Thursday, April 29, 2004

Layoffs and Other Poop

Layoffs and Other Poop
Thursday, April 29, 2004
3:57:00 AM CDT

29 Apr 2004

We got in this morning and Ben from the night crew was just finishing off his log when Phil asked to speak to him. When he came back in to the shop, he handed me two pages that Phil had given him. Paperwork from HR. He had been layed-off! I thought I was past this last October. Nothing can remove the pit in your stomach once those words have been uttered. Randal did find out that over the course of the day, two more from our shop will get the ax. It wasn't Phil's or Randal's choice, but Joe- our country manager. So, let's see how many different ways have I peed in Joe's cornflakes since this whole QC thing has broken open? Now I know why Phil said to chill out on creating individual training folders. Probably didn't know yet how badly decimated our ranks might be.

I haven't heard if any others from other shops have been hit. Maybe the Army changed requirements on ITT-who knows. It just seems strange that they have been rotating people in and out of Victory Tech Control like we've got some kind of revolving door-then shipping them to other sites. How did we end up with an overage? Maybe HR and Recruiting were out hitting the sauce one night. That could be the only explanation for having 40-some people sitting in the holding tank in Kuwait. Some of these people have already collected three checks over six weeks and haven't worked one day in their field.

Speaking of poop; they hauled away the porta-potties next to the shower tents two weeks ago. We now have two conex boxes (10 ft X 20 ft) which have a single row of raised toilets on one side and a trough and two small sinks on the other. The toilets sit on this pedistal - almost throne-like with curtains. If I were Catholic, I would almost think it was a trailer with confessional booths. However, these confessionals have toilets *with water* (no blue kisses my sweet) and a convenient peddle at the base for washing away (as mentioned in the instructions) "tactical dumps," oops, strike that, the actual term is "tactical downloads." The first week was hysterical as the privacy curtains made of a thin opaque plastic were getting sucked toward the A/C whenever it switched on. Scott called it "schoolgirl skirt syndrom" as you're either reaching for the curtain or deciding on covering yourself after being exposed! This week they put in heavy duty rubberized darkened confessional-grade curtains. Haven't confirmed yet whether they are soundproof curtains.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Fabulous Hair, Dahling!

Fabulous Hair, Dahling!
Monday, April 26, 2004
10:14:00 AM CDT

26 Apr 2004

Day off today. You know what that means...laundry. Also ran my errands. I did, in fact, make it over to the TMC. As it turns out, I didn't get my hepatitus shots at Ft. Bliss, so they have started me with Hep A. I was talking to the medical tech and mentioned something about food poisoning. He said that it is pretty unlikely that it was food poisoning. For one they feed some 3,000 people each meal. TMC would have seen hundreds of cases if it was. Second, it sounds local to our shop/area. More than likely, he suggested that it was from poor sanitary habits- ie: not washing hands after using the porta potties then touching door knobs and computer keyboards, etc. Talk about heebie-jeebies! Nasty! (and we ain't talking 'bout Janet Jackson here)

So he said that getting a Hep shot probably isn't a bad idea-especially around here. He also gave me a bottle of Purell. My second Hep A is due in October (six months after first) and I also got my second booster for anthrax, third booster due in four weeks. Feels like I've been punched in the arm, but otherwise, I don't honestly know what all the hoorah is about with this anthrax shot! The anthrax is a funny one though. It masses under you skin in the shot location and feels like a lump under your skin for about five weeks or so before it dissipates.

Ran into a couple of our ITT guys from ISG today. Guess life over in paradise hasn't been a bed of roses. They have been getting alot of gunfire and mortars from the Iraqi village next to them. Food deliveries have become scarce and they have been eating MRE's. Guess we now know why Joe is in Kuwait and living large there. The neighborhood got a little rough for the boss, so he's movin on up to the south-east side (Kuwait) while his troops suffer it out.

At dinner tonight we were discussing the shortages of food and now pop here. All out of Coke-even Haji Coke! Eve was putting that missing commodity in line with her "hair care emergency call" home to her Mom about six weeks ago. "Hello, Mom, it's Eve. You gotta send me some Paul Mitchell, NOW! OMG, it's a hair care emergency!! Yep, and some Britta filters so that I can have descent water to wash my hair in." Sounds like a line from Legally Blonde. In her defense, it has been the only thing that she's asked for from home...and she really didn't ask for Britta filters--just Paul Mitchell products. And you know what? It made a world of difference for her attitude and for her hair. Her hair looks absolutely (three words here) FAB-U-LOUS!!

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Baghdad Cafe

Baghdad Cafe
Sunday, April 25, 2004
12:49:00 PM CDT

25 April 2004

Don't quite know at this point if the QC/ISO9000 storm has calmed any. I do know that I'm not going to pursue it any further and will shy away from giving *any* advise on the subject! Joe's favorite location for exiling people on his **it list is Taji (pronounced Tah' gee), so maybe I should call ahead for reservations. I spoke with Barb in Qatar today and she doesn't seem to think this QC firestorm will have any negative impact on me. Then again, she only deals with Joe on a casual basis, or shall I say that Joe avoids Barb on a casual basis? Speaking of Taji, five soldiers died from a rocket attack at Taji on Friday night. Four died that night and another died of wounds received on Saturday.

When I was out running yesterday (running off my frustration over this whole QC mess!) I saw for the first time a reconnaissance balloon passing over the east side of Victory. It started around North Victory and floated south past ISG/Camp Slayer. So if anything was moving around on the ground, I'm sure that it was noted. But then again, we had a sandstorm last night. It only lasted about three hours and then cleared up by 10pm. So if the insurgents were going to launch an attack, they still could have since most attacks haven't started until after 10 pm anyway.

