Saturday, November 27, 2004

Have a Look at MSNBC

Have a Look at MSNBC
27 November 2004

Just got done reading an article on MSNBC.com. They have a picture at the beginning of the article of a Royal Jordanian airliner on a corkscrew approach into Baghdad International.

If you look at the ground, the highway curves around the airport which would be on your left of the highway and to the right and top of the picture you can see the lakes and palaces at Camp Slayer (ISG Iraq Survey Group) pictured behind the pilot. Camp Slayer is across the highway from Camp Victory (South) where I'm at.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6590586/

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Happy Day, Turkey!

Happy Day, Turkey!
25 November 2004

Happy Thanksgiving to all. The Dining Facility had a very nice spread today. Depending on which chow hall you attended, different things were offered. In the big one, carts were pushed around and alcohol-free wine was dispensed. They also had ice sculptures and carved food items as Indians and Pilgrims, and other assorted things. Very nice cake displays and baked bread displays too. Lunch and dinner included turkey, lobster, turkey, steaks, turkey, pork, and the regular host of other Thanksgiving-type foods. Way too much food, but very nice.

The beginning of the week started off with a bang--literally. Sunday night and Monday night we had rocket attacks for about 45 to 50 minutes of about 20-25 rockets each night. Some exploded still in the sky above the camp. No injuries, but one female latrine trailer was hit by stray stuff. As I've said before, rockets have a bit more range and are a bit louder than the mortars, so to say that a few people were a bit shaken up would be an understatement.

Wednesday morning, Dan left for Kuwait a bit ahead of his contract completion date. Guess he'd had enough after the two nights before. Not to worry, the right strings have been pulled for him and he will be fitted with a position in Kuwait for the remainder of his contract. It's all who ya know and who ya...well we'll let you fill in the rest! I just think it sucks that the rest of us worthless slobs DO actually stay here and "butch it out" or else lose our bonus' and forfeit our completion of contract money, while the pansy-asses with managment connections can run away and get fitted for a nice, safe, cushy job down in Kuwait. It's nice that they are accommodated, but then what is the reward for those that are honoring their contract? 'Nuf said about that!

Tuesday morning started the US Army and Iraqi Army attack of the insurgents in South Baghdad, so they have been really quiet since then.

Got a couple of great porta-potty stories that'll give ya a tickle! One of the guys that I work with, Steve was pulling up his breeches the other week and his Leatherman (a multi-purpose tool that attaches to your belt that can cost anywhere from $60-$100) came loose and went *plunk* into the opening below. Well, he surveys the situation and determines that it has landed (imagine this, like the Crown Jewels in London basking in white light from above and resting on white velvet), which of course, is on top of the heap which is topped off with his own toilet paper that only touched his hiney. Phew! Lucky break. (Now this is of course how it is being described to us) So he reaches in (with an Hallelujah chior singing behind as if he has found and retrieved the Holy Grail) and plucks up his lost Leatherman off the top of this heap and puts it back in its case on his beltloop.

Next day he's telling us about his lucky break and he's leading us to believe that no harm was done, and that this thing never even came close to touching the dreaded blue depths of the porta-pottie and it's contents (hold back your gag reflex just a bit longer!). Well, a more trained eye would beg to differ, but...a more sensitive and understanding listener (which Miss Manners would be proud of) didn't dare contradict Mr. Steve's observations (that it never touched the water or any other contents, for that matter). However, the giveaway was the blue marks on this pants from where the Leatherman rubbed afterwards!

Which, of course brings me to my harrowing experience last night. I bought this great LED laser flashlight that is the size of a pen for $10 last week. It gives off a great, sharp white light, fits right into the little zipper pocket in my ID holder and is great for porta-pottie adventures. But wait, there's more: it has a little knob on top that is perfect for holding between your teeth so you can see where you're aiming and not hosing down the walls!

