Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Iraqi Sovereignty Day

I realize that I haven't posted anything in over 10 days now. I've been spending some time working on my Antarctic stuff, so that has kept me out of trouble for now. Other than that, not too much has been happening since 22 June. The evening of 22 June, we had a mortar attack that ended up with seven incoming mortars.

Then again this morning, just as I got off work and got changed to get in bed at about 08:15am, we had an incoming mortar round. It was close enough to shake the wall some, probably just east of the wall around Lost Lake by the sounds of it. Enough to get me on the floor and find my flak vest and Kevlar. Although, most likely the reason for my skittishness is that today is Iraqi Sovereignty Day. Last year on this date, we officially gave Iraq back to the Iraqis.

Now a year down the road, the insurgents are still trying every trick to instill fear in the Iraqis. It does seem ever more obvious that the insurgents filtering across the borders from Syria and Iran are very intent on intimidating the Iraqi people in any and every way possible. But, take heart, the Iraqi people are and always have been a very tolerant group. They have lived for centuries in relative harmony with one another, whether Iraqi Sunni, Iraqi Shiite, Iraqi Kurd or Iraqi Christian. They do realize that the troublemakers that are here now are not necessarily Iraqi. Even more important, they remind themselves that no Iraqi would treat another Iraqi with such disrespect and irreverance.

It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Saddam didn't have to answer to anyone when he put his adversaries to death for negative words against him let alone even a suggestion of an uprising. But as a semi-resident assisting force, we are held to a different standard. We are expected to answer up for every insurgent that we may have insulted while they are in prison. The Middle East audience is oftentimes quick to overlook that this same idiot that has been arrested and is being held in jail is first off, more than likely not an Iraqi citizen and is being imprisoned for having built, set and having detonated IED’s in the road that kill our soldiers and Iraqi soldiers.

Let’s also not forget to mention that he may be one of the many jailed insurgents instigating explosions of cars and buildings (anything from stores, restaurants to mosques) killing many innocent Iraqi citizens. I’m pretty sure that even Saddam wouldn’t have been tolerating that for too long if he was still running the show here. He wouldn't be conducting interviews to determine whether they were Iraqi Sunni, Iraqi Shiite, Iraqi Christian, Iraqi Kurd, Saudi, Syrian, Palestinian, Iranian, etc. The sword cuts equally sharp no matter the religion or nationality when sovereignty is threatened.

The longer I stay here, the more I do actually believe our soldiers and military will need to remain for an unspecified amount of time. It isn’t only an Iraq question. It really is a necessity if we are to root out the influence of the insurgency in this part of the country and even this part of the world. Until Iraq and Afghanistan are ready to take on these foreign instigators on their own, we will need to be here in Southwest Asia in some way, shape or form. To leave this area now would create an incredible vacuum of power that will be gladly filled with the corrupt influences of something much more vial than Saddam (and Kofi Annan for that matter.)

The void created without the influence of Saddam has been very difficult for our allied forces and the new Iraqi government to fill and change. It certainly isn’t something we can walk away from. The U.S. and allies have already dove in headfirst and now we are going to have to see things through. We can’t run out on what is only started. We have committed ourselves to this cause and owe this much to the Iraqi and Afghani people.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

You've Got Mail!

16 June 2005

And that I did. Got a funny birthday card from my Uncle today clearly declaring that this card did not contain any weapons of mass destruction (noone left here in Iraq of that group to verify that) or money. I also got a postcard from my Mom! Yep, you heard me right, a postcard from my Mom! "Greetings from Watersmeet, Michigan" For those of you who don't know me, that is just shy of a miracle since my Mom passed about two years ago. Okay, so the postmark over the five-cent stamp was July 27, 1967! My Uncle had found an old postcard that my Mom had sent he and my aunt when we went on our first vacation as a family up to U.P. (that's "Upper Peninsula" Michigan for any of those not familiar with UP-talk). He sent it along with the b-day card and thought that I might like it.

"Dear Bonnie, Earl & Jennifer,
It's been cold and rainy. Today it
warmed up a little and Don got 8 panfish
and Uncle Ray 4. Kids love it here.

