Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Riding Sgt B's...um, you figure it out!

31 October 2006

Warning...don't read any further if you're easily offended! Now you can't say that I didn't warn you.

Sgt B was today extolling upon us the virtues of keeping a clean ass. He actually bragged about how clean he keeps his ass. He said that he is sure he has the cleanest ass in the whole unit! He says that he doesn’t want to be embarrassed if he should offer someone a ride in his ass and it was all filthy! Of course, per Army regulations, he insists that you wear a helmet if you’re going to ride his ass…you never know when he might get a wild hair and back up into a tree while you are riding his ass. His ass was inventoried today and he was saying that the Lt had to crawl way up inside it to see the identification tag for accountability. Since his unit is leaving soon, they are about ready to hand his ass off to the new incoming unit.

You can clean up your dirty thoughts now…we were talking about his Mule. It’s a vehicle a little bigger than a golf cart that carries two people with a high flat bed in back. The Army guys affectionately call them their “asses” instead of the brand name of Mule!

Pay Up or Shut Up

28 October 2006

Haven’t really had much to write about lately. We are starting into rainy season so sometimes it’s muddy and sometimes it isn’t till it rains again. Remind me not to book my next trip to Iraq during the wet season!

Now that I’ve been here a bit over three weeks, you’d imagine as I did that I should be maybe a third of the way down the list for a trailer at the KBR housing office. So I stopped in today to find out that I’m still at 140. Which means that 1) KBR isn’t doing room audits to see who have left, 2) Those leaving are passing keys to their replacements so that they don’t have to go through the list and stay in the tents, and 3) Unless you’re flashing a few Benji Franklins, you aren’t going to move up the list very fast!

Yes, I’m shocked too…not! Well, what the heck do you expect from a company that was run by Cheney? Graft permeates everything in this environment. I’m sure if they could find a way, they’d sell condo lots in the Gardens of Babylon, Ur and more Biblical historical sites than you can shake a stick at. KBR must have found Saddam’s Guide to Raping a Country in 10 Easy Steps upon their arrival. Well someone has to do it, don’t they? While the locals are busy killing each other for control, KBR could just palatize everything of worth and send it off under the excuse of preserving it from the inevitable civil war.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A River Runs Through It

25 October 2006

Whooo-hooo! Finally a day off. We’ve been tasked to work six day weeks (forced overtime at base rate since mortars don’t kill people when they’re working overtime, thus danger pay shouldn’t be allowed for forced overtime) due to boneheaded management decisions to send people off for training…instead of taking mission considerations first.

Well, that certainly was a run-on sentence, but I’m thinking that it got my point across. Still, it is nice to be allowed to take a day off...compliments of his Lordship. I slept in a couple of hours till my back screamed for relief from this bent-framed bed with springs popping out of the mattress. Wouldn’t you know it that as soon as I get showered and dressed, the thunderstorm started. Why bother getting showered when you’re just going to get covered head to toe in mud?

I just pulled out the computer and decided to hide from the rain and mud for awhile and check email, read some blogs and see what’s in the news. For a good hour, the rain was coming down till next thing I notice that the floor around my bed is a river. How come everyone else knows you’re living on a flood plain except you during the thunderstorm? Well, I picked up my throw rug and hung it on the wall locker to dry out and picked up the power supply off the floor. Nothing else that I have is on the floor where the water is and things should dry out quickly. Ahhh, the joys of tent life!

Once the rain stopped, I walked down to the coffee shop for some caffeine to get me going. Went to the chow hall and ran into a couple of friends who gave me a lift to the Big PX on Liberty (formerly North Victory). Don’t get too alarmed, I didn’t shop till I dropped. We’re too early in the game to be doing any power-shopping yet! Give me a few months to build up my boredom for that.

The day has been overcast and not too much else is going on around here. The past few nights we have heard some occasional mortars, but nothing near. Ramadan should be over soon and hopefully with it some of the violence going on out there. Time will tell.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

What Ever Happened to So-and-so?

