Thursday, August 18, 2005

This Heat Goes On, And On, And On, And On

18 August 2005

Nothing too much doin' over the past week or so. Temps have stayed pretty steady in the 120's with no rain in sight. I kind of played with an old Kings song for my title today; only a few people would notice, but only if you are familiar with their song, "This Beat Goes On/Switchin to Glide". One hit wonder from 1980, I think.

An interesting thing did happen to me when I was running out at Lost Lake this morning. I'm finishing off the last quarter mile and almost to the wall before getting over to the trailers. All morning there had been quite a bit of gun-fire going on outside the base, but I didn't think anything of it. It is actually less startling than incoming mortars, so you really don't pay much attention to it. Besides, on any given morning, you hear gunfire from the range over at Camp Slayer or outside the walls north of the base where I think there is another gun range (or maybe that's Sadr City, who knows?)

So as I'm passing this open field on both sides before I get to the wall by the trailer parks, out of the blue I hear a few things "whizzing" and twittering through the air. They weren't like any dragonflies I've heard before! I don't have any idea how close one has to be to bullets traveling through the air to hear them "whizzing" and twittering by one's ear, but they were close enough this morning. I looked at the Marine that was walking across the street and just commented, "I heard that!" If you've heard it, it's already too late to hit the ground. Probably just some stray fire having ricocheted off something or another. And NO!, I'm not going to start wearing my helmet to go out running!

I do have to say however, that Hollywood definitely got the sound right. It sounded just like I remembered in the Omaha Beach scene in Saving Private Ryan. That is probably the only reason I knew what it was as soon as I heard it. I've never heard that sound before in real life. Just when you think life is becoming mundane...

When I moved into my trailer here in North Dodge, I knew that it was one of the new trailers I was moving into...and that it was new for a reason. You know, the old Sesame Street jingle? "one of things is not like the others...." If that didn't give it away, the shrapnel markings in the concrete walls around the trailer should be enough to give it away. But, if you're still not following me here, it was new because it was one of those that had been hit during the previous year by mortars or by shrapnel.

I knew that I was moving into "Mortar Alley" as we affectionately call it. Didn't need any street signs to broadcast that one. Talking with my neighbor, I found out why my door takes some jimmying to get open. Apparently, after this new trailer was set in place and we had all that rain this last Spring, the trailer started to sink on one end. The aluminum edging on the top buckled some and his door didn't open at all at one point. Finally, KBR raised the end up to level things out.

But seriously, the location isn't too bad now. Life is and has been quiet. What more could you want than the unobstructed view we have of the field of maybe ten or so "black water" tanks? Life is good. In case you don't know; black water tanks are like giant, steel, above ground septic storage tanks. They are dug into the ground probably about six or eight feet with eight feet more above ground. The sucker-trucks come and suck them dry every couple of days or so. It's a pleasent experience to be around when that is in progress. :p

But then again, if you really want to see something horrifying, step into the chow hall for midnight chow! I can't believe they try to convince us that this stuff is edible. It's like they dug this crap out of the garbage from earlier in the evening and slop it into big containers to dish out to us at midnight to see if we'll notice what crap it really is. Breakfast is probably the best meal of the day. They haven't seemed to find a way (yet) to cause too much damage to eggs, cereal or fresh fruit. Although they do try to redeem themselves once a week like today when we had seafood at evening chow. The lobster tails and steaks don't usually suck (unless they overboil the steaks or cook them so long that they look like boot leather!)

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mother of all Sandstorms

08 August 05

Well, the week started out slow. But the last few days have been busy around here. Everything seemed to start into high gear when some E-6 thought that we reported to him and the ITT civilians were his for whatever abuse he chose to dole out. His verbal exchanges and accusations were not well received on my end. I let his captain and my manager know what went on and it was elevated to his major. The skinny on the whole situation is that we don't report to him, he doesn't make demands of us and he especially doesn't talk to us in the tone he spoke to me in on Friday night (and subsequently on Saturday night). As a civilian working for the military, our rank is estimated to be around that of a captain. So this NCO was way out of line. Bottom line: Don't piss me off. I have a very sharp tongue on paper. Dad did teach me that a few well written words go a long, long way in getting results!

Don't know if you saw it in the news, but we had quite the sandstorm last night and this morning. We've had sandstorms here before, but this was probably the worst that I've seen. The dirt started blowing up at around midnight on our way back from midnight chow. We should have expected something because earlier in the day, one of our sites to the south was reporting issues with "inclement weather."

As the early morning progressed, the winds started to pick up and the dust started to get thicker. By the time we were ready to go to morning chow at 5:30 am, the sandstorm was in full thrust. Once I got back to the palace from the chow hall, my hair looked all gray and was stiff as a board from all the dirt.

Visibility was down to about 200 feet. Looks very similar to a thick fog except that it leaves a coating of Sakrete-like dirt all over everything. The rotunda in the palace had something like a cloud of dust hanging in the air as did the chow hall. This dirt blows into every crack and crevice you can imagine. Outside, the light shining through the dirt glows a funky blue for flourescent lighting and any other ambiant lighting, amber. Once sunrise hit, the color of the sky (or what little you could see) glowed in amber and orange.

