Monday, January 31, 2005

Sinking of the Bahia Paraiso

31 January 2005

Sinking of the Bahia Paraiso

After my extension here was approved, I wasted no time in getting up on Amazon and ordering some desperately needed books for reading material. I’d been chomping at the bit since I sent everything back home and had been bored silly. I have already read the Ghost Stories from Key West, most of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and started into Four Trials by John Edwards, but that wasn’t seeming to fill the bill. Then early last week, a used book that I wanted and ordered finally arrived. The book is called Crossing Antarctica by Will Steger.

Will Steger crossed the Antarctic by dog sled with his team back in 1989 and 1990. During this same time, I was working down at Palmer Station, Antarctica in the peninsula region on Anvers Island. Oddly enough back then, I was also working for ITT, but for the Federal Electric – Antarctic Services arm out of Paramus, New Jersey.

I had always wanted to read his account, but when I ordered the book on Amazon, I wasn’t holding out too much hope of receiving the book since it has been out of print for years. When it arrived, I almost handled it as if it were a personal treasure. Not surprisingly, I took to this book as I took to Ice Bound, Dr. Jerri Nielson’s book of her ordeal with discovering, taking biopsies, and treating her aggressive breast cancer during her winter over at South Pole. Something about having been below the Southern Convergence that always remains in your blood once you’ve been there and crossed that southern line of 70 degrees south.

It shouldn’t be too surprising then that this last weekend for me hasn’t found me thinking much of the Iraq elections, the anticipated insurgent mortars and rockets or even the crappy mud and rain that is finally drying up here. Reading this book happened to take me back to the 16th anniversary of the sinking of the Argentine ship, Bahia Paraiso one mile off of Palmer Station on January 31st, 1989 between Torgersson Island and DeLaca Island. She ran aground on the afternoon of January 28th. Despite attempts to save her, she slowly rolled over to her watery grave on the evening of the 31st. No earnest attempts were ever made to recover or retrieve her by the then cash-strapped Argentine government. Being in international waters in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, the U.S. had no rights to remove the wreck either.

So it is today on the sixteenth anniversary of her sinking, that I am going to tell her story (instead of that of the Iraqi vote) as captured in my (yet unpublished but copywritten) journal, “Antarctically Yours…Letters from the Ice” (1989-1990.)

I've moved the text from this over to its own location. Chapter 3 - Shipwreck can be viewed at

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Geraldo. Live. From Baghdad.

30 January 2005

Geraldo. Live. From Baghdad.

It’s been so long since I’ve done any regular writing about this backwater place that we call home, I’ve forgotten to mention some of the happenings lately. Geraldo arrived amid much (self-created) fanfare (again) last week. You do remember that he is one of my favorite self-important, self-obsessed, news-wienies? We are trying to decide if he is here 1) because he just found out that there is a locked safe in the bunker at Al Faw Palace belonging to Saddam here on Camp Victory, 2) To cover the historic openings of both a Subway Sandwich Shop AND a Pizza Hut Carry-out here on Camp Victory, 3) To cover the bad drainage issue due to the inch of rain we had last week creating massive mud puddles all over Camp Victory, or 4) To cover the upcoming elections in Iraq. My money is on number 1. Although he and Jerry Springer have pretty much cornered the market on number 2, and we ain’t talking Super Supreme pizza’s here…maybe bologna sandwiches – extra meat.

So the buzz all around base from the mid-shifters was that at 0530am, Geraldo was in the chow hall for breakfast (if that isn’t indigestion in the making) working on finding something to interview anyone about. Chris came back from the chow hall and tells me to just look for the dweeb in the cowboy hat, boots and strange-ass clothes. I guess he didn’t want to be mistaken for a civilian…although KBR/Haliburton has hired so many people from Houston that cowboy boots and ten-gallon hats are not out of the ordinary around here (just when worn by non-Texan, eastern, yankee idiots trying to stand out in the crowd. I can call him an eastern yankee idiot...I'm from Chicago and admit to being at least a yankee! Ya are what ya are Blanche.)

Other things that have drawn my attention away from all the Geraldo excrement, er… excitement; I’m in the bathroom stall in the bathroom trailer near my humble abode and noticing that some idiot has poked (probably the end of their weapon) through the thin plastic stall walls in two places on both sides of the stall wall, exposing the Styrofoam insulation. You know, it’s not enough that we put up with the improvised Biblical prophasies, graffiti (some of which is rather humorous) and personal short calendars on the walls. Still, can’t see any reason that they have to rip the place up too.

