Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Should Have Listened to Omar

17 November 2005

This week, Omar the Magnificent (or one of those astrological writers) wrote that I shouldn’t travel on the 16th, 17th, 18th; or if I did, to keep my cool and prepare for many unexpected delays. Additionally, he warned me that with patience, it will work out. Well, I couldn’t wait for Omar the Magnificent to give me a good horoscope before making my way home, so I took the chance anyway.

Naturally, Omar was right from the get-go. Tuesday night before my intended departure out of beautiful Baghdad, we had lightening and rain storms. I think someone up there (^, you know what I mean) wanted to remind me how much I hate the mud here and that I’d better make the best of my two weeks or so away from it. Probably ¾ inches of rain and enough mud created to last for days.

Wednesday morning, I then called into the airport to find out when my “show time” was for my flight. The 1230 show time didn’t leave me but a couple of hours to finish packing and take a shower. I met Roland at building 9 and we were soon on our way to BIAP.

I happened to see Josh, one of my former coworkers from the TCF waiting there. He was scheduled on the same CPA flight as me since both the C130 flights were cancelled and the first CPA flight was cancelled. To make matters all the more interesting, the one last C17 flight was delayed for an unspecified amount of time since it hadn’t left Al Udeid, Qatar. I initially had left, but got turned around after being struck by lightening. Are we beginning to wonder if Omar had it out for me yet?

Fortunately, (with no raspberries to Omar since I’m not going to tempt fate any more than I must at this point) the C17 took off without a hitch at 2030 and we were at Ali As Salem by 2200. Unfortunately, by the time we got over to the LSA (processing center) and got our bags, etc, it was already 2300 and the last bus for the commercial airport at Kuwait International had already left!

Josh called one of our T3 guys on Arifjan and he was enroute to pick us up and try to get us to the airport on time. My ticket wasn’t till Friday morning, but I was going to try to jump an earlier flight if possible. Although Josh’s flight didn’t depart till 0130, he wasn’t early enough and they’d given his seat away. He is trying to get home to see his newborn son that his wife just delivered on Tuesday. With some finagling, the airport people were able to get him on a flight to Athens, A’dam and to Phoenix a few hours later than his original flight, but much sooner than if he’d of had to wait till tonight for a flight.

Unfortunately for me, my LH flight was also overbooked and there was no chance of hitching an earlier flight. Off to Arifjan with me! We arrived back at Arifjan which is about an hour south of the airport about 0200. After having not slept in 36 hours, I joyfully crashed once back to a nice bunk in the new ITT “Hilton” in 1465. This new base is kinda nice after remembering how old and dirty the old ITT Hilton was in its converted garage location on Camp Doha.

Woke up this morning early (don’t know how bright I was feeling on only five hours or so of sleep) at 0830. Headed over to Starbuck’s. Woo-hoo!!!! After drinking that mop water swill disguised as coffee from the Green Beans coffee shop on Victory, I am overwhelmed to tears…okay, I exaggerate but a little, but real Starbuck’s really tickles the old abused taste buds after five months without.

Did some shopping at the PX, ate lunch at the food mall here on Arifjan and generally am just hanging out now waiting for tonight when three of us will be driven up to the airport for our flights out to the real world. As I’ve said before, it isn’t so much the traveling that I mind as it is the delays and hassles of getting from point A to point B here in the Southeast Asian theater.

Looking forward to visiting friends in Germany before heading home for two weeks in beautiful downtown Sycamore. Although I’ve already missed Pumpkin Fest by a month, I am still looking forward to my sleepy little adopted hometown. The sad fact is that I’ve lived in trailers and tents on Camp Victory longer than I’ve lived in my new home. But I do appreciate my own bed and a private toilet and a private shower and my family and friends and my doggie. I’ll write more later.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Fortune Cookie With No Fortune

13 November 2005

After yesterdays’ announcement concerning the news of our poor broken and beloved truck now being reduced to junk, we were anxious for daybreak so that we could see with our own peepers the extent of the carnage. The truck had been retrieved from the highway where it was mortally wounded (and barely saved from being stripped down by the locals) and deposited back in our parking area for everyone to oogle.

I think that Michael put it best when he summed up our viewing as “going out and having a really great Chinese dinner, getting the fortune cookie, but when you open it up, there is no fortune.” Well, that’s about how anticlimactic the dead-truck viewing was.

Maybe part of it has to do with our expectation of walking up and seeing a Bonnie-and-Clyde-bullet-riddled-hulk with no windows left in it. In fact, it wasn’t that way at all. Walking around the front of the truck we saw about eight well-placed holes in the bumper and in the grill which made their mark on the radiator and engine. Looks like the shooters’ only intent was to disable the vehicle, not the passenger. As well-placed as their shots were, if they wanted to, I’m sure they could have taken the driver out of commission too.

One of the bullets careened off the front edge of the hood, pealing back an inch of paint and leaving an indent in the now-fresh metal, but not penetrating the hood. Both tires were nothing but rims with rubber strips and some of the belts sticking out off them. One bullet did penetrate the cab traveling through the side passenger door going through the passenger seat-back, through the back seat and coming to rest in the truck bed after it hit the hatch. We heard that another bullet came up through the cab a couple inches from the drivers’ knee. And that’s it! Like I said earlier, very anticlimactic.

