Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

23 November 2006

Happy Thanksgiving to all. I want to present a song which always reminded me of Thanksgiving from the musical Godspell…yes, another opportunity for you to climb into the wayback machine back to 1973!

All Good Gifts

We plow the fields and scatter
The good seed on the land
But it is fed and watered
By God’s almighty hand.

He sends the snow in winter
The warmth to swell the grain
The breezes and the sunshine
And soft refreshing rain…

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above,
So thank the Lord,
Oh thank the Lord
For all his love…

We thank thee then, O Father
For all things bright and good…
The seedtime and the harvest,
Our life, our health, our food,

No gifts have we to offer
For all thy love imparts
But that which thou desirest,
Our humble thankful hearts!

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above…
So thank the Lord,
Oh thank the Lord
For all His love…

I really want to thank you Lord!

- Godspell 1973

Thanksgiving Friday

24 November 2006

Hope all had a great Thanksgiving. The chow halls here did a great lunch for the holiday. Don’t know if you saw it, but Fox News was broadcasting from one chow hall here on Victory.

I went down to catch the turkey dinner only to find the line to get in wrapped around the parking lot all the way to the gym. At that point, I realized what hype this all really is. I’m not standing in line for 30 minutes to not find a place to sit down and be elbow to elbow with everyone else. It’s different if you’re elbow to elbow with your family around the big table at home, but I’m not up for being elbow to elbow with 500 strangers in the chow hall.

Having been through this before, I figured that they will have all the leftovers at dinner tonight and I could skip the lines now in favor of a more comfortable meal at 1730 when all the people who stuffed themselves earlier wouldn’t want to eat till 2000 or so.

So I took myself over to the Pizza Hut trailer and got me a smoked turkey sandwich. They have sandwiches at our Pizza Huts here that are great. It is a 12 inch skinny italian type roll that is baked just to make it crispy and they melt the cheese and warm the meat right into it when it runs through the oven. Top that with some mayo, lettuce tomato and sliced black olives and it’s a sandwich. It filled the void, I enjoyed it and I didn’t even have to wait in line for 30 minutes or look for an open seat in the middle of 500 strangers.

That evening, as predicted, they did still have the leftover cold shrimp with cocktail sauce, turkey roll, stuffing, and all the rest of the good stuff. And yep, even got some pumpkin pie with the whipped cream.

After Dad moved to AZ, the three of us kids and Mom used to get together for Thanksgiving, but never on Thursday. With me working in telecom, I usually had to work on Thursday. Mom worked at the nursing home, so she usually worked on the holiday too. So for us, Thanksgiving was usually on the Friday or Saturday…whenever we could schedule it. Didn’t make us any less thankful for what we had. Maybe more thankful that we could all still be together and have one another’s company.

Now with Mom and Dad both passed on, Mark and me out of country, we don’t often have too many chances to get the all of us together for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I think now that our Thanksgiving celebrations are recognized whenever we can get the group of us together in one place anymore. Thanksgiving Day has become more a place marker for the start of the Christmas shopping season…the unofficial starting line for the bigger snowfalls in Chicago. I must be getting old. I’m more reminiscent now and kind of pining for the simpler and more traditional times.

Sleepwalking Through LIfe

17 November 2006

Events over the last week have certainly changed things some. The last Sunday, the first ITT person to be KIA here in theater happened at a site north of here compliments of a rocket attack. It came as quite a surprise to people here, but oddly enough, the corporate reaction to this death in the ITT “family” was treated about as coldly as the proverbial burial at sea your goldfish got when you were growing up! For as much of an outpouring of feeling as management made about Barb’s passing, we were certainly under whelmed with their near denial to one of our own here in Iraq “purchasing the farm” so to speak.

It only convinces me more that we contractors are only considered as disposable as paper towel to this company. Their words have always said, “Oh, no…we respect you as people and dedicated professionals,” but their actions have spoken far louder what is in their hearts. As soon as Barb passed, management tripped all over themselves to send her family their heartfelt condolences complete with forwarding email to express our feelings to her and her family prior to her passing. Don’t get me wrong, I really cared about Barb. Even though I don’t know Mr. X from Adam, that shouldn’t count him out as far as giving his family our full support and such.

This Wednesday night as I was walking home from work, I heard that familiar “whoosh” overhead. About a mile away, the rocket impacted. Count to ten and see if there are more. “Whoosh, boom.” Another minute, one more. This time I saw sparks fly and smoke start to rise in the moonlit distance. Two minutes later, one more, but it ended up sounding like a cigarette butt extinguished in a cup of water as it must have landed in one of the lakes or deep gullies here. Extent of damage was one Humvee lost. That must have been the sparks I saw off in the distance.