Besides, if the insurgents don't get us, the food poisoning from the chow hall will! Four people from ITT have contracted food poisoning in the last week. Chris was kept overnight at the TMC (the medical center) and filled with 4 iv's from his bout with it. They told him that they can't shut down the chow hall, so basically the chow hall can operate with no restrictions on what dosages of botulism and E coli they produce for our consumption! Where are the senators and distinguished guests touring the base when you really have something worth sharing with them? They'd change their tune quickly about our so-called quality of life here if they left with a good case of Saddam's Revenge!! ;) The chow hall finally shut down the grill which was the suspected source. Just to be safe, I'm going to go the TMC to get my second round of hepatitus shots tomorrow. Who knows what else is being served up at the Baghdad Cafe*?

*Not to be confused with the potential cult movie classic, Bagdad Cafe!

Saturday, April 24, 2004

It's a Dilbert World

It's a Dilbert World
Saturday, April 24, 2004
10:41:00 PM CDT

24 April 2004

Just sitting here tonight listening to music and contemplating how much of my guts to spill tonight. We have an interesting wind and sandstorm passing through as I'm writing. More sand and grit imbedded into every pore and bucketfulls to be dug out of my ears when it's all over. I've given up on ever having clean sheets. Even when clean, it takes only one wind through the tent and it looks like they've been slept in for a month. Actually, I still sleep in the sleeping bag on a cot with a 4 inch foam mattress with a sheet over that. It's almost like sleeping at the Double Tree in Scottsdale - without the pool - once you've closed your eyes...NOT!

The past two days have been interesting at best. Let's just say that my boondoggle to Qatar was nice, but...My country manager Joe, was only giving lip service about establishing ISO9000 practices in Iraq to make it look to his bosses that he was being proactive. How much closer to Dilbert could this whole experience get? Right out of the gate, I was told that he wasn't going to fill out basic reports and forms required by OSHA. He isn't going to do anything that might increase his paperwork load - no matter who dictates it. And by the way mind your own business and follow your chain of command so they can squash any issues you are trying to correct! They will determine how many ISO9000 issues they will adopt and when.

His rebuttal letter to me boldly understated his attitude about this whole thing when he addressed me as Mr. Gallas. I wrote to Barb in Qatar to basically tell her that I was right about Joe (lip service) and she was wrong (sincerely proactive). I also forwarded to her Joe's stern letter to me. She can discuss this with Mark back in Qatar (Joe's boss) if she want to push the issue any further. I think I'm done with it. If Joe wants to micromanage the process, I won't even wipe without instructions.

He's been gone in Kuwait for a week in preparation for a one-day meeting and for leave for three weeks Stateside on May 1st. So we haven't seen him recently (not that we ever do, even though he lives on ISG across the highway from us. He wouldn't live at Victory because we all had to live in tents in the beginning. ISG also has washers and dryers, a movie theater, a great chow hall, etc) nor will we see him until around June. Nothing new. He usually rules in abstentia from Kuwait anyway-that's why he is the Iraq country manager. His absences from Iraq in Kuwait have been noticed by many others in Kuwait too. But when you are the son-in-law of a "somebody" in ITT, you can rule the kingdom as you wish. As Mel Brooks says in History of the World, "It's good to be King!"

Friday, April 23, 2004

Back to Routines

Back to Routines
Friday, April 23, 2004
12:00:00 AM CDT

22 April 2004

We got our reprieve from wearing battle rattle yesterday afternoon. I decided that I needed to go out and run again. It's been three weeks and five pounds since I ran last. I'm a bit sore today, but in a good way. Got to see pictures of the SUV hit by the rocket shrapnel. I is pretty much riddled all over with shrapnel and some even went through the engine.

Mail service is back to normal again. I received snail mail while I was gone and again yesterday. The first was an Easter card. My Aunt works at Salem Lutheran Church in Peoria, so I didn't thing anything of the return address on the card. When I opened the card, it was signed all over by the congregation. That was really a thoughtful and pleasant surprise. I'm going to write a thank you card out to them. It is the little things that make such a difference. My sister Deb sent me a nice card and picture from when she, her husband Mark and two of their friends from Chicago went over to Rawhide in Scottsdale, AZ. They were all dressed up in the old western wear.

The Spanish contingent here on Victor have been packing up this week. As promised,they will soon be gone. We have Dominicans and Hondurans on site too, but far fewer than the Spaniards, so I don't know if they are packed or when they will depart.

I've started working on my QC responsibilities yesterday and today. It's been kind of draining since right now I'm feeling like all I'm doing is pissing people off. Old habits die hard and instituting change breeds contempt. I am to identify the requirements needed according to ISO9000 rules and offer assistance and references to make our sites compliant. As it turns out, their idea of my job is different from the reality of the situation. They want me to do everything necessary for them to become compliant. No, no, no! I offer suggestions, assistance, references and such and they do the paperwork end! I guess I'll get better at being a jerk as time goes on. I just haven't developed confidence in the job yet. Once I get Victory going, I think that I will have a routine down that will help me bring the other sites in Iraq into line.

I've been waching the first and second seasons of Will and Grace on DVD at night. Having been in school from 1996 through 2003, I didn't have too much time towatch television. Now that I've got some time, I'm catching up. While I was watching W&G last night, I saw flashes on the tent wall from the outside. As it turned out, it was just a thunderstorm. Alot of lightening and thunder and very little rain.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Full Battle Rattle

Full Battle Rattle
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
1:55:00 AM CDT

20 Apr 2004

Last week Victory had been hit with a number of incoming mortars and rockets. We've been running around in full "battle rattle" since this time. Full battle rattle means wearing the flak vest (with plates is about 20 lbs) and the kevelar helmet (another 8 or so lbs, or it feels that way on my neck). You feel like a weeble ready to topple over with all this stuff on. The Army finally was able to get the armor plates delivered out in the field. I feel sorry for the poor gate guards who have to always wear this stuff standing around in the 100+ degree heat for hours on end.