14 October 2006

My return has certainly elicited more craned necks and raised eyebrows than I anticipated. I must have really left with a bang if noone expected to see me here again…or at least so soon after leaving.

The nice thing has been seeing so many familiar faces again. Sad thing has been seeing that so many of people I knew over my last contracts here, have actually left…either for home or for greener pastures here in Iraq. I had asked yesterday specifically about an old friend, So-and-so. Allen gave me an abbreviated answer that I thought may have been embellished for shock value and left it at that.

Tonight, Stevie stopped over to see if the rumors were true that I’d returned. We got to talking and I had to confirm if what Allen had told me about So-and-so were true. Steve was closer to So-and-so than I was, and as it turned out, they have continued to keep in close contact. Unfortunately, the bad news I’d heard was true. When So-and-so got home to Florida at the end of May, he wasn’t met by the loving wife and anxious kids with open arms, but by a cold smiling, no-necked, shark-toothed lawyer bearing divorce paperwork.

Thanks to a full power of attorney, between the time of his happy visit home for the Christmas holiday and May, the old bee-otch sold the house, cleaned out the bank account from the last 18 months in Iraq and left So-and-so up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

Honestly, it kind of gets my undies in a bundle because So-and-so is genuinely a nice person. You can’t spend this much time with a person under the pressures of work and war and not get a good feel for someone. And the clincher is to have seen how happy he was when he came back from the holidays and how good he always spoke of his wife during all the time he has been here. It just isn’t right that this should have happened that way and to him. Although we hear these stories from the military guys all the time; you never expect it to happen within your ranks.

Pablo's Jinx

13 October 2006

Yesterday started off pretty good. Ran into boatloads of people I knew which upon seeing me could only smile and shake their heads. Never say never.

By the end of the day, I had already hit all my old haunts here and had plenty of coffee along with a half-dozen trips to the PX to see if they’d gotten anything new in. My first roomy Scott and I used to joke that you’d have to make at least one trip to the PX each day to see what new item they’d gotten in. No requirements to buy anything, but you certainly had to look around to see if they acquired anything new.

Around 8pm, the wind started to kick up and we had a small dust storm along with some drops. Nothing too terrible, but I’m most certainly going to have to consider emailing my sister to send my knee-high rubber boots sooner than I expected. You know my affection for the mud here!

This morning brought my first day back to the working world since I left in May. I should be excited, but I’m pretty sedate. Maybe it’s the new blood pressure meds kicking in. The job has morphed and changed some…pretty much for the better too. So now I’ve got a bit of new learning to do. The learning curve shouldn’t be too bad though, more of mental adjustment than anything else. Very doable.

A very smooth first day I might add, until Pablo had to utter the words dreaded by all whether superstitious or not on a Friday the 13th: “Wow, this has really been a quite day, hasn’t it?”

Within a half hour of his words we had descend upon us a huge wind and dust storm with rain! The wind was so strong that it tipped over like bowling pins all but one of the six porta potties in our area. Eve would be happy to know that her fave porta pottie (old blue) was like that pesky old ten pin that remained standing after the big blow went through. Now you know to question our sanity when you start to develop pet names for that “special” porta, right? (although, old blue supposedly has a comfy seat that doesn’t pinch…course, that’s only a personally unconfirmed rumor) As if that isn’t bad enough, the sat comm guys were allegedly chasing around one of their dishes that got loose on the roof in the wind. All this and we lost electric.

See what you caused Pablo? I suppose the only way it could have been worse is if a herd of black cats had been released in front of us while walking home tonight. My sinuses have been giving me hell with all this fine dust. With the walls of the tents not all tied down, the air flows very freely through our tent. So as you can guess, with all the wind and dust in the air, I came home to an inch of dust on my trunk, my wall locker and my pillow! Gotta love the desert and army tents. I’m about ready to crawl under the sheets tonight and just relax…dusty pillow, bedding and all.

