Monday, March 07, 2005

HAIL & FAREWELL

You know, I hadn’t thought about this when I started my blog, but ever since I touched down on American soil there’s been this nagging little thought lurking around in the back of my head that at some point I was going to have to shoot this blog and put it out of my readers’ misery. I’m afraid that my ravings would sound even less relevant than normal, without the inspiration of Zebras, homicidal zealots, and bureaucratic insanity to keep me worked up. With all that in mind, I decided the best thing was to quit while I was ahead, or at least not too far behind.


(With credit to Bill Mauldin)

Now I’m not an author, but I’ve read enough paperbacks to know that generally there’s a preface by the writer where he passes out his thanks for…oh, Aunt Martha’s apple pie recipe which kept him going, etc., and then manfully allows how any mistakes in the script are solely his.

You’ve probably snapped by now on the fact that I am getting this exactly backwards, and doing that at the end. This will come as no great surprise to my friends and family, who have long harbored suspicions (with some justification, actually) about my mental competence.

I won’t name all the friends and family who inspired and supported me while I was in Iraq, for fear that I might accidentally overlook someone and give offense where certainly none was ever intended. You know who you are, and I will always cherish the experience of seeing love made manifest in your actions. In fact, I received so much support that Ol’ Boy began grousing toward the end about having to go pick up “YOUR mail” every day and lug the care packages back to the office. Fortunately, Ol’ Boy could generally be bought off by sharing some of the chocolate.

For my conscience’s sake, I hasten to point out that my tour in Iraq was essentially a vacation compared to the soldiers who were at the tip of the spear every day. They had a 12 month (or longer) tour, compared to my 5 months. They went outside the wire much more often, or did the street fighting to reclaim a city from the criminals and terrorists. Those are the folks doing our nation’s dirty, dangerous work, and they deserve your admiration. About the only thing I had to worry about was making the mistake of walking under a falling rocket or mortar. That’s not even in the same league.

I remember being at the 31st CSH (Combat Support Hospital) in Baghdad around midnight the night before Thanksgiving. As I walked down the halls I saw soldiers in the lobby and hallway, passing the time with the small talk of soldiers everywhere about home, cars, and girls. Almost all of them had terrible burns, a few were on artificial legs, and others showed the stitched up evidence of recent surgeries. There, America, are your heroes. Take time ever now and then to think about them and what they’ve given to our country. They had all done their duty, and I thought of Robert E. Lee’s observation on duty that “no man can do more, and no man should do less”.

Regrettably, I have some apologies to make as well. I consider it a point of honor to reply to any letter or e-mail I get, and I received one from a SSG stationed in Korea who wrote me to comment on the blog. I replied to his e-mail, but for some reason the msg bounced back and I had deleted his address. So, Sarge, if you’re reading this, please accept my apologies.

I know that leaving comments through the blog site is not user friendly, so you can reach me directly at jerry.kendrick@gmail.com if you’d care to write.

So, like the military ceremony of “hailing” the new commander and saying “farewell” to the old one, I leave behind one life and resume another. It has been an honor and a pleasure to share my experiences with you. Please know that everyone I talked to in Iraq was aware of the support that you give to your soldiers, whatever your take on the war. That is a priceless gift – thank you. My most devout prayer for each of you is that at some point in your life you experience the same wonderful affection and support that I enjoyed in Iraq. I think it may be a rare experience, but it is one that is never forgotten.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

24 HOURS FROM TEXAS

OK, having insured that none of us are carrying knives aboard the plane, the stewardesses direct us to stack our rifles, machine guns, and pistols under the seat for our flight home. I will always treasure the memory of hearing the stewardess come on the loudspeaker system and tell everyone to make sure that there rifles were pointing in toward the center of the cabin. Tell the truth – even on South West Airlines, have you ever heard that?!! And no, I don’t know why it was important to have the weapons pointed toward the center of the cabin. Looks to me like they would have put a hole in the fuselage no matter which way you pointed them…oh, I get it! They were hoping somebody’s body would stop the bullet before it perforated the fuselage. Good thinking; I probably wouldn’t have thought of that.