As I’m washing my hands at the sink, a guy had walked in and looked at me oddly. He says to me, “Don’t know if you know it, but last night while I was standing in front of the sink where you are, a sniper bullet came through the wall in those first two stalls. It passed through the wall of the first stall, into the second stall and the bullet just dropped near my feet, burning a spot in the floor. Next time, you might want to move down a few stalls, just in case.” He went on to explain that he had heard that a sniper from the mosque towers on the other side of the wall were aiming at someone at the medical clinic which is only about three hundred feet away and apparently missed and overshot it's intended target.

I guess the bathrooms and mosques are held in the same respect here, even by the locals. See I told you they were probably using those minarets from the mosque and aiming at Victory for target practice. Sorry, but maybe we ought to be flattening that mosque for our own safety. If you’re going to use it as a military (insurgent) resource, it is now considered a military target. No ifs ands or buts about it. Now try to convince us that the imams don’t know and condone what is going on in their own mosques.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

More Afraid of Unemployment than of Mortars

22 January 2005

I'm baaack! Well, actually, I never left. Yes, I'm supposed to be back at home in Illinois by this time; snowbound by the snowstorm currently hitting the midwest and Chicago. But I'm still in Baghdad. After pondering the possibilities of going back home, I pulled an eleventh hour save and called my country manager to stay here for another couple of months.

I know, it sounds crazy, but I guess that I'm just more afraid of unemployment right now, than I am of mortars and rockets! I've been posting and submitting resumes over the last six weeks prior to my departure date and not once have I received even an email of interest. Granted, I probably need to be home to interview, but one would think that I would have at least received something of interest. All this leads me to really wonder whether the job market has actually improved any since I left one year ago. Sure, I can flip burgers, but is this going to pay the car payment on the Bentley and the mortgage on the mansion?

All in all, I'm not disappointed. I like the job I'm doing here, I like the people that I work with and I feel in my "heart of hearts" that I'm supporting an important mission. I can truly say that I never felt this way in my last three jobs at Lucent, Allegiance Telecom or at Tellabs.

You Have Some 'Splainin to Do Lucy!

22 January 2005

It's been quite some time since my last posted entry, so I'll try my best to explain why I took myself off the air for so long. Most of this stemmed from the Army and management taking a closer look at data leaving the sites here.

If you've been in the military, then you have a fairly good grasp of the term Operations Security. Operations Security (OPSEC) is the military's way of self-monitoring the data and voice exchanges going out of sites and areas on any of the posts, ships and bases worldwide. The idea here is that a lot of the outgoing calls and email may be leaking valuable information for the enemy to intercept, understand and predict our mission and strengths. In Iraq, this includes manpower strength, raid dates, resource availability and other vital mission-essential information.

Recent military monitoring of outgoing data and voice communications indicated that too much information may have been tipping off the insurgents, who by the way, are phenominally tech-savvy and who can use this information to their advantage. This may include manpower additions to units - even civilian support increases - which allow them to adjust their tactics and attacks as necessary. Even my mention in previous logs as to the location of incoming mortars could have been used to make necessary adjustments for more successful and accurate attacks in the future on our own locations.

The problem really comes about from us becoming too complacent about OPSEC. So now you have the full explanation of why I pulled down what was up. At this point and time, I should be able to repost everything as long as any previous content isn't compromising current conditions here or elsewhere in the theater.

Having been in Europe during the Cold War and at the peak of the Red Army Faction bombings, I think the military really drilled that into us. But most Americans are very relaxed about that type thing. In South America as in Europe, you just don't take pictures of any military things; even communications towers and government infastructure are off-limits. In my travels through Chile enroute to the Antarctic back in 1988, I had made a journal entry about an experience I had relating to that.

On our flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, we had a stop-over in Puerto Montt. Some American gets off the plane and starts taking pictures of the Chilean Air Force jets on the runway. Innocent enough one would think, since they were probably old retired American military jets to start with. Next thing you know, the military police are arresting him for questioning and pulling open his camera to empty out the film. As it was in Europe, pictures of government infastructure, military assets and such are strictly verboten!

The lesson learned here is that we as Americans tend to take for granted our freedoms. We wander through our lives while Stateside not even thinking there are any threats or dangers. We then carry that attitude with us on our travels around the world, naively believing that everywhere is just like America. We think our ways, our freedoms and our passports are like credit cards - a readily accepted free ticket to exercise our free will whereever the airlines will take us.

Not so. No matter where we go in this world, we need to be concious and maintain a sensitivity of those whose feelings we might be trampling, whose laws we may be disobeying, understanding that our freedoms are not tranferable around the world. But we must also be vigilant in our travels. One day we will need to understand that not everyone cares for or are willing to accept the freedoms we want to deliver, no matter how pretty we think the wrapping paper and bow that it is wrapped in, is.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Change of Heart

Change of Heart

10 January 2005

Talk about waiting until the last minute; here I am on Friday night five days prior to my departure and I am sending messages requesting to stay for a couple of more months! We have the openings and we have some that are going to be going on vacation that I couldn’t see any harm in asking to stay on longer. Why the cold feet about leaving at the 11th hour? I guess that I’m more afraid of being unemployed again than I am of the mortars. That and you can’t pad the bank account enough for that rainy day.