Unfortunately, when I go to button up these damned button-up 501's, I couldn't see around my coat and leaned forward trying to find the buttons and my mouth opens... just a bit. DOH!! Sure enough, the light falls out of my mouth and like a gumball in one of those machines with the race-tracks, the light falls, clunk-clunk into the urnal (just as I'm deciding whether or not to reach in for it, or whether or not it is even worth salvaging out of a urnal) then, clunk,clunk, plunk down through the tube from the urnal and into the deep blue depths of the porta-pottie.

I look into the big hole and sure enough, everything down below (sorry, I didn't want to go there) is basking in the brightly lit crisp blue LED light of my little pocket flashlight! It almost reminded me of the beautiful blue waters of Cancun without the sand and other "floaties". I'm imagining my hand with a permanent blue stain resembling a blue glove up to my wrist as I'm trying to fish out my little flashlight. Nope, I'm not fishing it out now!

With that, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

I'll Meet Razor at the Rainbow Bridge

I'll Meet Razor at the Rainbow Bridge
21 November 2004

One of the most difficult things about being so far away from home is you have no control over events and no means to get back home at the exact moment you're needed. I called home last night to see how the older of our two Siberian Huskies, Razor's visit to the vet went. Over the past two months since he was bitten by a Pomeranian, he has had open sores that open and close and reopen to drain on his sides, on his stomach and one big one on his hind leg. The visits that Phil has been making back and forth to two different vets still had not resolved his sores after how many different antibiotics. He has had staph infections and draining sores that test negative for anything and has been on all different types of antibiotics to try and clear them up. They even did more blood work on him last week that came up negative.

Thursday, Phil made an appointment with a vet in St. Charles that is supposed to be great. She has people bringing in animals from all over--Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa. Saturday morning, he said that Razor was happy and wagging his tail and even "talking" at the vets office. The vet read over the faxed files from the other two vets and asked Phil if she could take an xray.

Unfortunately, with her xray she was able to determine the problem. Razor had advanced cancer of the lymph glands and two bone spurs on his spine. His immune system has been so exhausted fighting the cancer that it has been unable to fight the infections, so he hasn't been responding to the antibiotics. He has also been so uncomfortable over the past couple of months that he won't even get up in the mornings to go out or won't come in after going out in the evenings, prefering to sleep on the patio overnight. He has been getting Rimadal for the bone spurs, but the cancer was a complete surprise. The vet's major concern was the enlarged cancerous lymph gland near the heart. Although we can provide some pain reduction in the short term, she was concerned that if it were to hemorage, he would die a painful death. The decision wasn't easy, but after further discussion with the vet, Phil had to put our little guy down.

I know that some people say that we should get over it, "they're just dogs." But for us, they aren't just dogs. Razor, Cayenne, Phil and I are a family or a "pack" in their eyes. Razor was more than just a dog, he was a faithful companion and a goofy and very sensitive dog with unique looks and actions. Noone that he ever came in contact could dislike him. He was always sweet and could win you over even after the worst days at work. He wasn't just a dog, he was our dog, our companion, our little beast. The beast that would jump up on the bed and lay at your feet when you were home sick, the beast that lived to lick the bowl whenever you had ice cream or oatmeal. He was the peacemaker that would put himself between Phil and I if we had an "exchange of ideas" that got too loud. He did not like arguing and had to have peace in our "pack".

So it's with great sadness and emptiness that I will return home in January to Cayenne and Phil. There is so little privacy here to find a corner to mourn in. I'm still choking down tears as I write and rewrite this damned entry. I try to think of all the good times that we have had over the almost eleven years we've had him. This week he would have turned 11. We will miss our sweet blue-eyed fuzz-face dog. At least I know in my heart that he isn't suffering and isn't in any more pain. It would be too selfish to wish that he could have held on until I got home, but I know that in time, I will see him again. I am confident that there must be dogs in heaven. Before I left, I had already told my sister Debi to just remember that if anything happened to me here, they were to bury his ashes with mine when my time comes. Until then we will have to find a nice urn for the mantel.

Rainbow Bridge
(www.vetmedicine.about.com/od/lossandgrief scroll down to Rainbow Bridge)

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.

There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so that they can run and play together.