I got a window seat, which meant that my left side got smashed by the plane body, and my right side got crunched in by the 280 lb Ranger in the seat next to me. He was a pleasant fellow, courteous, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, probably reverent…and I disliked him intensely within the first hour when he effortlessly went to sleep. I can’t sleep on planes, and I’ve always considered it extremely rude of other people to be comfortable when I can’t. I cleared my throat. I hollered to my friends at the back of the plane. I turned up my headphones to “detonate” and put them by his head. The only thing that would wake him up was if I had to walk across him to get to the aisle and walk to the bathroom. He must have thought I had a very tiny bladder, but serves him right for being so thoughtless as to be able to sleep while I couldn’t.

We had several in-flight meals, which looked suspiciously liked microwaved MRE’s (Meals Rejected by Ethiopians, or Meals, Ready-to-Eat, take your pick). We also had several in-flight movies, some of which even included the latest technological advancement, the “talkies”. What will they think of next?

After eight hours of annoying my row-mate (is that a word?), we arrived at lovely, vibrant green Shannon, Ireland. Well, I assume it’s vibrant green, based on their advertising. We got in about 0130 their time, and everything looked pretty vibrant black as near as I could tell. Ah, but here’s the good part: Shannon, Ireland is well outside the CENTCOM (Central Command) AOR (Area of Responsibility), which means that the infamous General Order No. 1 no longer applies – and for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, GO #1 was that bureaucratic masterpiece that prohibited (theoretically, at least) the consumption of alcohol so as not to offend our Muslim enemies. The Charge of the Light Brigade had nothing on the Charge of the Dehydrated as everyone except my teetotalin’ self attacked through the terminal in search of the nearest bar. Fortunately, we only had about an hour and a half at Shannon, so no one was able to do any serious damage to themselves.

After paying our respects to the Irish brew masters, we re-boarded the plane and set sail (well, wing, maybe) for Bangor, Maine. Deep in the heart of Yankee country. I started practicing my New Jersey accent in case anyone still carried a grudge about that little misguided family feud about a century and a half ago, but I was worrying for nothing. We got in about 0530 Bangor time, and as we left the plane (headed in search of yet another open bar) we were greeted by about a dozen wonderful Americans waving flags and offering cell phones to anyone who needed to call home. Then they opened up a little shop they had stocked with cookies, candy, and coffee and reminded us all once again of why we were damned proud to be Americans. I tried to leave a donation at the counter, and darned near got the bum’s rush – they weren’t about to take money from a soldier. On the other hand, they were collecting patches from all the different units that came through, and one of the guys was able to scrounge up the famous CID “Which Way Next?!” patch and leave it with them. I think everyone of us came away humbled and moved by the obvious affection of dedication of people who would make their way to the airport at 0530 on a Saturday morning just to welcome home a planeload of disheveled soldiers. God Bless’em everyone.

Another 4 hrs of cramped, sleepless flight and the pilot announced we were approaching Biggs Army Air Field, El Paso, Texas! The Davis Mountains sure looked good as we started our approach, and even if the country was desert, at least it was OUR desert. There was a loud cheer that went throughout the plane when the pilot announced that we were now at Fort Bliss, Texas, and as he turned the plane to taxi over to our dismount point, I caught a view that I’ll remember forever: a huge American flag that the base fire department had erected from one of their ladder trucks, blowing straight out in about a 30 mile an hour wind. Lord, that looked lovely!



Everyone was ready to grab their weapons from under the seat (all carefully pointed toward the center of the plane, by the way), and bolt out of the aircraft, but the Army insisted on doing things right. There was an honor guard and a band to greet us, and as we staggered off the plane the first person to shake our hands was the Fort Bliss Commanding General.

OK, I was impressed.

I was less impressed when I found out that we were supposed to assemble in an orderly formation and march off the tarmac to the reception area. I’m a CID agent, for heaven’s sake – what do I know about marching?! I was pretty sure that you led off with either your left or your right foot, but after that it all got dangerously hazy. My only hope of not spoiling the mood was to blend in with all the other desert cammie-clad troops and try to disappear.