While I was gone, Vicotry did take hits from rockets. Two hit about seventy yards from the tent I'm in and about fifty yards from Blue's Tower. The SUV's that were parked next to this area were totalled. A guy in the porta pottie would have been killed by shrapnel that tore right through the porta pottie. Good thing he was taking a "sit down call."

Rockets also hit at Lost Lake. They landed in the street right near the EOD (explosive ordinance detonation) people and buildings. How's that for home delivery? One was impaled in the pavement and unexploded.

PT (physical training) has also been cancelled unless you want to wear your gear while jogging! One of the soldiers injured in one of the attacks was jogging around Lost Lake. I hear that a TCN (third country national) was also killed during this same attack at that side of the base.

Rumor has it that there were some guys (insurgent types) seen outside the gates in the last couple of weeks with suspected GPS gear. Who knows what is true, but they would have to have some coordinates in order to launch with any accuracy. The Iraqis aren't known for their accuracy and these rockets are said to have been launched from a distance of 20-30 km.

Reports currently are that we were supposed to receive more attacks in the next 36-48 hours from Sunday night. We had rainstorms last night and I guess that the insurgents are all worried about getting their hair-doo's wet, so they were quiet last night. Like, OMG, who could even think of launching rockets with frizzy hair?

On the positive side, there have been helocoptors overhead as thick as mosquitos over the last few days. I think we are onto their locations and activities. Time will tell. But in the mean time, no vehicles leave the compound. We are getting in food and supplies. No mail over the last week. I think that the office supplies that I sent myself from Qatar were among the last mail items arrived on site.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad...

Meanwhile, Back in Baghdad...
Tuesday, April 20, 2004
11:24:00 PM CDT

20 Apr 2004

or as the Europeans would write it, 20-04-2004

I was fortunate enough not to have to spend the night at Camp Wolverine APOD on Sunday. I got on the 9 pm flight back to Baghdad. Got a bit of a scare on the way back. About 5 minutes prior to landing, I heard a sound like an explosion and then saw an orange glow. We were already descending so fast that my ears couldn't pop fast enough or often enough for the continued altitude loss. Unlike the previous corkscrew approaches, we took the screaming, screaching halt approach. You would have thought that we were landing on an aircraft carrier - after landing, our hair was all glued forward at our faces like Liza Minelli! Then I remembered that the pilots release flares upon approach as a heat decoy for any heat seeking missles that might be launched in our direction.

By the time we retrieved out luggage off the pallets, it was already midnight. There was no chance of getting a ride back to Victory at this hour and people were already crashed out in sleeping bags on the rocks near the luggage. A group of four ofus ended up in one of the huge tents. With no available cots, two of us were fortunate enough to have found room on a plywood counter long enough to roll out two sleeping bags.

At 730 am, I called back to Victory but they weren't sure that they would be able to come get me. "Call back when Phil (our site supervisor) comes in in another half hour." Screw that noise! One of the guys I was hanging with had his manager arrive for him and they were headed back to Victory. They offered a ride back and I gladly accepted. It worked out good since I ended up back at Building 7 by around 0845. It felt good to be back on familiar ground.

I got settled back in tent 37 again and have the cot next to my old space. Went up to the BX and bought a new plastic 4-drawer unit and a rug, swept alittle and unpacked. Ended up taking a little three hour nap before attempting to catch up on the gossip here.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Back to Kuwait

Back to Kuwait
Saturday, April 17, 2004
7:51:00 AM CDT

17 Apr 2004

Finally made it back to Camp Doha last night around 2330. MEO had printed the wrong time on my ticket and I ended up at the airport in Qatar about four hours too soon. If anything does actually go right during the remainder of this trip, I'll be shocked. As soon as I got into Kuwait City, I called Adam (from ITT) who told me that he just left the airport around 30 minutes ago. He asked me to chill out and wait for someone by Starbucks.

I ended up in a very pleasant conversation with a robed Kuwaiti. He was waiting for someone to arrive at the airport and wanted to take a seat since I had an open chair by me. As it turns out, he had gone to school in Dubuque, Iowa about 20 years earlier and was apologizing for his English. I told him that his English was great. We spoke about Qatar and Kuwait and all about Iraq and their invasion of Kuwait. It is always interesting to hear a story like that from someone who lived through it. He ended up in exile in Qatar until the liberation of Kuwait.

I got picked up about an hour later by a few guys who had been here when I left for Qatar. (Still awaiting deployment) They wanted to stop by McD's on the way back. Fine with me, kinda takes the old growl out of the bear in my stomach. Back at Camp Doha (there is a Doha Kuwait and a Doha Qatar. Guess it's kind of like Springfield in the States.) there was a crowd of night owls around the covered area playing "bones" when we got back. Many have become night owls for lack of anything to do while awaiting deployment. This gave me the chance to hear the latest rumors of activity going on at Victory. Yes, Victory has been taking a few mortars lately. One landed about five tents from the tent that I lived in, but noone was hurt. Another mortar had landed on North Victory and killed a TCN (third country national).

