Wednesday, July 28, 2004

A "Little" Off the Sides

A "Little" Off the Sides
28 July 2004

A letter from my sister addressing my previous entry, "Well, at least I'm PMSing!" At least I acknowledged that I was crabby.

I'm off shift tonight, so I stayed up until about 11am this morning to take care of the usual chores. Ran over to the post office and then went over to get a hair cut. So, I sit down in the chair and the guy kind of motions like, "okay, how do you want it cut." Thinking to myself that he may not have full comprehension of what I said, I'm wondering if it really matters how I say I want it cut, I'll probably get what he thinks I need.

So he grabs the clippers and brrrrr-zip! Even with my glasses off, I could see it was damned near down to the skin!!! I guess that I didn't have to speak Hindi for him to realize that I was not quite approving of his new hair statement for me. Maybe it was my eyebrows touching my hairline after his first swipe that gave it away! You know, that look of "OMG, what have you done!?"

At that point, you gotta roll with it. There are so many guys here on post with shaven heads and "high and tights", that I won't stand out anyway. It's just the initial shock of wondering how I will look in a "Sined O'Conner" cut. The barber then indicated (kind of like Lassy indicating to June that Timmy has fallen in the well) that he would be trimming it in with what was left on the top of my head. My hair grows fast anyway. It's not like he just gave me a mohawk or something. Life is just full of surprises--at least that was what my sister Deb said when she was describing her first bikini wax by the steroid-beast Helga!

I was cruising the internet last night about jobs. Trying to get a feel for what is possible in this still jobless recovery (other than flipping burgers or sales positions with AT&T for $30K a year.) Found one at the FAA that I am going to take a closer look at. Working back in Aurora or even in Elgin could be a good thing. Since I'm off tonight, I'm working on the resume and cover letter. Six months may be too soon to start looking, but at least I'll ge tback into the groove of the resume thing.

Then again, last month I just got notification via email that a job I submitted a resume for back in December has been filled! Maybe six months isn't too soon.

A couple of booms tonight on my way over to the shop around 10 pm. Sounded like outgoing. If they were incoming, they were north of us. Haven't heard too mucyh going on over the past few weeks. MSNBC had a write-up saying that it's too damned hot for the insurgents to be dragging all that stuff around. They are projecting that the insurgents are waiting until October when the temps are a more reasonable 90 degrees and the start of Ramadan around 16 October. Who knows?

Monday, July 26, 2004

OMG, I'm like so Shocked and Awed

OMG, I'm like so Shocked and Awed
27 July 2004

So here it is the 27th of July already. Caught a cold over the last half of last week that kind of snuck up on me and kicked my butt after shift on Saturday morning. I spent the most of Saturday from noon until about 6 pm Sunday in bed. Monday I was still a bit groggy, but feeling better today. This midnight shift deal still has my body a bit confused.

The political atmosphere here is spinning out of control. We have five different people thinking that they are in control and none of them have a clue about communications other than how to dial a phone. Add to that, most if not all of the Army people here--officers and enlisted, are supply weenies! If the civilians were pulled out right this minute, the network would die a quick and painless death. How is it that not one comms person has been recruited or trained to support this National Guard unit that is tasked to support a comms mission!?! Beats the living hell outta me, Georgie! Was this your idea Donnie? Oh, now I understand. Boy, am I shocked and awed! (at the stupidity of it all) Great game plan.

There is a magnet on one of our nodes in the shop which reads:
We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible, for the ungrateful. We have done so much for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing!

Even management is about beyond any hope of understanding what our job requires, what resources, training, experience and manpower is required. The whole operation runs on the theory of "Hair on Fire." They wait until some situation has become so completely out of control and then run around like their hair is on fire trying to find a solution. Or better yet, delegate the problem to us at that point to resolve the cluster"mess" they have created by waiting so long to open their eyes. Like we are supposed to poop out some perfect solution at that point!

Bitter? No. Fed up with being treated as morons? Maybe just a bit. Just tired of no game plan, a nebulous job description and rules changing at every corner. It's a bit like playing "crack the whip" and we're on the end. I just want to wake up one morning and find out it's January 24th, 2005 and my contract is completed. Sorry, I'm a little cranky today!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

It's a Small World

It's a Small World
22 July 2004

I'm going to take most of this entry from an email that I sent to a friend earlier this week. It kind of sums up the last week or so.