Don, Donna, Davy & Dee"

I've saved a number of postcards that I've sent to my Mom, Dad and Great Gram. Moments and feelings captured in time. In these days of instant messages and email, you have to wonder if the days of "snail mail" are numbered. Sure, I've saved some of my email from when I was in the Antarctic, but how many people have saved any email from their everyday lives?

It kind of touches my senses to study the penmanship of Mom's handwriting back almost 30 years ago. Realizing that this is one of the few personal things of Mom that we have left that was and is still, genuinely her (along with a lock of her hair I cut and saved). Penmanship is almost an artform in itself. Email is and always will be void of that quality. Email doesn't have the pen's imprint on the paper, the personality of the scripted words, the little errors of the hand correcting the "7 panfish" making it an "8" (fish stories?!) or Mom's certain rounded D's where she signed our names.

For all the convenience of digital pictures, digital mail and camera's mounted on our computers, I don't feel that any of these media will ever have the personal touch and intimacy of the handwritten postcard or letter. I say that in all honesty from my blog!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Hippo, birdie, two ewes

15 June 2005

The big move is done. I moved from my digs in Dodge South over to "mortar alley" in Dodge North. Not that it is still actively so, just the bad reputation still sticking with it. Moving all my stuff around with the luggage cart, I was wondering to myself how the heck I collected so much stuff and why. With only 11 months left to go, I find it hard to believe that I need as much "stuff and things" as I've got. I guess part of that is trying to make yourself at home for the short time you're here. And in true form, I tripped over my feet with a fully packed backpack on and when the load shifted on the cart, I ended up falling face-first into the load on the cart. I took a cut on my face to the left of my chin. Nothing serious, just a little blood. I think it was a lesson to humble myself. Too smug about taking the initiative to move!

The new digs aren't quite as nice as the old neighborhood and the bathrooms aren't quite as modern or clean as where I was in DS. But, the roommate is good and I will settle in. I guess I'll have to start running again since this new location is closer to the road that I used to run before.

I have officially passed the half-way point in life on the 14th. Gram is going to be 90 in September, so at 45 that makes this anniversary the half-way point. The Witt side seems to have that longevity thing down pat. Now I just have to stave off the familial traits of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes and then I too can worry about out-living my savings! The Diovan seems to be keeping the BP in check, so that's a good start.

Woke up today midday to find out I'm sick. Summer colds are the worst and no Chinese restaurant around to get Wanton Soup! Better than Chicken noodle, but that's what I settled for at dinner and Chicken and rice at midnight chow. When I woke up at 2pm today to go to the head, it was hot, hot, hot out. Probably about 117 or so. You could smell the rubber doormat baking in front of the door. Even tonight it is still hot; probably about 95 and humid.

One nice surprise today was an email from South Pole in my Yahoo box today. I worked with Bill down on Palmer back in 1988-90. He is back at South Pole wintering over right now and has been keeping up with reading my blog. They are almost at mid-winter on the 21st of June. His site is http://www.southpolestation.com. It was good to touch bases with him again. I've got to write him back soon. He also commented that I need to continue with my blog/web book from my time down there. My cousin Bill had mentioned that he was waiting for the next chapter when I was home. Chapter four is requiring a bunch of formatting and editing, so please be patient. I haven't forgotten.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Roommate from Hell

11 June 2005

Well, a very early good morning. It is now 2 pm on Sat afternoon and I should be sleeping (as it is 2 am to my body since I’m on midnights). I am pretty wound up right now after a row with my roommate.

He and I have had a go-around before I left on leave, but both of us left it be since he was to be on leave and then I would be gone for awhile. Now granted, I’m not an angel to live with, but at least I try to give my roomy consideration. Our first run-in was my fault. I was up all night because of his snoring and let loose on him about 3 am. Every method I tried to wake him up so that he’d roll over didn’t work and out of frustration, I turned on the lights and woke him up in a rather unkind tone of voice.

But today I have to say was his moment. He was off today and got up about 8am and turned on the lights and turned off the air conditioning. He is studying and on his computer, so he has been quiet, but I was hoping that he’d of turned off the light at some point or taken a break. I even took a melatonin to help ease me to sleep, but that didn’t help enough. I have to mention also at this point that he can sleep at night with all the lights on, but I haven’t slept with lights on since living in the dorm in college.