I called Randal today and he didn't sound too worse for the wear. Sounds like a few nerves are frazzled, but they are okay. Probably still need the Kevelar pillows at night (see entry from 18 March). He mentioned that he is ready for me to come back, so I'm ready to return. Maybe tomorrow, but I've heard that there is a backlog of people at the APOD at Camp Wolverene waiting to get up to Baghdad. It may take a few days to get availability on a flight beforeI can get back "home". Where are those damned ruby slippers when you really need them?

Applied Socratic Theory

Applied Socratic Theory
Saturday, April 17, 2004
3:33:00 AM CDT

16 Apr 2004

Talking with Clayton last night at Rydges over beers made to think about the underlying reasons for wanting to work in Iraq and now to go back. For nearly all of us here, money was a primary issue we considered. But as the Colonel said to us at CRC in Fort Bliss in January, if that is your only reason for being here, you won't last. For some of us, we are also here because we want to serve a cause in which we hope that we can make a difference.

My time in the Air Force and my time at my job at Palmer Station, Antarctica taught me the importance of working as a cohesive team and in a way that we could make a difference. The importance of the mission depended upon all people doing what was assigned and expected. If I were to have blown off doing my 2 am watch at Palmer, there was a possibility that in that time, the generators could have gone down. The impact on the station would have effected everyone in ways from having no electric, no water being created by the desal units and reverse osmosis, no heat, science support interrupted and even important data being lost. Each person's performance was vital to all of our survival, our success and for science.

Since I left military life, the job in the Antarctic had been the only civilian job I've had where I was made to feel that my contribution was meaningful. At other jobs that I held like at Lucent or Tellabs, we were told that our job was important only to see people layed off and decisions made that were not for the good of the company. People, teamwork and sense of mission were lost in favor of kingdom-building, selfish politics and cronyism. We were told, even in the weeks prior to layoffs, that our jobs were vital (as if to soothe our fears). But we performed no tasks involved with the "greater good of society" in mind.

Now I *am* in a job where we know absolutely the importance of the job. We are supporting a mission involved in the rebuilding of a nation and a people. Money was the initial motivator, but something changes along the way and you get caught up in your hopes for things to get better. As hokey as it sounds, we are working for the "greater good of society." It can be kind of scary when you start remembering stuff about Socrates from your undergrad ethics class and see the theory applied.

Glued to the TV

Glued to the TV
Saturday, April 17, 2004
3:02:00 AM CDT

15 Apr 2004

Having the whole day at the villa without a car has forced me to sit in front of the TV most of the day. Watching Lester Holt and Katy this morning was actually informative. I have really had the chance to catch up on the news in Iraq. It was mentioned that even the road to the airport in Baghdad has had attacks. That would be between the city and Camp Victory where the tanks are located. The news is a little disconcerting to me at this point. I'm not afraid to go back or even apprehensive. I'll call it guarded concern at this point.

I have a job to do once I get back and am actually looking forward to being where I feel I belong. I hope that the people back home can understand how important the work we are doing over here is to the rebuilding of Iraq and to the establishment of democracy here. These people have only know violence all their lives. If we leave now, that much will never change. Look at the area of unrest and realize that the areas that were under our "no fly zones" for the last ten years are now and have almost always been areas of relative peace. Taming the rest will take some time. For us to pull out now is like thowing the baby out with the bathwater. Peace won't come easy in this middle section of Iraq. We need to stay the course and leave the job of cowardace to the French, the Germans and the Russians. The Russians got their butts kicked in Afghanistan and left. The Americans are succeeding in Afghanistan where the Russians failed. We may have come to Iraq as conquerers, but our intent is to give this nation back to those to whom it belongs. Iraq will one day (inshalla) be a great nation of tourism with her rich archeological sites and is prepared to be a virtual oil powerhouse given the chance. Her full potential will only be reached as a democratic nation and after our forces are one day drawn down. Baghdad has already burned while Saddam fiddled. Rome wasn't built in a day.

The turnover, however tumultuous, in June of the governing authority back to the Iraqis will be their new beginning. Whether the American public has the resolve to see this through is yet to be seen.

Delayd in Qatar

Delayed in Qatar
Saturday, April 17, 2004
2:51:00 AM CDT

15 Apr 2004

I got my flight information late yesterday afternoon that I would be leaving Thursday night for Kuwait City. That changed this morning as I found out that my flight has been cancelled. I was sitting down this morning with Rick over a beer and wondering what flights Gilda at the Middle East Office would find available when she called back. Same flight number, same time, tomorrow. So, Clayton is going to take me out to a bar tonight that is frequented by the Aussies here. He had a previous Aussie girlfriend so he knows all about their hangouts.

At least I will be getting out of this villa. The walls are starting to close in on me at night. Babr dropped me off, but I don't have transportation and Rudy never asks me if I need anything from the store as he is blowing in and out. I've been eating some big lunches lately, so I really don't need dinner, but it would be nice if some consideration would be extended. He's a weird bird anyway.

Rick works nights, so the only time I get out with him has been when he has days off. I don't like to feel like I'm imposing on people, so it's hard for me to push myself on people if they aren't receptive or perceptive. So I've raided the cupboards here and am eating Ramen noodles and boiling a couple of eggs for eggsalad for lunch. Clayton will deliver me from this boredom at around 5 tonight. I've been washing clothes and sheets thinking that I was leaving, so for now I'm content to watch CNN and BBC World on the TV.

