Yes, yes, I know, it's been forever and you thought I was dead or stopped carring about you all. But no, I promise that I'm alive and I promise that I still love you all. It's just been quite busy since I last wrote with all the post-holidays people returning from leave, gettting them all briefed up on what they had missed, preparing to go on leave myself, all the travel, the funeral, the time home spent with the wife (sorry - just wasn't thinking about blogging then, what can I say), all the travel back, and then all the catch up at work. It has been fairly exhausting.
Some of the highlights of the past couple months you have already read on the blog or maybe saw on TV (the night of February 7th anyone???). It's certainly been a full couple months. To start it off, we had about 50 percent of our staff I think out on R&R over the Christmas break. Granted I wasn't expected to fulfill all those lines of effort during that time. But there were certainly parts here and there that needed to keep some continuity while they were all out. So that added to a lot of the fun. Also, I was using about every waking minute that I could trying to catch up on all the other stuff that I had been meaning to "get around to". We did have a very nice New Years celebration here on the base though. All the folks who WERE here took up a collection to pay for food and we had a couple of our local employees cooking us some great Iraqi food for the night. Even though I was pretty tired we stayed up until 3am just chatting about life in Iraq, cultural items, crapped about work a little, and all the other random issues that one might discuss until 3am. Once everyone started filtering back in from their leave it was even more fun. I had about a half dozen folks that I needed to get up to date on everything I had done while they were out. There were tons of contracts to get either actioned or problems fixed which is what took most of my time. There were also duties to begin handing over to other folks as I prepared to go on R&R myself finally.
I will say, being the last person to go on R&R has great advantages. The first 9 months of this deployment have literally flown by. I was able to basically dive into everything head first from the get-go. Able to keep my nose to the grindstone the whole way. And only every once in a while would I come up for air long enough to see what the date was on the calendar, only to be amazed that yet another month had flown by without hardly noticing.
My leave, despite the passing of my grandfather, and maybe partly with it, was great. There is no way that I could have made it home in time for the funeral if I was in Iraq when he passed. So the fact that it happened 2 days after I was home is simply more proof that there is a Higher Power up there watching over us and having things happen according to His will. Paw-Paw was a great man and never one to complain a bit about his lot in life. He made due with what he had and taught others to do the same. His past two years were not ones without discomfort and inconvenience as he went through treatments for his throat cancer and the lingering effects of those treatments. But in the end his passing was truly unexpected and mercifully swift. There is litttle doubt that he felt no pain and probably never had the time to worry or be scared. It was truly a merciful end to what was a truly blessed and full life.
Paw-Paw was a huge Saints fan though and our only small regret was that while he did get to watch the heart-stopper of a NFC Championship game, he would never get to see the Saints actually play in the SuperBowl. However my logic is that in Heavn you will always be happy. So I'm just assured that he got to see the game anyway but from a great vantage point. And what a wonderful game it was. We were all a little nervous during the first quarter and were hoping that the Saints could shake the "big game jitters" before they fell too far behind. But once they did - WOW was it spectacular how they finished it off in the second half. I can't say that it was one of the most competitive games in history. The 1998 Rams v. Titans and the 2007 New England vs. Giants games still get that label. But holy makrel - the SAINTS WON!!! And that my friends - makes it the BEST SuperBowl ever, ever, ever, ever, ever!! And I would also like to point out that while she might have been paying more attention to Kevin and I than the game...I think this would be the first game that Natalie was in front of the TV the whole time. So kudos to her as well - I LOVE YOU HONEY BUNCHES!!
Well, on top of all the time I got to spend with Natalie which was truly a blessing since I got an extra 5 days of leave because of the funeral, and on top of the Saints winning the BIG ONE, and on top of us getting a tax return for the first time in 3 years, one of the last great things to happen on my leave was that I finally got the letter telling me that I was accepted to grad school. I was never really in doubt - but you can't count your chickens (or register for classes) till their hatched either so it was great to get that letter finally. My main course of study will be International Business, so hopefully in 2-3 years I'll be Mr. Jason Hoyt, MBA.
Upon return from R&R I was promptly informed that literally the next day we would be going to the range and that we'd be taking some of our Department of State folks out with us. They apparently get about a 4 hour block of basic instruction on how to fire a couple basic weapons before they come to Iraq (just in case they have to pick one up and fend for themselves) but it's one of those classes which isn't very informative and is easy to forget (as we learned when we started this range). Not to mention that they only get to shoot about 5-10 rounds per weapon. So we took them out to the Special Forces range where we go to shoot and "refreshed" their training...and added a little to it as well. However, this is also where things went horribly awry and I had my heart broken for the first time in the desert.
Here below is me trying to teach Dr. Khan, our resident engineer, how to fire the M-16 rifle. He's one of those guys who looks funny doing it, but in the end he still hit the target with suprising accuracy.
And here is me coaching and being a "safety" for Mr. Oghale, our USAID rep, as we practice walking and shooting at the same time. Like chewing gum and walking you may think - not quite so fast there. This is MUCH harder than you think I can pretty much guarantee. And even harder if your actually trying to hit the target. But all in all most of our crowd did pretty good even at this task...and no one shot themselves or anyone else which always spells success in my book. Also notice the brass being ejected from Oghale's rifle - this is Mike's camera being used here and it's absolutely an amazing camera.
Furhter proof of Mike's awesome camera. Not even Dr. Khan can screw it up - as he is the one taking this picture of Mike, our Governance Officer, taking his shots with the 9mm pistol. I love this shot. Slide action back, some smoke, and the brass casing flying backwards.
I also had to throw this one in there. This is me firing on three-round-burst. Open the picture and you can find all three cartridges in the air at the same time. Proof also as to how fast it fires those three rounds.
Natalie always accuses me of having a secret girlfriend every time I go on training exercises, as well as this deployment. Well, I have to admit, she was right. And we even brought her out to to the range with us. I figured I would teach her how to shoot just in case we got seperated in combat and she had to fend for herself. I mean - I do try my best to look out for the welfare of my women.
Here she is practicing shooting from the prone firing position. She had a little trouble managing the recoil at first given that her muscle and bone structure isn't exactly up to the task. But eventually she managed to get a few good shot groups in and felt fairly comfortable with the weapon.
However, wouldn't you know that once I turn my back the little tart starts running around with the other guys on the range. Thanks to Mike's quick shutter speed and crystal clear images I caught her cavorting around with Dr. Khan and Posada. She tried to tell me that they were just friends, but I know that look on her face and it says more than I need to know.
Later on I caught her with Schwanke as well. I tried confronting him about stealing my secret girlfriend. But then he reminded me that he can bench-press a Volkswagen and I knew that conversation was over.
So all, that's how my heart was broken in the desert. War is hell I tell you, war is hell.
Well, I'm glad that I could finally find the time (and energy I must admit) to hop on the computer and catch you all up on some of the fun of the past couple months. It's certainly been a crazy time - but still a good one. And the best part is, I only have about a month to go until I'm boarding a plane for Kuwait and then home. Keep your eye on that countdown timer because it's pretty much spot on as to when I should be walking into my front door.
For now - time to call the wifey and try and decide if I want to stay awake to watch the gold medal hockey match betten the US and Canada. Go North America - yeah!!!