Sorry that I've been so out of touch lately. I just got switched to midnight shift (8pm to 8 am) and my body and mind are still adjusting. Three of our people from our shop, who all happened to be night crew were abruptly sent to Abu Gharib to provide support there. We knew that it was coming, just didn't know how soon, or actually, this soon. So my supervisor really didn't have any choice in the matter, but we had already spoken about me possibly having to go to nights earlier, so it wasn't a shock. Who cares anyway, the days are all blended together. Nothing new. The sun comes up each day, the wind blows the dust around to choke you and by noon, it's hotter than hell outside. Just like Groundhog Day except at 130 degrees.

I am starting to get psyched about my London vacation in late August. I'm really looking forward to getting out of here for awhile. Deb and I have planned a trip to Stonehenge, and at least one theater show. We're going to try to get tickets to Mamma Mia! It's one that Deb hasn't seen before and she thinks that the ABBA music should appeal to all four of us going. I'd like to get tickets to the Shakespear theater too since it is so close to where we will be. We are still waiting on the tickets for the changing of the keys (Yeoman's watch) at the tower. Deb wrote off for those tickets about five weeks ago, so they should be back to her soon.

The way it's looking right now, I'm hoping to arrive in London a day or so ahead of them, but people have been getting held up in Kuwait for lack of outbound flights, so it's probably better that I have a couple of days to play with. My outbound from London to Kuwait City is also two days after their departure. The flights to Kuwait were packed. So, I will have a couple of days to chill out and collect my thoughts before having to come back to Baghdad.

The weather here has been getting hotter. Today was probably as close to 130F as we have had so far. My roommate and I put out old Gatorade bottles for sun tea and by noon, you can hardly touch the hot bottles. Kuwait has already seen temps at135F, so we know it is coming our way soon. Just a side note, if you have any friends or soldiers here in Iraq, send them the dry Gatorade mix. It is almost impossible to get here and we go through bottled water and Gatorade like there is no tomorrow. The AFFES PX also charges $1.75 per one quart bottle of premixed Gatorade! At home I used to get it on sale for $0.99. Yeah, AFFES goes where we go because they know they can gouge us with their prices!

I got to see my brother-in-law, Mark (Deb's husband) a couple of days ago. He's working for Dyncorp doing guard and escort duty. He floats between BIAP, Victory, North Victory and CPA-Downtown Baghdad. I was busy the night he stopped in, so I couldn't spend as much time as I would have liked. But it was great to see a familiar face and family at that. At the time Mark stopped in, I was working a scheduled downtime with DISA at Scott AFB in Illinois. Oddly enough, the guy I was working with, I used to work with in the Air Force at Kalkar AS, Germany back in 1984. I told him to hold a minute because my brother-in-law just stopped in for a visit. He thought that I was pulling his leg. It's a small world after all. (Will that song ever stop going through my head?)

Other than that, not too too much exciting is happening here. As far as your question about when I'm coming home; don't know exactly yet. I do miss home. I miss my family and friends. I miss Phil and the dogs. I miss my own bed. I miss my own private toilet. And I miss my deep soaking bathtub and those moments alone with Mr. Bubble and a cold beverage every so often. But I also know that my bills are slowly but surely getting paid off. I just want Visa to stop being everywhere that I want to be.

I guess the best answer to when I'm going to be home is...soon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Strange Dreams and Hot Chocolate

Strange Dreams and Hot Chocolate
14 July 2004

Strange dreams last night. Scott and I are walking to building 8 this morning and out of nowhere, I had to check my wallet for the $100 bill Eve gave me a couple of days ago (as payback for her AVON stuff that my sister ordered and sent.) In my dream this morning, I was out to lunch with a friend of mine and I paid for lunch with his $100 bill. The waitress never came back with change and my friend is saying to me, "don't cause any scene because I work here and I have to work with these people." So now I'm checking my wallet for money. Go figure.

A problem at work yesterday was the setting for another dream that I had last night. I ended up passing a fiber problem onto another team in building 8 for investigation. I turned it over to this seargent responsible for checking the fiber between the palace and building 8 then to building 7. So in my dream, I walked into the sgt's office and he was sitting at his desk with his back to me and was dressed like Uncle Fester in the Addams Family! He already has a round shaven head, kinda like Uncle Fester, so maybe that is what started my major brain malfunction here. Then when he turned around to face me, he had the light bulb in his mouth and was asking me if he could help me! Have you ever woken up from a dream laughing?

The dreaming hasn't been as bizzare as the dreams that I had when I wintered over in the Antarctic, but they sure have been interesting. Speaking of the Antarctic, I was up reading a couple of the current journals of the winter-overs at South Pole. Right now they are in the dead of winter darkness with minimal outside contact from the world and temps hitting -100F. What a dicotomy-- -100F there and +120F here. But, both places are still considered virtual deserts. Dan Taxson had asked me for info on the Antarctic after we were talking while he and Jeff were here at Victory. So now I've included the link in the upper right corner - Bill Spindler's South Pole. Dan is the kind of guy who would do great on a winter-over at Pole. Hope he goes for it. The Raytheon link is there too for anyone thinking about it.