Did I really miss this in the four months back home? Not on your life. I’m not scared or afraid, I just miss the solitude and peace of mind of home. Maybe I’m bored with life. Am I sleepwalking through life again? I remember telling Jeannie after we just received our MBA that I needed to find something that challenged me at the “cellular” level...(And I wasn’t speaking about telephones!) Down to my very inner core.

Six years of college while working full time was that kind of challenge, but then it was over after two degrees. I’m looking for that next inner challenge to conquer. You know, like I felt during my 20 months in Antarctica. Like the one that I found during the 2.5 years I was here in Iraq for the first two contracts. Seems like the excitement or challenge of this environment has lost its shine. I think that inside I’m already searching for that next challenge.

Until then, I sleepwalk through time…oblivious to the rockets or mortars flying overhead. Oblivious to boneheaded management decisions that keep coming, which used to play in my head like raunchy sappy music hits from the 1970’s. Oblivious to my not moving up on the KBR tent list for a trailer sometime in the next six months. Oblivious to the Groundhog Day existence that defines this place. This is so yesterday’s challenge…been there, done that! Where too next?


15 Nov 2006

My last images of Barb in my mind were those in the Kuwait Hilton just as Mary, Mike and I had left the restaurant and we ran into her, Ken and Jim. It was such a pleasant surprise to see her…but not such a pleasant surprise to run into the rest of the unscrupulous crowd she was hanging with at the time.

Being the point blank person she was, Barb directly asked me why I had decided to leave at the end of contract. I really didn’t want to answer in front of Jim and Ken, but I gave her the honest answer that she asked for and deserved. You see, Barb and I had developed an honest relationship when I trained under her wonderful tutelage in Qatar back in April/May of 2004. After our roughly 20 days together, I found her to be brutally honest, passionate about her work and constructively open to whatever needed to be discussed. You can’t fix it if you don’t know what the problem is.

After I walked away from Barb that day in May of 2006, I only got around the corner before my emotions caught up with me. Mary and Michael came back over to console me in the long hallway of shops and asked what Jim (they thought that the project manager had chewed me a new one) said to me! I was laughing my ass off inside, but replied to them that it wasn’t anything HE said, it was my sadness deep down that I wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to work with or for Barb again. When I left the contract in May, my resolve was that I’d never come back…ever! At this point and time, I was sure that I was losing a friend for good. I was just sad.

Now if you’ll kindly climb back into the way-back machine with me, I’ll take you back to April of 2004. The country manager at the time decided that we needed to initiate ISO9000 and QC to the Iraq theater. I was asked by Phil our site lead if I was interested. I was told to vacate my tent and take everything with me to Qatar. They supposedly had no idea how long I’d be there. When I arrived, the two guys that picked me up commented that I’d packed a little heavy for a 9 day temporary duty!

Should have known right from the start that this was a boondoggle, right? So I meet Barb the ISO9000 and QC goddess and she advises me that Joe came to her and was all ready to get ISO9000 and QC programs going in Iraq. My first impressions were that this did not at all sound like the country manager Joe that I know. So I told Barb my impressions and said that it sounds like lip service. Send someone there, get back to Iraq and then pencil whip the stuff the front office wants to see till the entire Middle East runs out of lead in their pencils!

Barb said that she hoped that wasn’t the situation, but she’d take my opinion into consideration. However, we still had plenty of work to do to get me into shape to start pulling this program together. The next two weeks, I was exposed to all different types of meetings and inspections and pre-inspections. More than you could ever believe.

Barb’s candor, dedication and people skills rendered everyone she met, defenseless. She was by no means derogatory, insensitive or cruel. She knew her job and she needed to make sure that people took her seriously. She gave respect to the people that worked with her and the people that she was inspecting and in return, she was provided the utmost respect.

It wasn’t all work. Barb and I had time to get to know one another in our trips around the city of Doha, Qatar and during the day. She was about my Mom’s age and I was probably about her kids’ age. We both were very well traveled and loved living overseas. Even after her husband passed away of a heart attack while they were living in Turkey, she and the kids stayed overseas. She adored Turkey and had a house there. I’m sure that is where she would retire one day if she was one that would ever retire!

Long story, less long. I got back to Iraq, performed my first inspection and wrote up my first report only to get blown out of the water by Joe, the country manager. “Don’t you EVER send up a report to the ISO QC manager without letting me review it first!” Correct me if I’m wrong, but the inspection is supposed to go to the ISO manager so that she can identify what actions are required to correct the deficiencies.