Gilda said that I could have caught a 3 pm flight to Bahrain and a connection to Kuwait later tonight if I wanted. But if I'm stopping in Bahrain, I want at least an overnight there. Besides, at least I get to hang out with Clayton and Rick for one more night. They are both off tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Looking for Tammy Faye Baker

Looking for Tammy Faye Baker
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
8:27:00 AM CDT

10 April 2004

I did kind of leave out an interesting episode from Thursday nights adventure at the club in the Marriott. It was probably about 2 am and Rick was fairly well-along and was carrying on a conversation with a Saudi guy (who had a body guard) at the table next to us. Clayton and I were discussing Kosovo since he had been there previously and I had been reading a book shortly before deploying to Iraq about the war in Yugoslavia. Well, I should have figured something was going to happen when anyone mixes Rick, Muslims on alchol (no, it's not a new Middle East Band, yet!) and the subject of religion! Next thing you know, Clayton has a hand grasping at his arm and shirt sleeve. We look over and Rick has his gand wrapped around the guy's silk shirt up to the guy's neck and saying, "Do you believe?!" I guess Rick turns into Oral Roberts or Jim Baker when he has a few beers. At the same time that Clayton is getting Rick to chill out, the Saudi guy's bodyguard is stepping in. Everybody calmed down and they were back to talking politics again in five minutes!

This Saudi guy actually had lived in the US for about five years and went to school in the US, so he was very sympathetic to us being in the Middle East. Out best advise to Rick is to give up any dreams he may have had of becoming a Foreign Service Officer with the State Department. That and he is absolutely forbidden to talk politics and religion after three beers or after communion on Sundays.

Planning, Packing and Mailing

Planning, Packing and Mailing
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
8:44:00 AM CDT

13 April 2004

I have been keeping pretty busy since my arrival in Qatar - both professionally and socially. Friday I did end up going back and buying that 9 X 11.5 foot rug for the dining room. The trick now is going to be getting it home! The rug shop would send it Fedex to Chicago, but then someone would have to pick it up at Chicago O'Hare. Did I forget to mention that they wanted $500 to ship it? I'm going to try to send it USPS, but there is a 70 pound limit. I think that it is under 70 pounds, but with container I don't know yet. A friend of Rudy's was able to spare me a double thick cardboard box. Last night I had to re-roll the rug and cut down the box a foot off the top. I will try to send it out tomorrow. Today I am shipping one of my duffle bags to myself so that I don't have to drag it through the airport at Qatar and Kuwait again.

The other duffle I will take with me. That one has my sleeping bag, flak jacket and kevelar helmet. I may need it on my return trip - so I'm told. I spoke with my site supervisor on Sunday. He advised me that they ahve been taking mortars at Victory, but more outgoing than incoming. He also let me know that if I arrive at the airport after dark, I will be sleeping there. They are under restrictions for night travel even to the airport which is in a green zone. So he says to make sure that I have my sleeping bag. Maybe it is a good thing that I brought everything *and* the kitchen sink.

I was going to try to return to Baghdad via a direct flight out of the US Airbase here at Al Udeid. This would save me time instead of going from Doha, Qatar to Kuwait City on a commercial flight, then Kuwait back to Baghdad via US Air Force C130. But it has been determined that since I've processed through the Qatari via system, it would be good for me not to get my passport stamp for departure; particularly if I have to come back down here at a later date. The last guy this happened to had to pay a QR10,000 (about $3000 US) fine for visa violations.

Anna's Birthday at Sukura

Anna's Birthday at Sukura
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
8:34:00 AM CDT

11 April 2004

On Sunday night, Rick, Clayton and I went out to the Japanese restaurant Sukura with Rick's girlfriend, Meta and her friend Anna and another frind of theirs from work. Again another seven course meal. Plenty of sushi this time. Anna was having a birthday the next day, so we made a big deal about it and the staff brough out a cake after dinner. Most of the staff was Filipino too, so one of the versus of Happy Birthday was sung in Tagolug. She cried and was very touched. Meta said that it was difficult for Anna since this has been her first time away from her family in the Phillipines and she has only been over here for only one month.

They end up living in some interesting conditions as foreign nationals. The girls have an 1130pm curfew and also live in a dormatory type situation. They are pretty much forbidden to have any boyfriends or they will be booted out of the country. The Qataris pay them about $900 per month and treat them like dogs - no, we treat dogs better than some of the Qataris treat foreign national guest workers. Lord help the unmarried Filipino girl that finds herself pregnant. The Qataris will jail her for having sex outside of marriage *and* take away her child. Do I need to remind you that we are in a Muslim nation? In some countries, sex outside of marriage is treated as a capital offense. Not that it doesn't happen; just don't get caught.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Weekend's Here

The Weekend's Here
Saturday, April 10, 2004
3:35:00 AM CDT

08 April 2004

Well,it's the weekend here. Their Thursday and Friday is like our Saturday and Sunday. This is much more pronounced here in Qatar and Kuwait than in Iraq since people tend to go out to the malls and souks (market places) during the weekend. Rick invited me to accompany him and his girlfriend to the City Center Mall. He had called a "limo driver" for the trip and we picked up his girlfriend and another friend of hers at a nearby smaller shopping mall where they work split shifts. Soon we were on our way downtown.

The City Center Mall is at least as big as the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Illinois back home, but is four stories high. We started off by going up to three to have lunch. Rick and the girls and I started walking into one section when I realized that it was all women only. Some were in abayas, some were not. Then I remembered that oftentimes here, the women and men eat separately. So I mentioned to Rick that we probably couldn't eat in this section. The westernized girls and guys are allowed to eat together in the men's section, but not the other way around. I haven't seen any morality police here, but it is better to try and respect the customs of our host country.

We ended up eating sweet and sour shrimp, baked talapia and some Filipeno beef dish. Forgetting that so many Filipinos work here as guest workers, I was initially surprised to see so many east Asian dishes on the menu. Since the girls were both Filipina, they had helped Rick order his beef dish. The food again was great.