When I was out running this morning, I saw a flat-bed truck roll past me with a GMC Jimmy on the back of it. The entire passenger side was strafed with various sized craters and its windows cracked and broken. After having been over here long enough, it is easily recognized as bearing all the typical markings of a vehicle caught in the middle of a mortar attack. I was thinking that the damage we saw from that is more like what we expected when we went to see our truck. When viewing both vehicles the first thing that comes to mind is the hope that the driver of the vehicle that just rolled past me was as fortunate as our driver had been. No injuries but one hell of a great story to tell the folks back home (and I’m not talking about the changing of your underwear-story after the event)!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bad Things Happen in Threes

“Crap, I just spilled the coffee all over the passenger seat. *That’s* gonna leave a mark!” No use in trying to clean up the coffee at this point, it's all soaked into the seat and it's dark outside and I can't find any papertowel or napkins to soak up what remains. It didn’t help matters any that I parked in an area marked for military police AND an MP just came up to chase me out of there. Guess I was lucky he didn’t issue me a ticket.

Wednesday, Alex had the vehicle and was over by the coffee shop when he got pulled over by the MP’s. “Get back in your vehicle!”, blared over the MP loudspeaker. When he does, the MP comes over to him and advises him he was speeding. “Did you know that you were going 8 mph in a 5 mph zone, sir?”

I know, you’re thinking at this point that the damned vehicle idles at about 8 mph and the average walker probably walks at about 4 mph! This should enlighten you somewhat to the term “military intelligence.” It's almost amazing that no speeding tickets have been issued to joggers in this 5 mph speed zone!

But, today was the topper. One of our new employees that just got up here from Kuwait about three weeks ago took the truck over to Slayer to go over to the PX. On his way back, he took a wrong turn and ended up on the Highway to Hell. Personally, I would have been suspicious as soon as I was weaving through barricades and saw the open highway that I hadn’t seen on the drive over there. But I guess the new surroundings didn’t raise any of his suspicions. Finally, it hit him that he was headed the wrong way.

Sounds like the U turn and his fast acceleration back toward the guard shack raised immediate suspicions with the MP’s though. They fired one warning shot and when he was still accelerating toward the gate, they started pumping shots into our beloved truck. He finally stopped the vehicle, got out and was waving his ID over his head shouting that he was an American.

In hindsight, I guess I really didn’t need to feel bad or lose any sleep over having spilled coffee on the seat the other day, huh? I’m sure that the (to put it in "olestra" terms) leaky bowel stain on the driver’s side of the seat has left a bigger mark!

Alex is telling me that I’m going to need to find another way to BIAP next week when I go on leave. He duly noted that the radiator on our truck is shot to hell!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Dave's Reading Club

09 November 2005

Well, okay, it may not be as popular and "feel good" as Oprah's Book Club, but it can make for some good reading. First note should be that "Jarhead" has opened in the theaters. I didn't even know that the book was being turned into a movie! I talked about this book about a year ago. Hopefully, the movie isn't too watered down or strays too far from the mood and presentation of the book.

No sooner did I finish Caleb Carr's "Angel of Darkness" I started (and finished this morning) Mirta Ojito's autobiographical escape from Cuba, "Finding Manana". I guess what interested me in this book when I picked it up was the whole subject of the Mariel Boatlift back in 1980.

Long before the Mariel Boatlift, back in 7th grade in 1973 our English teacher, Mrs. Olsen had her hairdresser come in to speak to the class. This woman told us her story of her and her husband escaping Cuba in the 1960's, but having to leave their son behind with her mother. Both were very educated professionals back in Cuba, but once they left, they were forced to take jobs way below their capabilities in order to get established in the U.S. They had always hoped and prayed that their son would be able to join them, but Fidel was not about to let a potential soldier leave the island before he gave the Revolution proper consideration. After reading this book, it makes me wonder if the hairdresser's poor son didn't end up as a "military advisor" or such in Angola; as this was a very common assignment.

Thinking back to this speaker and remembering the flood of refugees that came into Florida in 1980 when I was sitting in my college dorm room and watching the news between classes, made me want to know more...better understand. What could make people so desperate that they would leave family behind, attempt to escape in boats so unseaworthy?

Surprisingly, in a few parts this book really gets deep into the political process in Cuba and the Cuban community in Miami. I expected it was going to be more "feel-good" and less political. This isn't a bad thing. When you get down to the whole Cuba thing, it is still a completely political issue. If the question was ever one of being a "humanitarian" issue, normal trade would have been restored with Cuba much earlier than...oh, that's right; trade between the U.S. and Cuba is still restricted to only medical and basic food items.

If the embargo was to starve Fidel until he cries Uncle, the nearly 50 year old embargo has not worked. The only people that the embargo has hurt is the poor. At some point when Communism ruled, it was a convincing argument. No that Castro stands alone with Chavez, we need to find some acceptable medium. Life is too short. Castro is old and Havana needs some capitalist infusion to restore it to its former grandeur. Havana needs to be restored to its old Ricky Ricardo days. "Baba-looooooo!"

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