At first, it wasn’t too warm, but as the morning progressed, it got warmer. I kept getting up to turn the a/c back on and as soon as I would drop off to sleep, he’d turn it off. Sleeping on days is difficult enough with the light and most people that work nights will put aluminum foil on the windows to keep the light out. But today that wasn’t going to help since he had the fluorescent lighting on all day. Getting woken up every hour doesn’t exactly allow for restful sleep.

Well, about 12:30, I’d had enough and said something. I’m one that let’s things build up inside of me before I say anything, so when I let loose, it is kind of like Old Faithful! We exchanged words and I told him that either he was going to have to move or I was. He said that he wasn’t going to (even though I’ve been in this trailer since May of 2004). So I took my happy behind over to KBR and requested a trailer change.

We haven’t spoken yet today since he left in a huff, but I haven’t anything more to say to him. If he thinks that anyone else will put up with his crap, I’m sure he will find otherwise. I’ve started to pack up my stuff into a few boxes I had under the bed and now I just have to wait until a trailer opens up. I really don’t want to move, but under the circumstances, I don’t see that he is going to instantly become Mr. Considerate or Mr. Clean for that matter. That has been another rub with me too. So I think that this is the best solution for all concerned.

Enough of my complaining for now. I’m kind of crabby if you haven’t noticed.

The Sandstorm

07 June 2005

The night started off ordinary enough. It had been a warm day at about 105, but no real indication that there was anything in store for tonight. Three of us had gone to midnight chow and were coming back around 12:15. As we were walking up to the palace gate, the wind started to kick up. Looking back to Building 0, the swirls of dirt and wind began to move forward towards us. Then the wind and dirt circled around us and we were part of it. It was so strange and it happened so quickly. We went from clear visibility to about ten feet in a matter of seconds.

The last sandstorm that I was through last summer was over in about two hours, but this one just kept going. We took a couple of breaks during the night to see if things were subsiding any, but nothing changed. The wind was still blowing and gusting and the dirt and sand were still swirling. Everything was getting covered in that fine Iraqi dust that has the consistency of concrete mix. It blows into every crevice and corner you can imagine. You might think that your trailer is (for the most part) insulated from this dirt, but when you get back to it you find a fine coat of dust all over everything including your bedding. It even sticks to the ceiling and walls.

By the time we were off shift at 8 am, the winds had died down some, but the visibility was still bad. The air was heavy with dirt and dust. Don’t know if the air conditioners in the trailer will filter any of this dirt out, but let’s hope so.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Mr. Roboto

03 June 2005

I hadn’t been back but a few hours yesterday and I learned that the day before, the PX at North Victory (Camp Liberty)had a rocket attack that killed a sergeant. There had been a service for him in the morning. There was also a car bomb that went off on the highway at the checkpoint by the statue with the guy with wings. Several people that live in Dodge were rocked out of bed by it. The Stars and Stripes had a write up of both incidents. So, I guess I can mention it now since it was plastered all over the paper. You can’t tell me that the locals don’t get a hold of our papers so I ain’t the one compromising info this time…honest.

As if to complete the welcome home, I got jostled out of bed this morning at 07:30 by an incoming mortar round on base. Hope this isn’t any indication of what to expect for the rest of the year!

Later in the day, I was talking with another friend of mine who sadly informed me that one of our buddies here was just today sent home after an alcohol-related incident. I’m kind of sad about the whole thing, but I hope that he can pull himself together and come to grips with life and all. If you come here with baggage, this environment can sometimes magnify it ten-fold. We might have to be crazy to come here, but you have to stay sane (or fake it real well) to stay. (Boy, that makes a load of sense, doesn't it?)

I'm still getting back into the routine and life here. I am on midnight shift, but my body is still confused. The weather is hot and about 108 or so. Add all that to starting a new job. I don’t feel overwhelmed, just amazed when I see how into their routines everyone is. Was I actually this robotic before my six weeks off? I know I’ll be like that again here soon too. It is just shocking to see this place from a new perspective.