And I nearly pulled it off, too…until we marched past a line of waiting family and friends and I saw the War Bride waving her little American flag and looking, oh, so lovely! Hell, I figured El Paso was so close to the border I could make my get away if they tried to court martial me for breaking ranks, so I ran over just long enough to collect a well-deserved and much-missed kiss from my Darling War Bride.


Gee, it’s good to be home!

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

LEAVING ON A PROP PLANE

Is it just me, or do you get a bitter-sweet feeling at those times that you are leaving one life behind and moving to another…like the last week at high school, or when you packed up and moved for your first real job? This past week has been like that – looking around at a dusty, ugly armed camp that has pretty much been the extent of my world since I first came here, and reflecting back on the experiences. Knowing that I won’t pass this away again, nor even sure that I would want to, but tremendously grateful that I had the chance to walk among heroes. I’m not sure what comes next, but I’ll meet it a little bit different man than I was before. And I guess that’s called living.

Certainly the world has more than enough folks that you’d just love to take hiking through quicksand pits, but I’ve had the great fortune to meet good folks in all circumstances and all lands. One of those folks is Guruprasad Mondal, who for the past five months has put food on my plate every evening. I never saw him but what he was pleasant, smiling, and gracious. Mondal has been working at the mess hall for about the past eight months, and is here on a two-year contract. Two years away from his home and family, and I’d bet that there’s no such thing as an R&R leave for him. Somehow over the past few months we managed to become friends across the serving line, even though we seldom had the opportunity to say more than a few words, and I wanted to leave him with some kind of souvenir. Probably something like a book with photographs of Texas would have been appropriate, but those are remarkably scarce in this part of the world, and Brown doesn’t deliver to this Zip code. Finally settled on a presentation coin that I received from the 22nd MP Battalion when they left, and gave it to him as I went through the line. Actually, my original plan had been to give it to him just before we left so that he wouldn’t have time to reciprocate, as I didn’t’ want him spending any part of what he made on a gift on me, but with our departure date yo-yoing back and forth I decided to just give it to him at the first opportunity. The next evening (my last at beautiful downtown Camp Liberty) when I went through the line, he got someone to cover his position and brought over a plastic AAFES (Army & Air Force Exchange Service) bag with a t-shirt and card in it, shook my hand and told me that I was his friend and his brother.

That t-shirt is a keeper.

At last the day that our replacements thought would never come: we were moving out, and they could inherit our trailers. Pathetic when people can look forward so eagerly to having their very own half of big closet to live in, but our spaces were highly coveted by guys who had been living like refugees for the past two weeks. Ben Franklin once observed that fish and guests both stink after 3 days…and as far as our replacements were concerned, we were definitely developing an odor.

I was a little concerned that the Loyal Opposition might not have the chance to give us a proper goodbye, but I worried for nothing. Ol’ Mohammed got up about 0130 the morning we left to lob in a few mortar rounds for old times sake and let us know he cared. One of them rattled the trailer, but since there were no new holes I didn’t see much point in leaving a warm bed and giving Mohammed the satisfaction of ruining a goods night’s sleep.

Did I say the “day” that we moved out? Actually, it was more like night. We met under the Iraqi moonlight for one last time to dance the duffle shuffle and pitch them in the back of what the Army eloquently calls an LMTV (Light Medium Tactical Vehicle). Its single most salient feature is that the bed is about, oh, thirty feet off the ground or so, and it’s *@!% difficult to throw a 90 lb duffle bag in it without hurting something useful. As usual, my highly skilled detachment of soldiers executed the maneuver with typical finesse…which is to say that the Taji crew were still asleep at 0400, the truck driver was recovering from a night of computer games, and the Special Agent-in-Charge couldn’t find his rifle. All in all, something less than an auspicious start to our departure, but then, any movement toward leaving Iraq is a good omen. Just before we left we heard a chopper going out and looked up just in time to see a Chinook firing off some flares as he crossed outside the fence line.

Even though we got off to a late start, there’s nothing like leaving a war zone to get you motivated, and we moved out pretty much on schedule, arriving at the APOD (Aerial Point of Departure…sheesh, couldn’t they just say airfield?!!) about 0530, just in time to sign up for space available on the next available flight, which turned out to be leaving at 0730. In the meantime, we got to cool our heels in a tent that George Washington probably slept under, and hadn’t been cleaned since then, either. Still, when you’re headed home, any accommodation looks like a 4 star, and everyone was happy except Taz.