From there, we started to window shop. Rick and the girls had clothes shopping in mind, so while they spent time in one shop, I cruised around the mall to see what other shops were around.

I found one shop in City Center Mall that had all kinds of traditional type wood carvings, hammered metal goods, new and old fancy daggers with sheaths, swords, and all kinds of assorted goods from the Middle East. After that, I spotted a carpet store. I think that I've found the right oriental carpet to replace that cheap, synthetic, Italian "oriental" in the dining room. It is a Turkuman from northwest Iran, wool, tribal design, handwoven and in red-burgundy color with touches of black, gray and white. It is about 2.5 meter by 3.5 meter in size. I want to sleep on it overnight to see if I really still want it in the morning. But at $1300, it is a real steal!

Earlier in the week I bought three carpets from the Kashmir Carpet House on Abdullah Bin Thani Street with Rudy's help. Two of the carpets are from Herat in Afghanistan made by the Balouch tribe. The third is made in the Turkuman region and is a Miamana made by the Kazak tribe. All three are handwoven and wool. One is 3 X 5 feet, one is 4 X 6 feet and the third is 3.5 X 5.5 feet. I as able to get all three for 3600 Riyal or about $1300. I don't feel too guilty for spending the money since it has been the first time in months that I've spent any real cash. Plus, these are the same carpets I'm buy anywhere else in the Middle East. The selection here has been better than what I saw in Kuwait City or in Iraq.

I've been withdrawing 1000 Riyal per day (my card limit for some reason) and will have the total needed tomorrow. Zafar Khan from the carpet place let me take the carpets with me since he knew Rudy, but he had to make some repairs to the fringe on one of them. I'll pick up that last one tomorrow too.

After we left the mall, we headed out to a Tech Control party that was thrown for a welcoming of a new guy coming over from Kuwait, and a surprise cake for the tech control manager's wife who just arrived in country. I met the remaining TCF crew here that I hadn't crossed paths with over the last few days. We ate, drank and socialized there for awhile, then Rick suggested that he, Clayton and I go over to the Marriot to the nightclub there.

Clayton used to work for Dynacorp in security and now works for ITT as a photographer. It's a long story, but in the past he had also worked for AP. His current job involves promo photo shots with military people and for ITT. Anyway, we headed out to the Marriot to have a few beers and listen to music. Almost felt like being back in the States. Finally dragged our tired butts in about 3 am after a necessary stop at KFC for chicken.

I could get used to living here if I'm not careful. Next weekend I'll be back in my tent and using the porta-pottie. Maybe this is all a dream, I just haven't woken up after falling out of bed onto the floor when I rolled over!

Drinks and Dinner at the Ramada

Drinks and Dinner at the Ramada
Saturday, April 10, 2004
3:25:00 AM CDT

07 April 2004

Jim Vines had made reservations for 1930 at the Japanese restaurant, Sukura in the Ramada where he and his wife were staying. He had brought her with to break her bordom of Saudi where they live. Rudy dropped me off around 1900 or so, so I had time to find the restaurant. The hotel lobby and hall is all tile with beautiful large oriental carpets spread out throughout the lobby. The Sukura is tucked away in a back corner requiring you to go through another cafe in the hotel. I would never have found it if I hadn't asked the waiter at the cafe!

I was early, so I ordered my first legal beer since arriving in the Middle East. A cold pint of Fosters tasted pretty good. Jim an dhis pretty Filapina wife arrived about ten minutes later followed by the rest of the people from the office. Everyone had a drink at the bar before going to the long bar-type table stretched out around the Japanese grill.

I was anxious to have sushi since it had been awhile, so I ordered a tuna roll, a California roll and a kappa roll, then ordered a chicken dish for the main entre. The tuna was fantastic. It was so fresh it disappointed me that they didn't have a hand roll on the menu. I cold have passed on the chicken in favor of more of that tuna. No fishy flavor at all. Much food was passed around and shared over what felt like seven courses. What more could you ask for? Good drink, good food and good conversation.

Things broke up around 2230 and a small group of us ended up at "the Library" on the 10th floor. The Library is another drinking establishment in the hotel. They had live entertainment in an atmosphere that was like a library with the wingbacked chairs and library-type tables. The music was relaxing as a guy and woman played a variety of songs on a keyboard and electric guitar. The backdrop was the Qatari city of Doha and waterfront lights from ten stories above.

ISO 9000 Training

ISO 9000 Training
Saturday, April 10, 2004
3:14:00 AM CDT

07 April 2004

The past couple of days have really been "nose to the grindstone" as far as learning the Quality Control or QC responsibilities that I'll be taking back with me to Victory and to Iraq. Joe, our country manager had realized the need to start instituting ISO9000 QC at our sites in Iraq and brought this to the attention of Barb, who is the ITT QC in Qatar and also to Mark who is Joe's boss.

In case you don't know about ISO9000, ISO or the International Organization for Standardization is a worldwide group of universal standards created to establish and maintain a rigid set of rules to define standards and to insure and improve quality of these standards. This international body was established in 1947 in Geneva, Switzerland. ISO9000 Certification is the goal for all companies intending to compete in the global marketplace. The standards are maintained by regid and at times grueling inspections intended to improve quality and to maintain the standards of any producer and provider of goods and services in the world trade forum. So, this is why we need to learn an dimplement these rules and such in the Iraqi theater. Once the country is safe to open up to world trade, any company branch wishing to do business out of Iraq will want to be ISO certified from that local office and will be required to maintain the standards of ISO9000.