Back to Baghdad...Again

02 June 2005

Whoo-hoo. Slept the afternoon away since our next roll call wasn’t until midnight. They woke us up around 11pm to say that the roll call was changed to 11:45. Both Will and I along with two network/system guys from ISG/Camp Slayer got on the manifest. So we loaded our stuff on the semi and boarded the bus for the hour ride to Alli Al Salem. I’ve ridden this horse so many times, I ought to be a tour guide.

Once at Alli Al Salem, we had to pull our stuff off the semi and bring it over to the pallets to be palletized. Then we were directed to wait at least until 0430 am in a big Quonset hut. It had cots and A/C and we were allowed to eat as many MRE’s as we could stuff ourselves with. Since we were all pretty hungry and probably wouldn’t be eating until after we got back to Baghdad, most of us ate something from the MRE packets. I chose the gourmet Vegetarian Stuffed Manicotti. It was actually pretty good. The vegetables were cleverly disguised as a beige-colored vegetable paste in the manicotti. Who would’a thunk? A little Tabasco sauce from the little 1 oz bottle included in the MRE's and we're good to go!

Although the vacuum-packed vanilla-flavored pound cake smells deceptively edible, once you put a piece into your mouth, it is designed to reconstitute itself by sucking every water molecule out of your body and expanding to the size of an inflatable raft in your mouth! It’s truly amazing that they can hide that pound cake into a block roughly the size of your wallet.

After a bit of a cat-nap, we got the word to move out and board our waiting C130 on the flight line at about 5am. The flight was mostly unremarkable. Being close to a window, I got to crane my neck and catch a glimpse of the Euphrates River snaking through the desert about a half hour out of Baghdad.

Next thing you know, we’re doing the quick cork-screw drop into the airport. Welcome back to Baghdad. Local time is approximately 0800 am local time, temperature is about 85 degrees and sunny.

Last Trip to Camp Doha

01 June 2005

I must say that my layover in London was much more relaxing having had a good sleep, a hot shower and a Big Mac prior to my flight from London to Kuwait City. Had my last beer at the airport and boarded with no problems. Another full flight, but still a very pleasant experience. I’ve found my flights on British Airways to be much more accommodating than any flights I’ve had recently on United or American.

Had a surprise as I was boarding. As I’m putting my stuff up into the overhead, I hear, “Dave Gallas!” As I look back I see Will from Red Switch two seats back. He was returning from a debauched leave which included Prague, Amsterdam and Ibiza, Spain. He didn’t waste too much time filling me in on the recent events at Victory. I’d already heard that Basil’s Haji Stand was busted. Apparently, Basil was gathering a bit of info about the camp and drawing maps and supplying the insurgents with all kinds of valuable info. Along with the profits from the pirated videos sold to the soldiers, he was providing money to the insurgents. Innocent vendor by day, insurgent sympathizer by midnight. What a scumbag!

Then I heard about two civilians busted for drinking. I had already received that news by email from friends while still at home, but it is always interesting to see how the stories change over time as they pass from one person to the next. I guess that one case was quietly noted and dealt with while the other gained a bit of attention because the guy passed out in a ditch and was believed to be a heat casualty! Well, they took a blood sample and found the only heat this guy o/d’d from was out of a bottle. They didn’t waste too much time dismissing him.

Yesterday, I had sent off a message to the T3 cell and Tony was at the airport to meet and greet us. I had been so busy trying to pull myself together on the Monday holiday, I had forgotten to send them my information. I was able to send off a message to them from London, but really wasn’t sure whether they would be there or not. Normally, they require a 48 hour notice, so I was fortunate that they were there. Will hadn’t sent email and just expected to pick up the military bus back to Doha, so that saved him some time.

We got back to Camp Doha and picked up Kevelar and vest then manifested to try to get on a flight to Baghdad. So, here I am at Camp Doha for the absolute last time. Everywhere you go on base you see buildings posted with printed signs warning of the impending event. “Effective 30 Jun 2005, this facility will be closed permanently.” The U.S. Army has officially been invited to leave the warehouse complex occupied here since the first Gulf War and the subsequent Liberation of Kuwait from the clutches of Iraq. The shelves in the PX here are getting pretty bare.