I called Barb and as nice as I could, told her “I told you so!” She only laughed and said that she would take it from here. She loved challenges and knew that fighting with Joe was going to be an interesting one. Because of the challenges of getting into Iraq and the lack of safety at the time in 2004 and 2005, many of the QC issues had the timeline pushed out some.

As luck would have it, that opportunity came this summer. Barb was flying all over Iraq this summer to inspect and institute ISO9000 and QC at all the sites. I understand that the flak vest and helmets fit her something like Bugs Bunny in uniform when he tried to volunteer for service in the Army. But being the trooper that she was, she enthusiastically boarded one helo after another to get to all the sites. It’s just who she was and her “go get ‘em” attitude.

Around the end of September beginning of October, I was on my way back to Iraq…even after I said that I’d never go back! My first thought when I knew we were headed to Arifjan in Kuwait was that I’d finally have the chance to see Barb again. Seems like every time I’ve passed through Kuwait, I’ve missed her. Sure enough, I missed her again. She was on vacation back to the States to see her kids.

What I hadn’t found out until the beginning of November was that Barb was sick. While she was Stateside, she fell ill and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in the final stages. The cancer had metastasized and she had scarce few days left.

Barb passed away on Tuesday of last week. Little did I know back in May that indeed, that would be the last time I’d hug and enjoy discussion with a woman that I was proud to know and count as a mentor to me not only in the lessons of ISO and QC, but in life.

We have lost a beautiful woman who loved life and knew how to live it to the fullest. I can only hope that she has taught me that I need to treat every day as it may be my last and to not be afraid to be brutally honest. Better to have someone dislike you for your honesty than to have them hate you for your deceit and lies.

May God bless and comfort her family in this, their time of loss.

The Mating Habits of Zebras in Tanzania

10 November 2006

Job’s going well. Working some overtime too and the weather has been so-so. Some rain falls into our lives every so often, but now it’s just getting cooler out. We had to have KBR come over and switch on the heat. I was so cold the one night that I finally broke down and bought a mink blanket to go over the thin blanket and sheet that I have on the bed now.

I’ve about finished my Christmas shopping too. I’ve done some shopping here at the PX and Bazarre, but all the nephews and nieces probably have one of everything from there already! Nothing is original anymore for them. I’ve also done a bunch of shopping on Amazon. What Christmas is complete without a few new books? Deb and I insist on buying books for the kids. I think it comes from having parents that never believed in having any kids books around the house. They both read books, but we never had any books appropriate for our interests, age, etc.

One of my favorite books I bought for my niece last year was “A Thousand Places to See Before You Die.” In it, I collected a bunch of old post cards and pictures I have received back that I had sent to my Grandmothers and Mom when I was in the Air Force or just traveling around the country. Mom always loved seeing post cards from whatever city or country I was in. So I collected those old cards and filed them in the appropriate chapter for that city and country. Then I got post cards and pictures from my sister Deb and brother-in-law Mark’s travels and placed those in the appropriate country and city pages. The book about doubled in size, but I felt that this kind of allowed our niece a taste of our travels around the world in a unique way.

Growing up, my older sister (two years younger than me, but older than my younger sister) and I used to constantly look through a shoebox full of old 1940’s postcard that our Great Grandparents had in the basement. Really cool post cards from Naples, FL and South Florida, Wyoming and all over Colorado just to name a few of the places. Maybe Mom’s and my love of postcards originates from those old post cards…which I still have tucked away in a shoebox in the closet at home.

Not to change the subject, but we had the work meeting from hell tonight. Now I’m not saying that group meetings aren’t or can’t be constructive, but when they get hijacked and so far off track, it accomplishes nothing. One moment our lead is discussing establishing pst files on the server for us to dump our work files and info into and the next thing you know is that we took that wrong turn at Albuquerque like Bugs Bunny and we might as well be talking about the mating habit of zebras in Tanzania.

It just made me appreciate my MBA days all that much more. Our MBA group (aka TMC squared aka Tuesday Night Martini Club squared…because you never have only one martini!) had a designated moderator. Every Tuesday night a different team member was chosen to send out the itinerary for our meeting and was responsible for keeping the extraneous conversation to a minimum thus keeping us on track so that we could finish our homework, test preparation and projects sooner…thus getting us to Rock Bottom sooner to wash away our misery with the refreshment of choice as full time workers and part time students in the EMBA program.

My point being that next time, Robby will need someone to moderate and keep things on track. I nearly fell asleep on my feet with some of the tangents the conversation took. Nice suggestions and points, but it really could be accomplished in a more concise fashion. Speaking of which, seeing the zebras in Tanzania IS on the list of places to go and things to see!

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