Taz, you see, doesn’t like mice. I mean, he REALLY doesn’t like mice, even though the hospitable little rodents were kind enough to share their tent with us. Taz got his nickname from always moving in a whirl like the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character, and boy, was he ever in form that day jumping from mouse to mouse. I was profoundly grateful that we had turned in all our ammo before we left the base.

Much to my surprise, the C130 showed up right on schedule, and our friendly neighborhood Air Force representative told us that he was going to swing by and keep the engines running, so just pile in the back. If you’ve ever flown in a C130, you know that the seating accommodations are about like being snared in a fishing net, and this was no exception. On the bright side, it wasn’t all that crowded, and this one wasn’t dripping hydraulic fluid on me like the one I arrived in.

We will now observe a moment of silence in appreciation of the Rhode Island Air National Guard for providing transportation out of Iraq. A scrawny little state, maybe, but their Air Guard certainly does great things – like haul Texas boys out of Iraq and into Kuwait. Come to think of it, the C130 I arrived on was an Air Guard plane – Kansas, I think. Just exactly what is it we’re paying the Active Duty Air Force for, anyway?

Prior to this ride I was pretty convinced that C130 pilots made the softest landings of anyone I had ever flown with, but I now realize my error. They just throw the plane around the sky so hard that when you finally do crash onto the runway you hardly notice it. On the bright side, if anyone was shooting at us, they missed, and I gotta admit we would have been a darned hard target to get a bead on. If anyone ever asks, you can tell them it’s about a 45 minute flight from Baghdad to Kuwait City, as the C130 flies.

Camp Doha looks much better as you’re leaving than when you’re entering. For one thing, I arrived about 0200 in the morning, got marched straight through a briefing, and shuttled off to a flight about 4 hrs later. This time we came in at 11 in the morning, got assigned to some billets that actually had bed frames and a mattress, even if it was all set up in an old warehouse. Truth be told, we were living large for the circumstances.

I think the thing that struck me the most was the disorientation I felt. The day before I was in a combat zone, and now I’m walking around a base with signs telling you that you can’t park military vehicles in front of the PX, and no weapons are allowed in the mess hall. Not, of course, that they provide any place like a locker for you to secure your weapon, but I guess they figure a good soldier would figure out how to make sure his weapon didn’t get stolen. I accomplished that by carrying my weapon in the PX, and I felt like Lizzie Borden walking into choir practice with a hatchet. I noticed that I was developing a distinct impatience with garrison niceties, and much preferred the atmosphere at the forward bases. I figure that’s probably a normal reaction, but I’d enjoy hearing from any Veterans reading if they had the same experience.

Saturday morning we had to show up at the customs tent at 0930 in the morning to have our duffle bags searched and then sealed up for transportation to the airport. Perfectly reasonable concept, except that each one of us has three duffle bags, and the customs tent is about a half mile way. But, as I’ve pointed out before, I know the Army loves me and will take care of its little boy Jerry, so I called on the Chairman of the Movement Assistance Office (MAO) and requested a little movement assistance.

I was assisted in moving right out of his office. It seems that a contingent of only 5 people doesn’t rate a movement mission. Now, if there had been ten of us, well, of course he could have helped. It was becoming painfully clear to me that Chairman MAO was not going to be the source of my aching back’s salvation.

Clearly I was going to have to put my college degree to work and come up with a solution.

One thing I noticed about Camp Doha was that it was over-run with NTV’s (non-tactical vehicles, or regular ol’ cars and SUV’s). So I staked out a Chevrolet Suburban by the mess hall and pounced on the driver when he showed up. Putting on my best “Help a Buddy” expression, I convinced the driver, an Air Force sergeant, that his life would be forever enriched for hauling our bags in his nice, beautiful truck. The Silver Tongued Devil strikes again! Wojo scrounged through his bags and found a presentation coin we got from the 22nd MP Bn, and gave it to him in recognition of his service to his country, and us. I felt like I’d just bought Manhattan for trinkets!