I rode my bike back to the trailer, but visibility was still only about 150 feet by 8 am. This dirt is so fine and it plays hell with your sinus' and your lungs. I had to take a shower before going to bed. There was no way that I could get into bed with all that dirt imbedded in my skin and scalp. Washing my hair and body, the water flowed off my body in a brown river. I had to use two q-tips to get all the dirt out of my ears! You could have just about grown potatos in my ears with all the amber dirt that were in them.

By the time I woke up tonight, the wind died down and the storm had calmed down. As I rubbed my eyes when I woke up, I had crusties all along the whole length of the insides of my eyelids from all the dust I'd been in earlier this morning. Wonder if I'll be hacking up a lung with the dirt I breathed in too. We'll see.

We have had many more sandstorms this year than last. I think that last summer, we only had one real sandstorm whereas this summer I think we've had at least four or five. The only advantage to the sandstorm today was that it kept temps lower. This morning when I got back to the trailer, it was probably only about 85 degrees. Normally, by this time of the morning, we are at about 95.

Just sitting here at the computer tonight watching CNN. They are running a story on the sandstorm here. It MUST be news if it's on CNN, right?

Monday, August 01, 2005

"New Amsterdam State of Mind"

31 July 2005

I’ve been thinking about writing, but it seems like nothing has really been going on. Then I started to think about it and things actually have been happening over the past week or so. We have been hearing/seeing a few mortars again. There is a greeting card in the PX that depicts two soldiers who have been here for a while talking to one another on the front and standing around. In the background are mortars flying and exploding. In the foreground are two other soldiers curled up in a ball next to some sandbags and wincing. The one standing soldier says to the other, “You can always tell who the new guys are.”

It’s like that here. You get to accepting the incoming mortars as commonplace as a planes flying overhead back home. My biggest worry on Monday when they hit near the highway was whether the impact was going to spill my coffee that I just got at the Green Bean Coffee shop. Another four mortars came sailing in on Friday morning. It’s not that we don’t take the mortars seriously; it’s just that they have become part of everyday life. If you heard the explosion, you’ve got nothing to worry about...guess you get to eat chow hall food for another day! Don’t worry…Be happy.

Actually, we’ve been kind of hoping for some noise lately as our management team is in from Kuwait and we really wouldn’t want to sent them back south without a little celebratory fan-fair, now would we?

I’m still making my way through the Bewitched first season. It is actually surprising to see all the “up and coming” stars that were in these old shows. “Marcia” from the Brady Bunch has a bit part in one episode. I’m watching another one and as I used to be a huge “Leave it to Beaver” fan as a kid, I saw someone that looked like Jerry Mathers. Turns out to be Jimmy Mathers; must be his brother as the similarity is too much. June Lockart and the kid from “Lost in Space” were in a couple of other episodes. Still waiting to see “Uncle Arthur” Paul Lind. Aunt Clara is always good for a laugh too. Love how she walks into walls trying to walk through them.

Yesterday, I finally watched a loaned movie that was recommended to me. It is a German flick called Gloomy Sunday. It was a bit mellow dramatic, but still interesting to watch. It is always interesting for me to watch a movie in German and see how accurate the subtitles in English are. Europa, Europa was another great WWII-era movie that was in German, Russian and Polish.

Finished an interesting book called “The Island at the Center of the World; The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony that Shaped America” (how's that for a short title?) by Russell Shorto (I'm surprised he had room for his name on the cover with as long as the title was!) First off, I have always loved history. Secondly, when I was stationed in Germany (1984-87), and when I went home on leave, everyone would ask if (with all the Americans with German ancestry) if the Germans or the English were most like the Americans. I always said neither.

After making friends with my Dutch friends Roland and Angelique and their families from Nijmegen, Netherlands and after getting to know the Dutch culture more; I always felt that culturally, politically, personally, that the Dutch were much more like us Americans than any other Europeans I’d met. Surprisingly, this is kind of what the book supports.

So when I read the reviews in the New York Times, I knew that I would have to read this book. With all the newfound old documents that are still being translated from Old Dutch in the New York Library, seems like more of the old history of New Amsterdam, Fort Orange (Albany) and all the surrounding Dutch towns and its inhabitants will be revealed soon.

The book covers everything from the Dutch multicultural/multilingual acceptance, to Dutch foods that we have considered American (i.e. cookies and cole slaw), to all the names we thought were American/English but were really Dutch derived (Yonkers, Brooklyn, Harlem, Bronx, the Bowery, Wall Street); even the Dutch freedom to practice or not practice religion (unlike their pious northerly and southerly English zealot neighbors in Mass. and in VA.) The Dutch zeal for free trade certainly set the example for how to get things done in the New World; mattering not whether this city was known under the Dutch OR the English moniker. Cuz even when the Brits took it over, they only changed the name. They didn't change a thing concerning the operations of this trading hub. Although Gov Stuyvesant was recalled to A'dam at the turnover to the Brits, he returned to Manhattan to live out the rest of his life.

Jumping back to the future; we were walking up to the palace from building 9 tonight and off in the distance before we got to the checkpoint and moat, we could hear music. It wasn’t like the religious chants usually blaring from the mosques in the area. As we got closer to the palace, we could see the kilted bagpiper complete with full headgear standing on the very edge of the second story veranda facing east with his set of bagpipes squealing over the “Iraqi moors.” As we passed through the turn styles of the checkpoint, the sound of the pipes very clearly were playing “Amazing Grace” out across the moat. Kind of a surreal moment. You just don’t expect to see a site like that in Iraq, now do you?

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