There is plenty of food and water and sunshine, and our friends there are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to perfect health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again just as we remember them in our dreams of years and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing- they each miss someone very special to them, who had to stay behind when the beloved pet went away.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks up -- the bright eyes are intent, the body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group his body flying over the green grass, his legs hurrying faster and faster. You have been spotted, when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The sweet loving kisses rain upon your face, your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your dear pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together.

-----Anonymous

Thursday, November 18, 2004

U2 Again, And That Ain't Music to Our Ears

U2 Again, And That Ain't Music to Our Ears
18 November 2004

Well, Ramadan is over, why haven't the rockets stopped? Although it has been a bit quieter than last week, we are still taking incoming. Almost as soon as our Force Protection Level is lowered to a U1 (no flak vests/Kevlar) it gets upgraded again to U2 or U3 (flak vests and Kevlar required. U2 or U3 identify the hours needed - i.e. 1600 until 0001, or 7X24). Working mids, you never know what the force protection level is going to be when you wake up. They used to post signs on the bathroom doors, but not recently. If you're in the office, you get email indicating Force Protection changes, but we have no access to the computer at our trailer. So we normally don't find out that we require flak vests and Kevlar helmet until we try to go to enter the chow hall and they turn you back because you aren't in the proper uniform. Trudge all the way back to the trailer and get the flak vest and helmet and then back to the chow hall. I'm ready to be a civilian again!

Got rocked awake during the day by a couple of rockets that landed at the west end and some that sounded like they landed over at BIAP (Baghdad Intl Airport). The hit trailer over on row B was also hauled away today. It's still kind of spooky to walk over there at night. With no moon, it gets pretty dark here.

Haven't had much rain either over the last week. A few sprinkles here and there, but no gully-washers. Weather is actually much cooler now. Nights are getting down to probably 55-60 and days can vary. Yesterday was probably about 80, but today was about 70.

Seeing more mail, especially boxes come in through the US mail now that Fallujah is done. Also seeing more stuff in the PX and forks again in the chow hall. Do you know how hard it is to eat steak or even chicken with only plastic spoons and knives? How about spaghetti without a fork? At least if we had chopsticks, I could have managed. I'm so sick of eating with plastic silverware, I could vomit...and you thought it was due to the food! Desparate times call for desparate measures. For anyone thinking about coming here, do yourself a favor and bring a personal set of silverware. To eat off of an actual stainless steel fork and spoon and cut with a real knife is a luxury here since any silverware that's not plastic is virtually non-existant.

See, I'm back to myself again...complaining about the trival things! Nothing a good shopping trip won't cure. But I've been forbidden to purchase anymore Oriental carpets. I'm sure I'll find something to buy to keep my spirits up over the next eight weeks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Day After

The Day After
14 November 2004 5:50pm

Oddly enough, I went back to sleep after going from the office back to my trailer this morning. Like I have said before, it seems like at times, sleep is the only way to escape this place. On my way back to the trailer, I wandered past the site from last night. Scott and I were talking about it as he had done the same this afternoon. Now I understand how and why you go back. It just helps to provide some closure. It doesn’t help you make any sense of the events, only helps to bring peace.

Scott ran into two of the medics from last night when he was over there. Now the events are falling into place better. How it all happened was that a mortar came in and went through the roof of the trailer at B2C/D. I guess it landed right between the two beds in the room, which is quite a coincidence since it can’t be but seven or eight feet across between our beds here. The thing strangely enough didn’t seriously injure the two people who were in that unit, one of them getting some shrapnel wounds and the other listed as “walking wounded.”

After the first mortar went off, the Sergeant in E/F went running out of his unit to assist must have been nearly hit by the next incoming mortar that followed the first one. While I noticed his wounds last night, Scott mentioned today that he didn’t see the wounds, but noticed that when the medics lifted the Sergeant’s body onto the stretcher, the blood leaked through his clothing onto the ground like it was being poured through a sieve. He was the one that was confirmed dead today.