Life here is kind of routine about now. Not much going on, but the trials and tribulations of work. It's funny how things can become so routine in such a strange place. It's not bad, not good, just routine.

Went over to the gift store to buy a couple of small gifts to send home. Went to the barber shop to get the ears lowered or adjusted. Took my camera with and took some pictures around the base. My Gram has been wanting some visuals of where I live now, since I've moved into the trailer. So I got some shots of other things around here too. Most people are surprised at how green it is here. This wedge of land between the Tigris and Euphrates is the agricultural section of Iraq, so you have alot of green--date palms, lakes, greenery, etc. Also took pictures of the PX building, one of the pools on base, the trailers that house AT&T, the barber shop, the gift shop and some pictures of our beloved little trailer park. Finally got a shot of the bird house which was built originally as a bat house. It look slike an upside-down ice cream cone with holes in it and perches for the birds to roost on or bats to hang from.

Haven't been too inspired to go out and take pictures because of the heat. I'm soaked right now and am about ready for a shower before dinner. Then a quick walk to dinner and back and I'll probably want to take another shower! London isn't that far off now. I think that I'm ready for the cooler temps. I'll probably be freezing my butt off at night compared to the lows of 85F at night here. Maybe with some luck it will be rainy and foggy the whole time I'm there. I haven't seen rain in about five months.

On the softer side of things, Scott and I both picked up some German chocolate (Ritter Sport) when we were at North Victory PX today. In the ten minutes it took to walk back to the trailer from where we dropped the truck off, they had liquified in the 115F heat! Put them straight into the freezer and had some tonight. They seem no worse for the wear. The need for chocolate doesn't discriminate on whether it has changed form previously.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Rest In Peace, Little Wags

Rest In Peace, Little Wags
08 Jul 2004

I received Deb's email today, breaking the news to me that Wags passed away this week. Wags started out as Deb's dog, but when she moved up from Kentucky and lived with Mom for that time, he quickly became Mom's. He lived a good long life of about 12 years. He was a pure black Yorkshire-Dachshund long-hair mix. And he always was ready to chase his blue ball. He got to be a bit much for Mom to take care of last summer with her failing health and all those stairs, so he spent most of last summer at our ex-step father, Bob's. Wags had a heart condition, as did Mom. She always said that if he was suffering, she wouldn't wait to put him down. She had waited too long for Higgins and she didn't want to see Wags in the kind of pain that Higgy went through.

She loved that dog so much, but she just couldn't handle the up and down of the stairs without taking two or three breaks just to make it back to the top again. Mom's biggest worry last year was what would become of her pets if something happened to her. She was so worried that she wouldn't outlive her pets. Thankfully, Bob took them all after Mom passed--Wags and her two cats. She always commented about how much little Waggers loved going out on the boat fishing with Bob. Mom would never have passed in peace last September without knowing that the animals were properly cared for.

So now I sit here writing, trying to see the blurred lines on the paper and trying not to smear the ink, through my tears and silent sobs. Realizing that we've lost yet another part of Mom--almost like losing her all over again.

Wags was just such a darned cute doggie. Always happy and always ready to play ball. Bob said to Dee that Wags came in from doing his business the other morning, curled up in the middle of the livingroom and just went to sleep. Thank you, Bob, for taking such tender care of Wags.

Rest peacefully, little Wags. Go and join Mom now. We know that you've missed her so over the last year, as have we. I know in my heart that she is waiting for you.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

I&E, O&M, EIEIO

I&E, O&M, EIEIO
02 July 2004

Past few days have been interesting...not necessarily in a good way. One big boom on Tuesday night had me scampering for my vest and helmet at 1140 pm. I stayed down on the floor for five minutes and went back to bed. See, the sandbags on my side of the trailer are below bed level and offer no protection. Email to the Base Mayor have done no good on changing that. Next morning we had found out that tent 43 or 47 was hit by a mortar. It hit the sandbags on the outside of the tent, so noone was hurt. Just enough to give everyone a scare.

Received a box of all kinds of stuff from Salem Lutheran Church in Peoria too. That is my Uncle and Aunt's church. They had mentioned that I'm mentioned in their prayers. Opening the box was a bit overwhelming. I took out a few things along with the cards and passed the box around building 7 and 8. I was very thoughtful of them to put that all together. The 54th had also received a couple of similar boxes of stuff from groups of people back home, so there was quite a bit of stuff for the taking over the past couple of days.