Back At Victory

11 October 2006

We arrived tonight at around 7 pm on a C130 from Kuwait to Camp Victory. It was very routine and all too familiar to me. For two of my coworkers that are just starting, everything is new and interesting. Unfortunately Starmarie had the experience of losing one of her bags enroute. The military group we traveled with had probably just grabbed it since our bags now needed to conform to military specs and all of our suitcases had to be ditched in Fort Bliss for the issued duffels. We were picked up by the assistant site supervisor, so we followed the military group over to Camp Liberty where they would see if her duffel bag was on that truck. Camp Liberty was on the way back anyway, so it was worth the shot. No luck, but the Sergeant let us know that they had another truck and he would call once they had a chance to check if it got put on that truck. See, even the military has baggage issues.

Dan stopped at the PX for us since we would need to pick up a few odds and ends that aren’t provided once we get to our assigned tents, like linens, pillows, hangers and that type of stuff. What we couldn’t find at the Liberty PX, we made one more attempt to see if it might be available at the little Victory PX. Grabbed a quick bite at Subway and then checked into our trailers.

Although I was tired from all the running around and the funky sleep schedule/jet lag, I had to try to pay a visit to at least one friend that I knew was still here and used to be just around the corner from me when I lived in Dodge North. It was already 10:30, but I had a feeling that Jocelyn was awake. It was really good to see her again and I think I needed a hug and she was just the person to provide that.

She and I talked for about 20 minutes catching up on who was still here and who had left. By that point, we were both ready to call it a night. Although I’m off tomorrow, I’ll stop by the shop and get reacquainted with the area, the people and everything. I can’t really say at this point that I’m “glad” to be back, but running into old friends and coworkers sure does make it feel like home again. Hope I still feel that way in a few months!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Off To Kuwait

08 Oct 2006

All I had to accomplish today was getting my meds squared away on Friday. The military requires 180 day supply prior to departure. I had already been at Walgreen’s last night and they were unable to come up with the 180 day supply even after contacting four other Walgreen’s in El Paso. They could order it, but with the short lead time required there was no way it would arrive before my departure. But it was Don to the rescue on that front. Good thing he has such good connections here.

Checked out of the hotel and returned the car around 2pm and our formation was at 1430. The week had really gone by fast. Our planned departure wasn’t until like 2am on Sat morning, but things got moved up and we actually departed early Friday evening. Before you know it we were on our way to Kuwait via Bangor, Maine and Germany.

It’s now Sunday morning and we’ve lost a day in transit. Touched down in Kuwait at 0400, but it’s not over yet. They still have a couple of formations to put us through and forms to fill out before we were released to our company reps. I’m exhausted and will write more later.

Death By Powerpoint!

05 Oct 2006

Today is known affectionately as “Death by Powerpoint.” Lots of required briefings all presented in convenient little power point presentations.

The JAG lawyer that presented this time was great. Very knowledgeable, very professional and very polished. In my years as a student, I’ve sat through a bunch of different speakers over the years. He was a great speaker and kept the audience involved. The last one in 2004 was so painful that, given the choice, you would have rather had your fingernails removed than listen to him.

These presentations today were the last ones prior to deployment. Today if you have everything together, you are considered qualified and can drink…responsibly…if you want. We were released around noon.

That said, a couple of us wanted to find a laundrymat. Didn’t want to drag dirty clothes with us to Kuwait. We got directions to a laundry nearby only to find it closed when we got there. Drove further up the street and stopped at a dry cleaners to see if another was nearby. We were in luck and it was only a few blocks up and over.

Now you know where there is a laundrymat, there is always a liquor store or a dive bar. Sure enough, as soon as we got the clothes in the washer, we set out to have our first celebratory beverage.

So we’re walking up to this bar in an ancient strip of stores. We walked round the Harley in front of the tattoo shop and up to the steel door. The door has no window and has graffiti that has been partially wiped off, but not completely removed. I’m thinking, what the heck kind of place are we going into? We walk into the door and the place is completely dark. Yep, it’s a dive bar. Couldn’t think of a more appropriate place to celebrate our week of and completion of CRC!