So Barb has been training me. In our class there are two others who I would call very well versed in the ISO9000 requirements. Jim is from Dharan in Saudi and Gabby is at the Help Desk here in Qatar. Between all three, I'm really getting an understanding of how much work lies ahead of me once I get back. The good thing is that I've got them as a resource for learning and they're only an email or phone call away. With so little of the requirements instituted back at Victory, Barb and I wll develop a plan of attack for me. She has reassured me that this program can not happen overnight. She has estimated that it will take at least a couple of years to fully implement everything necessary.

The Villa

The Villa
Saturday, April 10, 2004
3:03:00 AM CDT

06 April 2004

The villa (as they call it) that I'm staying at with Rudy and Rick is quite a large attached house. All block in construction, it has stucco on the outside. Some of the construction almost looks as though you'd expect to see it in the desert southwest in Arizona. Very similar to Spanish design in some cases. It is probably about 3000 square feet inside with four bedrooms and 3.5 baths. The entire downstairs area and staircase are floored in marble tile. The bedrooms are all very large - well over 18 X 18 except for the little bedroom which is about 15 X 15. Did I mention that the complex is gated?

It's alot of house with only a limited amount of furniture. ITT provides furniture, so they are furnished with a livingroom set, diningroom/kitchen set and bedroom sets in each room. Only problem is that the rooms are so large with 16 foot tall ceilings that the house always looks empty.

The queen size bed that I'm currently sleeping on has been great. No back aches and no fear of falling out of bed if I roll over in the middle of the night. My only problem is that I know I'm in villa #8, but have no idea of the complex name or the street name. All major thoroughfares are marked in Arabic and English, but I've yet to see a street sign on any sidestreets.

First Impressions

First Impressions
Saturday, April 10, 2004
1:18:00 AM CDT

06 April 2004

Rudy has been very helpful and welcoming since my arrival. Last night we ended up going out for Korean food, but ended up at the Japanese section of the restaurant. No sushi tonight (to my disappointment) but the food was plentiful and great. The chef did the usual tricks with the spatula and such on the open grill in front of us. That's always entertaining.

After dinner, Rudy gave me the 1/2 riyal trip around Doha, Qatar. First impressions are very favorable. Although Kuwait City and Doha, Qatar started to modernize at around the same time, I'd say that Qatar is winning the race. Almost all new and modern buildings with very few visible slums. Add to that fact that Qatar is hosting the Asian Olympic games in 2006 and has been working hard to show the world how nice it is here an dhow modern their lives have become. Qatar is much more cosmopolitan than I expected. As with so many of the modern Arab nations, there are quite a number of guest workers here. Many, many Filipinos, Pakistanis and other poor Arabs work as guest workers for very low wages.

Unfortunately, the locals here in Qatar as in Kuwait do not treat their guests from these countries with a whole lot of respect. From what I've heard, it is not unusual for a foreign national that gets into a car accident with a Qatari to be yanked out of his car by the Qatari person that may have hit him, and get slapped around. One of the Americans that was hit a month or so ago had problems too. He had been hit by a Qatari that crossed traffic to turn at 10 pm without headlights on. The police are working on changing the accident report by saying that the accident occured at a round-about and changing it so that no blame is assigned (specifically to the Qatari responsible!) I've also heard that if you get into an accident with a Qatari woman, you will always be to blame. Interesting traffic laws here.

Learned today about Taliban Taxis. Taliban Taxis are those that display a black tassel from their rear bumper. They sympathise with the Taliban and display their sypathies this way. Truck drivers also do the same. The emir has allowed them to display their support and sympathies, but will not tolerate any violence against the American guests. Speaking of violence, a Chechen leader was recently assasinated here in Qatar by the KGB. Guess that didn't sit well with the emir who is trying to ensure to the world that his country and society here is tolerant and non-violent.

The Trip South

The Trip South
Saturday, April 10, 2004
12:46:00 AM CDT

05 April 2004

Finally got out of Camp Doha. Got woken up this morning by an incoming ITT group of nine people that sounded like a herd of cattle coming through. They tried to make as much noise as they could and did everything but turn on the lights at 4 am. I snapped when one of them was throwing his bags in the wall locker at the back of my head. He knocked off my bottle of water and clock nearly hitting me in the head! After I swore at him, he chilled out a bit. There was no reason for him to be throwing crap around like that and creating the noise that they were making.

I boarded a Kuwait Airlines Airbus for Doha, Qatar at the International terminal and arrived in Qatar at 3 pm. I ended up paying over $100 in excess baggage charges because Phil, my site sup, said to take everything. He said that if I'm going to be gone 90 days (that was his interpretation of what was going to occur) then I may not be returning to Victory. Looking closer at my airline ticket, (which I didn't receive until I got to Kuwait) I find a return date to Kuwait City of 09 April. Not too big a deal as tickets can always be changed or extended and round trips are cheaper.

I was met at the airport by two tech controllers from Camp As Sayliya, Rick and Rudy. They couldn't believe how much luggage I had and were wondering how we were going to fit it all in the little Nissan Sunny they had. "I guess you never heard of packing light! Why did you pack so much for a three day class?" (Here is the Southpark, Kyle's Mom thing again) What, what, what?!!

Now I'm finding out that they have heard that I'm only in Qatar for a few days. Okay, what's up? I called Barb at the office and anyone's best guess at this point is that Joe (Iraq country manager) must have heard 90 days versus 9 days. This is only a guess.