Much to my relief our purloined truck showed up the next morning on time, and we got our bags into the inspection tent right on time. Customs did a fairly respectable job of searching our stuff, then we loaded the bags into the back of a truck which was sealed, and driven off to the airport. A few hours later we went through customs with our carry-on baggage, and that inspection was much more thorough. As I’ve come to expect on military flights, I could take my rifle and pistol aboard, but they wouldn’t let me bring my pocket knife.

At about 1800, we were locked down in a holding area, and at 2130 we were herded into a convoy of 5 busses and one armored HUMVEE, and made our way out to Doha airport, which is about a 30 minute ride. Each bus had one “shooter” on it, a soldier picked more or less at random and given one, count’em, ONE lousy 30 rd magazine with which to defend the bus if we were attacked. Other than that, our only response to an attack was to get close enough to club’em to death with our empty rifles. I guess that was the shooter’s job – provide suppressive fire while we snuck up on the main body and beat’em into submission. I must have slept through that class on military strategy.

Around 2230 we boarded one of the most beautiful MD-11’s I believe I have ever seen, or am likely to ever see again. Do I need to tell you that everyone cheered when the plane left the runway?

Sunday, February 06, 2005

OF MICE AND WOMEN

It would have been downright humiliating. Getting killed by a lousy mouse my last week in country. Even the most charitable obituary writer would have been hard-pressed to put a positive spin on that demise – “Local soldier dies gallantly in uproar over a mouse”. Somehow that just isn’t how I want to be remembered.

But first I need to lay out the terrain for you. Any place where more than a few soldiers might gather – say, the mess hall, the PX, or the Haji shops at the bazaar by the PX, are guarded by an elite force of soldiers who have been relieved of their regular duties while pending court martial or discharge for mental reasons. Their function is to demand your identification, nod sagely as if they looked at it, and be ever ready to kill anybody who looks like they might cause trouble. That’s the key here. You don’t want to look like you’re causing trouble.

I’m minding my own business, trying to steer clear of Zebras and other forms of pestiferous wildlife, and successfully negotiate the guards at the bazaar. Today’s mission: find some danged phone cards so I can call home and tell the War Bride my return flight has changed again. They’ve been in very short supply ever about a week before the elections. Once again, the phone cards that were promised for today will be in for sure, no really, tomorrow. Well, nothing for it but to try again later, so I meander down the aisle back toward the exit when what to my wandering eyes should appear but an unusually handsome specimen of rodentia Iraqus making a graceful run across the aisle. Right between two young female soldiers. I’ve heard pigs being cut that made less noise than they did. Between the two of them, I probably lost what little high-frequency hearing I had left. Both of them start running toward the exit, just as the guards charge through the door chambering a round in their rifles, and looking for someone causing trouble.

You can see this, right? There I am, standing with that insurgent-in-the-headlights look, causing trouble, with two screaming females running away from me, and two Joe’s nervously pointing their rifles at me. And all I can think of to do is yell at the top of my lungs, “Don’t shoot! It’s just a mouse!” I guess that was so ridiculous that they had to stop to figure it out, which gave me enough time to get behind somebody solid. I may not be smart, but sometimes I am lucky! Thank heavens for my high school extemporaneous speaking class.

I’ve been less fortunate at trying to get my detachment out of here, though. There’s all of 10 of us in the Detachment, so you’d think that it wouldn’t be all that hard to thumb a ride on a jet back to the States, but the Army doesn’t do small well. LT Colombo (name changed to protect the guilty) has just arrived in country, and it was his job to arrange our flights out. Since we were his first attempt, things have been somewhat…unstable, I guess you could say. Now in all fairness, I’m sure it didn’t help that half of us were going to Fort Hood, and the other half were being routed through Fort Bliss. Our first heads-up notification was that we would be leaving Kuwait on the 11th of February. Like a young girl on her first date, I believed his lie and spread the word to the assembled multitude. Called the War Bride, who made flight reservations to meet me at Fort Bliss accordingly. The next day LT Colombo called and said that he must have misspoke himself, what he really meant to say was that we would be going out on the 13th. Make another call to the War Bride, who adjusts fire and schedules a later flight.