Resources have been shifting around for some time now, so it isn’t too much of a surprise. I just wonder how smooth the next trip through Kuwait from Alli As Salem will be when I pass thorough in November. I remember what a mess it was when they closed down Camp Wolverine and shifted everything through Camp Doha.

With any luck, we will get out tonight or first thing tomorrow morning. We got manifested this morning, but didn’t make the 12 pm roll call or the 2 pm roll call.

"Brace Yourself"

31 May 2005

Let me take you back to Kalkar, Germany circa 1985. One of my roommates, Bert is dancing around our huge living room in Berkschestrasse 6 (actually in Bedburg-Hau) to Men Without Hats’ singing their latest song, “Safety Dance.”

Until the day I PCS’d from Kalkar, Bert always called me “Mr. Safety.” Must have been that I had such a wild time during my years in college before I dropped out, that I’d used up about 8 of my 9 lives. Then again, while working for my buddy Bob painting I didn’t earn the nick-name of Dangerous Dave for nothing. Although I got somewhat over my fear of heights and ladders, I never felt comfortable more than six feet or so off the ground! At any rate, somewhere after my youth, I decided that it was time to consider being a tad bit more cautious in how I conducted my life.

Now come on back to London this morning at the Radisson and I’m relaxing and reading a magazine left in the room while soaking in the tub at about 10:30 am before turning in to stave off the jet-lag of the ORD to LHR flight. Business Traveller for May 2005 (www.businesstraveller.com) has this interesting article titled, “Brace Yourself” which I’ve become engrossed in. Author Tom Otley writes that “Frequent flyers all too often ignore the safety demonstrations on board, but a British Airways course shows that most of us have a lot to learn.”

Being quite the frequent flyer as of late, this article naturally piques my curiosity. So please allow me to paraphrase (not plagiarize) and properly give credit where credit is due. I guess what caught my interest is the documented cases cited of past accidents where lives could have been saved if people had taken the time to read the card…AGAIN, and seriously prepare for any emergency. So when you’re traveling next time, take the time to locate your exits, put your reading material away and give your hosts on the airlines your attention. They aren’t reviewing this for their sake.

Page 57 cites “Past Accidents (and the lessons that were learned for passenger safety)

British Airtours, Manchester
On August 22, 1985, a British Airtours Boeing 737-200 with 131 passengers took off from Manchester International Airport. On take off, parts of the engine casing ruptured the fuel tank next to the engine and aviation fuel ignited. The aircraft turned off the runway, but the prevailing wind blew the flames onto the aircraft. A door jammed, two exits were unusable because of the flames and, 60 seconds after the plane stopped, the rear fuselage collapsed. Fifty-five people died.
Lessons Learned: Safety features were changed. Planes now have floor lighting and strong strobe lights by the exits. The design of the aircraft door was changed. Pilots are instructed to stop immediately rather than taxiing off the runway, and the prevailing winds must be taken into account.

British Midland, Kegworth
On January 8, 1989, a British Midland Boeing 737-400 en route from Heathrow to Belfast developed engine trouble. The flight was diverted to East Midlands but crashed a few hundred yards short of the runway, killing 47 people. More than 70 of the passengers survived.
Lessons Learned: The importance of the brace position. Some on board didn’t adopt it and, as a result, fractured their legs on the seat in front (see “The brace position” overleaf)

Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya
In 1996, flight 961 took off from Addis Ababa for a flight to Abidjan via Nairobi, Brazzaville and Lagos. Shortly after entering Kenyan airspace, three men seized the aircraft and demanded to be flown to Australia. Approaching the Comores, off East Africa, the aircraft began to run out of fuel. Not allowed to stop and refuel, the pilot was forced to ditch in the shallow waters off Le Galawa Beach. The left engine and wingtip struck the water, causing the aircraft to break up and crash. There were 125 fatalities; 50 passengers survived.
Lessons Learned: Not to inflate life jackets too early. This was a planned emergency and passengers had donned life jackets, but some inflated while still in the aircreaft, starting a chain reaction. Most of these died on impact because they couldn’t brace, or were unable to escape the aircraft and drowned. Those who inflated after exiting survived. The hijacker in the cabin died, but the captain survived.”

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