The bartender was a stick of a woman about my age with a friendly Texas drawl. We ordered our drinks and decided to go out to the “Beer Garden” as the sign pointed to the back. We got out there and it was no more a beer garden than the man in the moon. The back yard of our dive bar had a big improvised picnic table was in the center with a trailer in the back, overgrown lawn on the sides and horseshoe stakes off to the side. Small, but a nice yard to enjoy the outside while drinking. Acceptable for what we wanted and the perfect way to spend the wash and spin cycle.

Eric and I ran over to throw our stuff into the dryer and got back to the bar in time for the third round. What a great way to relax and spend the time while the laundry was tumble drying. Tomorrow we have formation in the afternoon. We’ll check out of the hotel and get ready to leave either tomorrow night or Saturday morning sometime.

Day of Reckoning

04 Oct 2006

Got to sleep in today, but had to find breakfast on our own. Medical make-up is today for all of us that had to have our physicals. Yes, I’m still worried. Also receiving our Common Access Cards (CAC). If it is anything like it was before, this should be an all day thing. Last time they had two people processing about 150 and the system was painfully slow.

I got my blood work back, but won’t know till I get to station 7 whether or not I’m physically qualified. Headed over to the medical building and spoke with the PA. She said that my numbers were up, but because I am already on meds and seeing the doc today for stronger meds, I was alright. I’m on my way later today to get the necessary supply for the stay overseas. So that definitely set my mind at ease. Okay, I’m nearly good as gone.

Headed over to bldg 500 to stand in line for a CAC. The process is completely different now. They must have had 8 people processing and it only took about 2 hours to get it done this time.

Headed over to the doc today to get my meds. She increased my dosage and has put me on cholesterol meds as a preventative because of family history. Nothing I wasn’t expecting. I was in range, but I had already discussed with my doc at home about going on cholesterol meds to start bringing things down before it got bad.

Dental and IED Training

03 Oct 2006

Another early day…but we got to sleep in till 0430 with a roll call at 0530. Much of the process has certainly been streamlined since I came through here in 2004. Admittedly, it wasn’t the medical portion, but nearly everything else has been improved. Today was dental screening, but nearly all of us were in order on our dental stuff. So today’s primary concerns were the IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) Training and First Aid testing after the training yesterday.

I have to say that the IED class was much improved and very interesting. Of course, they’ve had time to learn and collect info about how many different IED’s over the past few years, so all the info was very current and very captivating. With so many people having been maimed and killed due to IED’s much emphasis has been placed on training everyone. If you didn’t drop it…don’t pick it up!!!! How many $100 bills or bling-bling do you see laid out in the street? That souvenir you thought might look good on the shelf at home may cost you your arm or your life.

First aid testing was held today. No sweat. We got a lot of good training yesterday along with instruction on things like that Israeli stretchy bandage with the plastic holders and the new tourniquets with the Velcro straps and fixed plastic turning pieces for tightening without risking slippage of the stick used to set the tourniquet. As much as you wouldn’t like to admit it, war does bring many innovations to other fields other than weaponry and tactics.

Medical Screening

02 Oct 2006

Early, early day today. Up at 0330 so that we can make the 0445 muster. You can not be late to these things or you will be pushed back to the next week. There is not time or patience for the Primadonna here.

Started off with roll call and then load the buses for breakfast. Keep in mind that since a group of us still haven’t had our blood work, after breakfast, we can have no more food until after the physical. From there First Aid training and then the forever-long lines at medical screening. To make matters worse, most of us from ITT were told that our physicals would be taken care of once we got to El Paso. Before, they sent me the paperwork and I was able to go to my own doctor. The military was less-than pleased with ITT at this time. Ever feel like you were born into the wrong family? That was how we were feeling about at this point.