Get a phone call from LT Colombo, just brimming over with good cheer and enthusiasm: Good news! I ‘ve moved heaven and earth to get you out earlier, so now you’re leaving on the 9th of February! Pack your bags, guys, you have to catch a flight to Kuwait on the 7th! Another call to the War Bride, who by now is on a first-name basis with the reservation agents at Southwest Airlines.

Time passes (but not much). I call Lt Colombo on the 6th to find out what time our flight to Kuwait will be tomorrow. Long pause. Uh, well, it seems there’s been a change. Now it’s absolutely positively for certain, probably, that we will leave Kuwait on the 12th, but we’re still flying up to Kuwait on the 7th. Oh, I inquire sweetly, and what time do we leave tomorrow? Well, he’s working on that, don’t you see. Still don’t have anything firm on that, but he’s sure that somehow something good will happen. I figure this time I can save the cost of a phone call to the War Bride, and preserve what little respect she has left for my ability to arrange something as simple as an airplane flight.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures of The Journey Home.

One good thing did come out of all the visits with LT Colombo, though. The last time I was up at Battalion I stumbled across an Australian unit having a barbecue. I make it a point to never turn down an invitation to an Australian barbecue; my experience with that genre of cooks has been that they’re always bloody good company, mate, and today was no exception. They let me climb all over their armored scout vehicle and we swapped weapons and both came to the conclusion that their army got the better end of the bargain when it came to rifles. Heck, they got the better end of the bargain on just about everything; their standard tour over here is only 4 months! I diplomatically left the party early so I wouldn’t have to witness any violations of General Order #1: thou shalt consume no alcohol while in Iraq. Easy enough for a teetotaler like my ownself to comply with, but it strains imagination to the breaking point to believe a whole company of Australians get through a barbecue without someone discovering an abandoned case or two of Foster’s Finest.

Good on ya, mates!

Thursday, February 03, 2005

CALL HIM HASSAN

Call him Hassan, and her Yasim, for I don’t know their name, and more’s the pity for me. They ran a small shop behind the Division Headquarters, not much more than a camping trailer with a small refrigerated display case, a sewing machine, cheap cigarettes, and the usual souvenir items. And, most importantly from my point of view, phone cards to keep my cell phone alive.



Did I mention that I had the opportunity to meet one of the nicest, best-looking, most generally all-around wonderful guys this past Monday?

Yep. My replacement has arrived. And he brought along the replacement crew for the rest of the office. Things are a tad crowded at the ol’ home place, since we shoe-spooned them into our trailers until we leave, but you know, I haven’t heard any complaints. Sleeping double on a cot is not as bad as you might think…

Tried to call the War Bride to let her know the good news, and that it was beginning to look like I might actually be leaving this place I’ve come to know and loathe so well, but
I ran out of time on my phone card.

You know, it was being out of time on my phone card that led to my first meeting Hassan and Yasim. I hadn’t been able to find any on post, and Mumbles took me over to the little trailer that they work out of, and sure enough they had some phone cards. Hassan was working away over the sewing machine when I walked in, but greeted me with a smile and a reasonably accurate version of “hello”. His work area was pretty small, but he’d made room on it for a picture of his daughter, a little girl with big brown eyes guaranteed to steal any Daddy’s heart. Yasim had a pleasant smile and obviously enjoyed her customers. I liked them both almost immediately.

Probably hadn’t mentioned it before, since it was beginning to assume the characteristics of an urban legend, but Mumbles, our resident master of the under-the-table dope deal had somehow convinced the Engineers that we needed an office to work out of. Of course, he was probably able to make a pretty convincing case since we’ve been working out of the MP supply room and an appropriated trailer for the past six months. Now, I should explain that there is such a thing as FOO funds, an acronym for what I don’t know, but you can use it to obtain things for the office, daily operation, and what not. Plus, you have to spend it in country (no mail orders allowed!) so we help the Iraqi economy. We needed someone to put the flooring down in our new building, and didn’t have any contacts, so we asked Hassan if he might know someone. Yasim did most of the talking, and before long we had a crew to help with the building. Mumbles bought a couple of cartons of cigarettes of dubious pedigree, and I bought a coke and some munchies more to help their business than anything. I suspect there are a great many Iraqis like Hassan and Yasim – good, decent people just trying to make an honest living.