Going past that area down row C, I looked through the yellow roped off area and saw his door off the hinges and his blood splattered onto the front of the door. Seeing the door and seeing the shrapnel riddled corner of that trailer, that mortar had to have landed nearly at his feet. The medics had remarked to Scott that with his wounds as serious as they were and his lack of response to CPR, they were very concerned that he was not going to make it when they were administering CPR. That has to be a very disheartening and helpless feeling.

The other guy in row C was injured by shrapnel coming through his trailer from the second impact. All total, three were injured and I guess one was med-evact’d up to Germany today.

There was another incoming mortar last night along with the first two, but no one seems to know where the impact was. Everyone (except me since I was still in a daze from sleeping) had heard three explosions, so maybe it ended up landing in the bank of trees about 100 feet further west of Dodge South.

As I started writing this in my room on my laptop, two more incoming exploded. Good thing I swept and washed the floor yesterday. We’ve been spending a lot of time laying around on it lately! Someone tell those guys that Ramadan is over as of last night. They can chill out now!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Mortars Fall on Dodge South

Mortars Fall on Dodge South
14 November 2004

The aftermath of a mortar attack is very similar to what you might imagine and what you have seen in MASH. People rushing around, shouts for assistance and shouts of warning and instruction permeate the air. In the foreground, CPR is being administered to a soldier who was hit by shrapnel in his trailer. The side of his midsection is opened up and covered in deep red blood and he had more shrapnel wounds to the head and legs. Blood soaks his shirt and splattered his pants. Even the bottom of his boots had blood on them. He wasn’t moving or showing any signs of pain from his wounds as two people were kneeling over him. “One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand, breathe. One-one-thousand, two-one-thousand, three-one-thousand…” “He’s still not breathing!” “Get another stretcher over here.” “We need another pressure bandage, NOW!”

Shouts from others in the area seem to fade in and out like the shouts of circus vendors at their booths as you walk past, “Check between the blast barriers and make sure no one else is laying between the barriers that may have been hit by shrapnel.” “Make room for the ambulance,” “Get your flak vests and Kevlar on, now!” “57th Sig people, you need to get back to your trailers for accountability.” One soldier remarks to his wounded buddy being loaded into the back of the waiting ambulance,“Yeah, don’t worry about your weapon, I’ve got it.”

Scott and I live in Dodge South A11E/F. When the two mortars hit tonight at around 8pm, we were lucky. Tonight they went over our trailer, but the mortars only kept going another 200-250 feet further to hit trailers at the front of Dodge South at C2E/F and B2E/F. It doesn’t look like any trailers were directly hit, looks like all the wounded were hit by shrapnel. To get an idea how much shrapnel travels, imagine a long skinny balloon filled with pudding and dropped from 500 feet above. Everywhere that is covered in pudding after the drop are spots where red hot metal shards and the rocks it displaces are driven into and through anything in its path.

Having not gotten into bed today until after 2pm, I was still sleeping when they landed. Scott and I are both off-shift tonight, otherwise, we would have been in the office by now. Having heard so many outgoing in the past few days, I wondered when I first awoke from the first impact if it was outgoing from Victory North. Usually, outgoing is done in groups with short pauses in between. So when these two mortars came in, I was almost expecting another outgoing boom or two. But outgoing rounds have a different impact than incoming rounds. Although mortars don’t pack the punch of a rocket, you still get woken up when they impact.

Scott and I hit the floor and donned the flak vest and Kevlar, waiting to get up until we were sure that all the incoming had finished before braving the air outside. Looking out the trailer door to the right, we saw two impacts at the front of the trailers here at Dodge South. That’s when we walked down to the front of Dodge South to see the damage.

Scott and I first walked over to the trailer in row C to see one guy being tended to by the medical crew. He had some blood on his uniform and forehead and was conscious. A stretcher was being opened up to get him over to the TMC. We then walked over to row B where two others that were more seriously wounded were layed out on the ground. This is where the one was being administered CPR. After seeing his wounds and all the blood, even from the distance of maybe fifteen feet, I can only hope that he wasn’t terminal at this point, but he wasn’t breathing and they were still administering CPR when he was loaded onto the stretcher and into the ambulance. The other wounded soldier there was the one I mentioned earlier that was conscious and worried about leaving his weapon as he was being transported to the TMC by ambulance.