Thursday morning I got woken up by the sound of choppers flying over the trailer. Not just one or two choppers, but a swarm of them. THey were in the air as thick as mosquitos. Turns out that quite a number of dignitaries were on-hand for the change of command ceremony. General Sanchez is moving on. Ron from the RSC was telling me that he saw Mr. Lieberman and his entourage, among others here at Victory.

Work has been kind of getting me down some. The Army in all of its infinite wisdom, hasn't contracted anyone to do install and engineering (I&E) of their telecom here. They don't have any officers with those skills here either , so now the officers they do have (supply, office management) throw the responsibilities at us and tell us that it is now our job to do this.

Flash back six months now to when we first arrived. Shane, our site supervisor at the time, is giving a speech. "We are *not* install and engineering. Our contract says that we are operations and maintenance (O&M)." Well, that stance was short-lived. I guess the only time a contract defining responsibilities makes any difference to the Army is when you aren't providing the Army with what they want. Otherwise, you will wash floors on your hands and knees if that is how they interpret the contract.

Add to that, the power problems supplying the communications facilities and the a/c problems in the TCF. Noone ever is proactive and thinks about prevention. Noone cares. The only time they do care is when things go down. Then their only concern is bringing it back up. Can't fathom what root cause analysis is! They keep on shoe-horning more equipment into this little room, daisy-chaining more power cords to more multi-plugs and can't figure out why the UPS's crash when we lose generator power. Commercial power can't handle the building load, so it falls back to the ups. The approach here is that we can't possibly be out of power, there are still open and available plugs on the five daisy-chained multi-plugs. So how much load is being drawn across these five outlets? That is the million dinar question.

Same with the A/C. 80 degrees may be comfortable to you and me, but the a/c is here to keep the equipment comfortable and it ain't. The one unit on the wall works when it wants to and the other can't possibly keep things cool enough on its own. It's only when things will start breaking down that everyone will get their undies in a bundle. Part of the problem is that a bunch of cables have been installed through an open window here. Nothing is done to standard here.

Then yesterday, after power was finally restored, problems with network congestion at Doha that somehow is my fault! Is there anything worse than an irate Colonel whose call gets dropped and whose email won't go through and is bounced because of network congestion at the receiving end. About all you can say to him, (or want to say to him) is "yes dear," but you hold your tongue. I checked out my network and all the links are up and clean--no errors! "Can't be, my call was dropped!!! And I am not getting a ring from their side when I redial!!. And my email is't getting through to them. It keeps getting bounced." These users all think that these communications pipes are all as large as sewer pipes! If the bandwidth is smaller than the number of users and uses trying to use it, it is going to be like rush-hour traffic on the highway at 7:30 am. Too many cars going in the same direction is going to slow things down a bit or come to a screaching halt.

There had been some speculation that people are up on the web watching Fox News and the Saddam Hussain trials. That might account for the goo-gobs of bandwidth being used up. And no, goo-gobs is not a technical term. I must like it here. You can only care about these kinds of issues if you like where you're at and what you're doing. I need my head examined!

Speaking of heads to be examined, Saddams trial started Thursday. Didn't hear until the afternoon that it was happening here on Victory. So, maybe that was the meaning of the flock of helo's on Thursday morning. The court house is not all that big on base, but the base is alot more secure than if it would be held at CPA.

After yesterday, I was ready to catch the next C130 home. Some days at work just leave you exhausted and disheartened. Another explosion last night. Rumors of a car bomb going off outside the front gate last night. That would put it about 1/4 mile from my trailer. Randall said that he heard gravel and shrapnel fall on his trailer and described having seen from his trailer door a mushroom shaped cloud rise into the sky under the full moon and an orange glow. He is in Dodge South too. I find it hard to believe it was at the front gate. Probably at the check point if anything since they would have to first go through the check point, then past the Bradley tanks to get that close to the front gate. More likely it was a mortar. That happened around 1120pm and even broke some windows nearby at the General Dynamics building. Supposedly someone was injured by glass there, but no other injuries were spoken of. But, I was fast asleep and didn't hear a thing. I was so tired that I guess I slept through a bomb going off. And you thought that was only a saying.

Post Script: 1620 pm.
Just found out that last nights fireworks were not a car bomb and not a mortar. Apparently, some Iraqi's brought over some 250 anti-tank mines to turn into the Americans for destruction. EOD (ordinance destruction) seemed to have underestimated the possible damage from detonating them. We hear that it isn't unusual for them not to move ordinace that is turned in, but I guess they had a bit more kick than they expected!

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