So now I'm kind of concerned about where I'm going to end up after all is said and done. My number was about to come up for a trailer at Victory, so I would have been moving out of a tent soon with any luck. I'm wondering if that is history now and my name back to the back of the list. I've just packed up my life back into a suitcase and am now finding that I might not be staying away for all that long. I'm going to go into the office with Rick to call Victory and see if Phil can follow-up on this and let me know. Just between you (you all) and me, I'm alot more pissed about this situation than my writing lets on. If I'd been told that it was only a 9 day TDY, that's cool. But to pack up everything for a big "bag drag" all around hell's half acre and back again, kinda puts the old undies in a bundle if you know what I mean! Severe lack of organization and virtually no communication.

One other note. Since I first heard that I was coming to Qatar, I've been wondering what the heck is the proper pronunciation of this country's name. I've heard "cutter" accent on the first syllable, "cotter" also accent on the first syllable and "ca - tar" accent on the second syllable. All three as I've come to find out are considered correct but the latter seems to be the most commonly used so far.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Welcome Back to Camp Doha, Kuwait

Welcome Back to Camp Doha, Kuwait
Saturday, April 3, 2004
7:12:00 AM CST

03 Apr 2004

Being back in Kuwait has provided some unexpected culture shock of sorts. They actually have hot and cold running water here! (I'm used to cold and colder running water) I actually got to shave with tepid water in front of a real mirror this morning, not the highly polished metal "mirror" back in the shower tents of Victory. Someone remarked that shaving in front of those mirrors at Victory is like trying to shave in front of a wavey circus mirror. Flush toilets are a real luxury too, but I can't determine yet if they are any better smelling than the porta potties (but the writing on the walls is much more interesting! No RPG jokes Dietrick. Where are you when we need your wit and humor? (see Feb 20th posting)) And I even get to wash my hands with soap and water afterwards. The porta potties only have hand sanitizers back home at Victory.

I slept great last night too after two nights of not sleeping too well. The mattress on this full size single bed is huge. I've gotten used to sleeping on a bed that is only the width of a cot. Worrying every night that if you turn over in the middle of the night you'll find yourself on the floor.

The trip to the BX/PX was nice too. I got to pick up some Dockers, a couple of button down shirts and other clothes for the business casual environment that I'll be working in once I get to Qatar. As expected the the food court was great. Last night I had a two-scoop ice cream at Baskin Robbins and this morning I got a *real* cup of coffee at Starbucks. I couldn't bring myself to drink the sludge they call coffee at the chow hall at Victory. Better to go without than to ruin my taste buds.

I'm in the internet cafe right now updating my journal and surfing the internet at speeds a bit faster than death! It ain't T-1, but it is at least like dial-up. This is great. Adam is checking with the office today and I might leave for Qatar as soon as tonight, but more likely tomorrow. More info as available.

Aufwiedersehen Baghdad

Aufwiedersehen Baghdad
Saturday, April 3, 2004
6:59:00 AM CST

03 Apr 2004

I didn't get out of Baghdad as I had expected on the first of April (no foolin'!) When I got up to BIAP-MAC, the 01 April flight at 1600 had only 12 spaces available and four of those were for emergency leave. The eight remaining seats were filled by people who had been waiting since Wednesday afternoon. Call time for tomorrow's flight would be at 0650. We headed back to Victory and I was hoping that my bunk was still open. Thursday night was quiet, but I still had trouble sleeping. I had been wound-up both nights so tight that I didn't get a whole lot of sleep either night.

We arrived on Friday morning at 0600 for the revised 0640 call time. They said that all of us PAX would make the flight to Camp Doha, Kuwait. Just as we had to "cork screw" into Baghdad Intl on the C130 in, we did the same routine going up and out (making sure to fly over the safe zones). It didn't feel quite as dramatic cork-screwing up as it did when we came down on my first flight in. We ended up with a quick stop-over in Al Asaid for six passengers about a half hour into the flight (a planned stop) and then it was another hour out to Kuwait.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Not in Fallujah

Not in Fallujah
Thursday, April 1, 2004
12:03:00 AM CST

01 Apr 04

Just a quick entry to let you know I am not in Fallujah. Actually, I have been busy pulling myself together and packing to get out of here. I am leaving Camp Victory and Baghdad today for Camp Doha in Kuwait for a few days and then onto Doha, Qatar on 05 Apr. Both legs of my trip are via airplane.

I did do some last minute shopping and got all that stuff mailed out so that I don't have to drag it all around "hell's half-acre." A woman in the one Haji shop that I like is a wealth of information. This shop that she works at is more an antiques and collectibles shop and she is very up on her history. About two weeks ago, Dan had asked her if she were glad that we (the Americans) were here. Here response was *not* immediate. She had to think before she answered. "Well, we have many more freedoms than we had previously." She did go on to explain that she was a Shiite and Saddam was not real nice to her people.

Thinking about what happened yesterday, I'm sure that she has had to be very careful working/dealing with Americans for fear that she will be viewed by her people as a traitor. Even now, it is a fine line that they walk. I'm sure that she has been used to looking over her shoulder while growing up. Carefully choosing her words and watching not to say anything inflamitory of the Hussain regime.

Yesterday when we were there, I saw a nice ashtray that looked like a Star of David. Well, she explained that it, in fact was the Star of David. It was an ashtray made by Jews in Iraq about 40 years ago. Iraq did have a group of Jews for quite some time and still has a few that have chosen to remain. Then we got on the subject of the eight pointed star that we see on everything here in Iraq. She pulled out a piece of paper and drew the star and explained that each corner of one square, a letter is written of Saddam's first name. Each corner of the second square which overlaps the first to form the star contains a letter for his last name.

I'll write more once I get to Kuwait. Till then, thank you all for your concern. All of my thoughts and prayers are with the people who have lost their lives and to the soldiers and civilians that will remain in Iraq working alongside Iraqis hoping and working for a better government and for a better life.

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