Now it’s in my neighborhood. Now it’s striking where I am at. Before, it had been at Dodge North or Freedom Village. Now it’s at my doorstep. Before this mortar attack tonight, I had already made my decision to leave at the end of contract. Now Phil’s, Rachel’s and Dee’s words ring through my head to reassure me that it’s time to come home. The money isn’t worth it if you aren’t alive to spend it.

In the overall scheme of things, the company doesn’t care if you’re wounded or maimed in any of these attacks; they will just find someone else to take your place. They aren’t going to cheer you on through your rehab when you lose your limbs or eyes or hearing in the next mortar or rocket attack. They aren’t going to call you up to see if they can do anything for you or your family while you’re layed up. Even at ITT, contract employees are treated differently and provided (or denied) certain benefits provided the “real” ITT employees. The raw truth is that you are a contractor and as disposable as Kleenex or paper towel and as easily replaced and forgotten when you can no longer serve your purpose to the contract.

It’s funny, when you first get here, you think, “Damn, I could do this standing on my head for a few years!” Then as time goes by over the next few months, you get broken in with experiences that impact your existence here; all the mortar and rocket attacks and all the bone-headed decisions and petty issues made into big issues by management and the military. Finally, you get to the six month mark and wonder to yourself, “What the heck was I thinking. I’ll be lucky to make my nine month point (when you receive the second half of your sign-on bonus)!”

Not to worry, I’m going to finish my contract. My countdown already began a couple of weeks ago. Now I’m down to 59 days until I leave for Doha and then onto Fort Bliss for outprocessing. The end of January isn’t that far off. I’m only disappointed that I’ll miss Christmas at home.

Post script:
It’ 4am and I got woken up by more mortars incoming. I’ve decided to go into work and check email and at least feel somewhat safer in a solid building. One of the guys I went through CRC with, Chris was in trailer D1 sleeping when the mortars hit. He heard all the rock hitting the top of his trailer. With no bunkers to take cover in anywhere near where he was, he also crawled on the floor donning flak vest and Kevlar until he felt it safe to get up. In our trailer in the middle of row A, we have one bunker near that is supposed to serve 50. This is a concrete tube about ten foot long by five foot wide. You might get ten guys in it, if you’re lucky.

The guy hurt by shrapnel in row C was hit by shrapnel that came through the corner of his trailer where there are no sandbags and the concrete barriers don’t meet. The government may not care how it protects its contractors, but they damned sure could provide better cover for the soldiers here. The guy that looked terminal in row B, we hear was outside his trailer smoking.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Siege of Fallujah

The Siege of Fallujah
10 November 2004

Back in battle rattle, but that shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Since the siege of Fallujah has started, things are a bit different. Helo ops (helicoptor operations) seem to run at all hours now and you can hear the constant roar of jets high in the sky making their bombing runs to Fallujah just to the north and west of us here. In the distance at night, it isn't unusual to see flashes in that direction from here.

My brother-in-law working for Dyncorp has been on lockdown in the green zone downtown since Sunday, I think. Baghdad Airport has suspended flights for 48 hours on Monday and Tuesday. Maybe that will be extended. I think we can expect that mail and supplies will be slowed down some by the airport shut down.

We've also been seeing a lot more activity from our (local, indiginous) neighbors. I think that ISG has been getting a bit more activity than Victory Base (now known as Al Naser so as not to be further confused with Victory Base in Kuwait), but we have still had our share of incoming. I think that I've been sleeping through most of it. Although just as I was falling asleep around 915 am on Monday, I did get woken up by what sounded like a car bomb on the highway at the checkpoint. Scott and I both woke up, I got on the floor and asked him if it was worth trying to get the battle rattle on at this point as I was considering going back to sleep on my little throw rug at the foot of the bed. He got up and looked out the door and saw the gray mushroom shaped cloud from the checkpoint direction and said that it looked like a car bomb. Then we both went back to sleep.