So the past couple of days have been busy, with our eager and oh, so-earnest replacements busily carting stuff out of the ol’ home place to the shiny new digs. Not everything is completely ready there, like the plumbing isn’t hooked up and there are no blast barriers around it, but hey, this is war. Ya gotta tough it out – especially when you’re getting about twice as much room, real live interview rooms, and twice the computer hookups.

Having a natural and commendable phobia against heavy manual labor, I found it necessary to depart the scene of such frenzied activity before some insensitive clod invited me to help. This coincided nicely with my need for some more phone cards, so I walked over to Hassan and Yasim’s little shop to see if they had any cards in.

For some reason, they had the trunk of their car stuffed with their sad little pile of merchandise, and I was worried that maybe they were moving to a different location. That seemed to be a reasonable hypothesis when I walked through the door and noticed the refrigerated display case dark, and the shelves just about bare. Not even the ever present sewing machine was there, the one that supported their family with alterations for soldiers, and especially the fire department here who pretty much had adopted them. Hassan wasn’t there, only Yasim and a dignified, solemn looking older gentleman who smiled nervously at me. Yasim was crying, and talking to a fireman.

I could understand Yasim being sad about moving away from great customers like myself, but somehow I doubted that was enough to provoke tears. I didn’t like the feeling I was getting. Not at all.

I followed the fireman out the door and touched his shoulder, and noticed the sadness in his eyes when he turned. Hassan was gunned down on the streets of Baghdad about a week or so ago, Yasim had been with him, and when he recognized what was coming he covered her with his body and took the bullets meant for both of them. Yasim said that no one would help her, until finally an ambulance arrived too late.

Hassan died for the unspeakable crime of trying to support his family as best he could.

We all die. Some of us will have more days recorded on our tombstones than others, but that doesn’t really say anything about the life lived in those days, does it? And against a backdrop of eternity, maybe it doesn’t matter if someone lived to be 80, and another man dies at 33. But it does matter – Lord, it matters so much – how a man lived those days, and how he met his end. Hassan lived an honest life graced by a pleasant spirit, and died defending his wife. That has to count for something, or everything counts for nothing.

I don’t know what Yasim will do now, or how she’ll support her little family. The terrorists – hell, they’re not terrorists, they’re just plain cowardly criminals – have accomplished their goal of intimidating a single mother, and she won’t work here anymore. The fireman told me that they were taking up a collection for her, and were going to come by in their truck to present it to her when she clears everything out this Saturday.

Hassan’s story reflects the hope, the tragedy, and the loss of the nation of Iraq. And I nearly made it out of here without tears.

Call him Hassan.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

BOMBS & BIRDS

It’s been a while since I posted any pictures, and thought maybe you would like to see some more. The sunsets around here are generally pretty nice. I understand that the gorgeous West Texas sunsets are due to the dust in the air. I think probably here they’re fed by all the debris in the air from car bombs, but whatever, the effect is pretty nice.

This picture was taken at one of the artificial lakes that Saddam had built around his palace area, and I think it may be about my favorite. The lake always has lots of loons on it, along with a variety of cranes and kingfishers.



Here’s a picture of one of the sunsets I was telling you about that was taken the day we had a combination of sandstorm and rain. The sandstorm was pretty interesting; the sky turned an amber color and stayed that way for most of the afternoon. I kept feeling like I forgot to take off sunshades.



But just to keep things in the proper perspective, here’s a photo taken near the main dining facility. My friends with some military familiarity will recognize it as a UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) marker. I suspect the round is in the canal behind the marker, and EOD just decided it wasn’t worth the effort yet to try to blow it or recover it. All part of the local ambience.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

BALLOTS & BOMBS

The Iraqi elections will be held on the 30th, and everyone is expecting that the losers-in-waiting will do their best to disrupt them. Most normal operations around here have pretty well come to a stop as we throw everything we’ve got into capturing or killing known and suspected insurgents before the elections. My opinion is that the Iraqi’s will be so busy trying to kill each other during this period that we’ll actually enjoy a day or two of relative quiet on the base.