I sent off a letter to our country manager to grovel some and let him know that I’d like to stay longer and he was very responsive to the idea of me staying. I’m sure that it didn’t hurt that I pointed out what a dedicated employee I am, how I enjoy the people and job. We exchanged some nice light email that Saturday morning prior to his phone meeting with HR which at least reassured me that he liked the idea. Now I just have to hear back from HR about what they need me to do for this little extension.

Honestly, I hadn’t expected to want to stay any longer all the way up till this week. That little bit of insecurity kicked in and that was it. Phil isn’t taking it well on the homefront, but I explained to him this morning the internal need for me to have more set aside than what is already there. I don’t have anyone else to bail me out if I fall flat. It’s just me and my bills.

Things here have been relatively quiet lately. They must be saving the fireworks for the grande finale at election time. Security has gotten very tight in every building since Mosul. We have been used to no backpacks and pat-downs going into the chow halls, but now you can’t even take a backpack with you into the PX to leave at the cubby holes at the door. Suppose it is good, but it seems like more and more of our lives here are being dictated to us when they really could be restricting the access of TCN’s and especially restricting access and movement of Iraqi nationals on the sites.

Another issue that sort of raises my eyebrows is this restriction they have now put on us concerning our blog sites. Here they are telling me and others that our blogs are compromising operation security when management then goes and puts out a memo on the unsecure lines/our army email boxes that no ITT people will be transported from Doha to the theater from 03 Jan until 09 Jan. Can't say too much more about it at this time, but it's politics as usual.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Life at Victory Gets “Interesting”

Life at Victory Gets “Interesting”

03 January 2005

Haven’t been doing much writing because there hasn’t really been much to write about. Christmas and New Year’s past with such quiet and stealth, I can hardly believe it’s all over now. The natives have been relatively quiet here up until New Year’s Day. Since then, we have been hearing more and more mortars and rockets.

On New Year’s Day, one of the guys that I work with in Building 7 was over at the Haji shop by Lost Lake looking to buy some (rampantly pirated) DVD’s. In the Haji shop were a few soldiers doing the same. Gene said that out of nowhere, they heard the “whoosh” of a rocket pass overhead. Next thing you know, Gene is getting tackled to the floor by a little 5’3” female specialist as the rocket explodes about 500 yards from where they are.

Everyone had hit the deck including the guy behind the counter. As they’re brushing off the dust and dirt from their clothes, the guy behind the counter is apologizing for the dust in the store. This is kind of comical, because with all the dirt, dust and mud around here, there isn’t any corner of this blasted country that isn’t dust-covered. But honestly, I think that Gene is in love. Anyone that can tackle you to the ground and protect you from incoming rockets as quickly as she did is a keeper. His eyes seem to twinkle whenever he gets the chance to tell the story.

Yesterday was pretty noisy out too. I think it was about 10am on the 2nd we must have heard about 18 booms in succession at one point. They were outgoing, but just the intensity, timing and the number of them were impressive. This morning I stayed up and watched a movie until about 11am. At about 10:30am, seems like all the action started. I’m sure that there were no fewer than 60 explosions per hour going off for about 2-1/2 hours. You might here a boom-boom-boom, then two minutes later another boom-boom. It just never seemed to let up.

We are hearing that over the last two days, most of the noise has been outgoing, but there was without doubt enough of those booms that were incoming. By the time I tried to go to sleep, I was too wound up to relax and fall asleep. At one point when I was trying to go to sleep, I actually put on the flak vest and helmet and lay down under the covers trying to fall asleep. It wasn’t too comfortable, but at this point, I’ve come too far to getting home to shrug off a bit of extra protection. So tonight I am running on about four hours of sleep. Hopefully, I’ll sleep better tomorrow.

At midnight chow tonight, Gene and Ron and Eve(from the RSC) were talking about all the noise today. Eve says, “Oh, I fell right to sleep at 8:30 and didn’t wake up until 6pm.” Ron and I were dumbfounded. “How the heck did you sleep through all that?” Eve couldn’t believe that there was that much going on today. That’s when I said it was pretty interesting today. Eve looks at me in such a straight face and says, “Looking at and buying oriental carpets is ‘interesting’. Incoming and outgoing mortars and rockets is not ‘interesting’.” Well then, what does one call a two to three hour encounter of incoming and outgoing mortars and such? Dangerous, different, window-rattling, wall-shaking, loud, intrusive, magical, sleep-depriving? Putting this event into the perspective of this whole dustbowl/armpit of a place, I’ll consider it interesting…maybe for lack of any other description at this point of my stay here.

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