So we were instructed to go through as many of the medical stations as we could and we would have to return on Wednesday to requalify at the medical station once we had our blood work and physicals. That also meant tonight that after we got done, Don or Larry would be taking us to the Clinic to accomplish this.

Personally, I’m worried. I know that my blood pressure is still higher than I or my doc likes it and with CRC becoming so tough on standards, this could be a show-stopper for me.

After being pushed back in line by about 100 soldiers who were given priority over us civilians and about a 3.5 hour wait in medical, I finally got through the initial medical process at 1800. So much for fast, efficient and the supposed-priority we were to be given that day at the medical screening. I was already crabby since I hadn’t had anything to eat since breakfast at 0530 and it’s now six in the evening.

We got over to the clinic at about 1900 and I got to see a PA at about 2030. Yes, my bp was high and higher than they or I wanted it, but I’d have to wait till Wednesday to know whether it was still in the acceptable range. Doesn’t help that I have terrible white-coat syndrome and it’s a strange doc poking around. Add to that the stressful environment and knowing that if I don’t pass, I’d have to go home and wait till the bp was brought within range before I could return. No pressure, though.

We got out of the clinic at about 2115 (9:15) and headed over to the small taco place nearby for a very nice home-made type authentic Mexican dinner. Come to find out, I’m not the only one with bp issues and one guy that was getting a prostate exam had an accidental release of biowaste that the doc and nurses aren’t soon to forget! Doh! Who said medical exams can’t be fun! You just don’t want to be too relaxed during them.

CRC Sunday

01 Oct 2006

Don had us filling out forms last night so we had a jump on all the forms that would be filled out over the upcoming week. Three of us decided it was time to move to a hotel, so I rented a car and called to Microtel to inquire about available rooms. With that confirmed, we were comfortably at the Microtel outside of Robt E Lee gate and only a 5 to 10 minute drive from our formations at 503.

Sunday night also brought the Welcome Brief of the commander and kicked off the CRC frenzy. Tomorrow is going to start the whole hectic week of briefs, medical, dental, and a myriad of headaches.

A State of Bliss?

30 Sep 2006

You would think that it gets easier to leave after having done it so many times, but that’s not the case. I’ve had four months to get used to life at home. If anything, it makes me question what little sanity I thought I had left.

The usual airport thing. Nearly missed the connection though Dallas, but thanks to the new rail system at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, it all came together well. They’ve really changed that airport for the better making O’Hare look like my first impressions of Newark back in 1988! If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Newark was an armpit back then…vintage 1940, looking and feeling every last year of it too. O'Hare is tired and needs a little modernizing.

Five of us met the ITT rep at the El Paso airport. He took us to Fort Bliss and got us checked into the CRC building. Civilians now are in 504 which I was hoping was in better shape than 503 2.5 years ago when I went through this process for the first time.

Why I expected things to change is beyond me. Building 504 was every bit as much of a toilet as 503 was back in January of 2004. Same barracks atmosphere, but now I was going through the process in the Fall and it is still hot here. No A/C meant that the windows are all open with a few heavy duty fans blowing around the stagnant 95 degree air like a convection oven circulates air to more evenly distribute the heat in the oven.

We got our linen issue. Good thing I brought my own pillow with, the one issued smelled like someone puked in it even after it was washed! Before going to the PX for locks for the lockers, I needed to make the dreaded bathroom break. Nothing again changed there. One urnal kept flushing on its own out of three stalls, one had no water, one was filled to the brim and out of order and the last had no toilet paper! The wiser decision was to wait to take care of business until a cleaner venue was found.

But I had decided I would really give it a chance before making the decision to move to a hotel. Back in Jan of 2004, four of us only needed to take one look at the barracks to decide to move to the Bliss Inn.

Night came and most of us settled in, but the stifling heat and no A/C or airflow made it difficult to sleep. Not to mention that just as I’d drop off to sleep, someone would slam a locker or switch on a light. I think the decision was nearly made that tomorrow would find me in a hotel.

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