in the world except fresh summer air and the smell of burning noodles...

Aww burnt noodles. I didn't really know that you could burn noodles. But it gave dinner that nice woodsy, cooked over an open flame taste...yum! I love you Manda!!!!

The house had a hammock, which I enjoyed, and came very close to falling asleep in. Don't look too closely at this picture though...It's really not all that attractive. And the house had a foosball table.

That's all you really need in life, a hammock and a foosball table...right? Anyway Saturday is when all the excitment happened...

We spent the day on the lake, boating and tubing and jumping off of bridges. We all tried standing up on the tube with minimal amounts of success...I kind of think it was more fun falling off the tube anyway. We also tried to shove as many people as possible on the tube, also with minimal success.

In between taking turns on the tube there was a lot of hanging out and soaking up some sun.

It was a little disturbing how brilliantly pale I was next to these girls. I think I need to get out of the office more often.

I think everyone had a good time on the lake. The weather was perfect almost the entire time and only a couple of us sustained minor lake related injuries. So after a full day being out in the sun we decided to pamper ourselves...with Mary Kay facials.

Yes, even the boys

Well not all the boys. But they reclaimed their masculinity with s0me foosball, so all was right with the world

What an awsome group of people to spend the weekend with and enjoy Christian fellowship. Note to self...get out of the house more often and socialize with friends.