The rain still makes life a muddy mess. We haven't been having downpours as much as drizzle. This morning around 4 am, we had just enough drizzle to make the mud on the roads into the consistancy of soup. I gave up trying to walk on the slick and soupy road and walked on the dry dirt trails along side the road. They were drier than the roads and the dirt wasn't sticking to my shoes. That all changed by the time I hit the trailer area. The "sand that doesn't ever dry" was there to cling to my every step. I'm waiting for pits of quicksand to develop. Sleep seems to be the only escape from this place--that is when it isn't interrupted by mortars or rockets or helicoptors sounding like they are about to scrape their landing gear on the tops of the trailers or KBR knocking on the door to do human inventory or cleaning the A/C filters...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Election Results Still Being Tallied Back Home

Wednesday, November 03, 2004
Election Results Still Being Tallied Back Home

This last week running up to the US elections has been pretty routine around here with the exception of the constant mortars and outgoing stuff. Most of us are so used to it now that we don't even wake up for it and don't flinch when there is incoming unless it shakes the walls of the trailers. We have been in full battle rattle for the past four days now as a precaution.

Full battle rattle is enough of a pain inthe butt with the added weight of the flak vest and kevalar helmet, but over the past three days, we've been having constant rain. Every area you walk on is nothing but mud, wet sand and standing water. By the time I walk one block from my trailer to the road, my shoes have four inches of mud, stones and sand caked on the bottom of them. The backs of everyones pants are all caked in mud too. You can't get away from it. Walking down some roads is pretty treacherous since some of the roads are (or were) hard mud roads that with all the rain are slick as snot.

Sand gets into the grooves of your shoes and boots and NEVER dries out. I've never in my life seen sand that won't dry out; but it's here! Entering our trailers, there isn't anywhere to scrape off your shoes, so then you're dragging it into the trailer until you can get your shoes off. So it is a choice now; would I rather be choking on dust and hacking a lung up, or be in wet socks and mud up to my waist?

As long as I'm bitching, new management around here is a real joke too. If it wasn't straight out of Dilbert before, it is now. "If you're caught not wearing your battle rattel outside, you will be sent back to your trailer and docked 12 hours of pay and lose one gold star." Okay, everything except the gold star bit. The new micromanager in charge is running the place like a kindergarten and the tyrant hasn't even had the common decency of introducing himself and henchmen to us "old folk" that have been here forever. But then again, "It's good to be King" (Mel Brooks in History of the World). Which brings to mind the following line to that just mentioned, "Sire, you look just like the piss-boy!" You'd have to see the movie to understand the context.

I was relaxing here getting ready to go to bed at about 0900am when a huge ba-boom just caused the wall to push in like it was breathing and then shook the trailer. This was abnormal even for here in strength. After getting on the floor and donning my battle rattle, I went out for a look to see a gray mushroom cloud rising and some black somke from a fire afterwards. Looks like a pretty big car bomb just went off at the highway checkpoint in the direction of the old front gate to the base. As the crow flies, it's about 1500 yards away, but still the explosion packed enough punch to move the wall. We will probably know more by the time we go in tonight. Tis the season for suicide bombers and rockets- Ramadan, you know. I can hardly wait for their Grande Finalle. Maybe they'll burn down Sadr City for an encore.

1130pm

It's my night off, but I still stop in to check email and snail mail. Found out that the explosion this morning was a bus bomb. Call it a hunch, but I'm not thinking that there were 50 insurgents with bombs strapped too 'em. That would just be too much hope for.

About 715pm, a rocket went over the trailers and landed over in the parking lot by the gym. I heard it buzz over the trailer, land and explode, and then I just rolled over and went back to sleep. It wasn't a big one and it definitely didn't "rock my world". Mortars don't pack the punch that a rocket does, but is still capable of sending shrapnel all over the place.

Scott also came in late this morning or early afternoon. He let me know that Bush won the election. He and Ron stayed up and watched the results. Sounds like it was a close one again.

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