Apparently not everybody shares my opinion, though. The mess hall, PX, and all other shops will be closed the 29th and 30th to avoid any large gathering of troops. A pretty minor inconvenience for most folks, who like me probably have enough food left over from Christmas care packages to get them through the winter.

Which brings up one of the nice things I can say about being here – I’ve met some really nice folks at just about every turn. There is this one server that I see every night at the mess hall, an Indian fellow named Mandel. Whether that’s a first or a last name I’ve got no idea, but he has to be one of the most unfailingly pleasant people I’ve ever met. When I came through the line tonight he told me that the mess hall would be closed for two days…and then asked if I would have enough to eat. I’m really going to miss seeing him when I leave. He told me he signed up for 2 years here when he took the job, and I don’t think they get to go back home. I hope he’s making good money.

Under the heading of “you’ll laugh about this later”, Little John had a nasty run-in with the election process here in Iraq. We had an M16 in our evidence room that had been used in a suicide, and the unit it belonged to was getting ready to re-deploy back to the States and had been hounding Little John to get it released. Conscientious agent that he, LJ coordinated all the paperwork, and escorted a unit rep over to the evidence room to pick up the rifle. So far, so good, right?

Maybe you saw this coming, but since everybody and his neighbor’s cousin has his very own M16 over here, it tends to be a popular weapon of choice among the suicidal, and we have more than one M16 in the evidence room. Funny thing about Army rifles is they all look pretty much alike…black, scratched up, and tape or paint on the stock. So you can forgive the evidence custodian for signing over the wrong M16.

YOU might could forgive the evidence custodian, but not LJ, who had to make a fast and furious space-a (space available) flight on a cantankerous Blackhawk to retrieve the troublesome rifle, and replace it with the right one. That was on Monday. You know, Monday – the day the sandstorm hit and shut down all non-essential air travel? So here’s Little John stranded at a helipad 4 miles from the nearest tent, and him without his sleeping bag. Not to worry, though – here comes another chopper, but LJ can’t get on because it’s carrying ballot boxes. The next day another chopper finally shows up – and once again LJ gets bumped in favor of ballot boxes. Two cold nights later, after sleeping on a concrete floor in just his (unauthorized) black fleece and long johns, he finally manages to catch a hop back to the office, and gets in about 0130 in the morning with no one to meet him, and has to walk about two miles from the helipad to the office. To add injury to insult, LJ has never been particularly comfortable about traveling outside the wire, clinging to this foolish notion that there are people out there who might want to hurt him. (I’ve talked to him about this unhealthy xenophobia, but he persists.) Anyway, he’s starting to nod off on the chopper flight back when a loud noise nearly jolts him out of his seat. That can happen to you when you try to sleep next to a .50 caliber machine gun. He wakes up just in time to see the chopper kicking out flares, the .50 banging away, and visions of a chopper crash dancing in his head. Heck, since he got back, we can barely get him to leave the office to go eat now. As you might imagine, he is somewhat less than enthusiastic about democracy in action in Iraq.

Our replacements are becoming the stuff of legend by now…right up there with the Lost Battalion. We had reliable information from a confidential source that they had left the U.S. on the 21st…which turned out to be unreliable. Then Battalion assured us that they were in the air on the 22nd. And the 23d. And the 24th. Dang, won’t somebody please let those poor boys land somewhere?! Anyhow, we got an e-mail from one of them on the 26th, saying that they were somewhere in Kuwait with a lot of sand around them, (that really helped narrow it down), and he didn’t know the name of the camp. Said they had tried to call the Kuwait office at the number Battalion gave them, but that number had been disconnected and was no longer in service…and uh, did we have any suggestions? (Thank heavens for Morale & Welfare internet services!) We called Battalion to pass the info along…and were assured that they were in the air and would be here any minute now. Consistency, as you can see, is a valued trait at Battalion.

Anyhow, last word is that the Donner Detachment should catch a bus out of Camp Fukawe tomorrow, move out smartly to Doha and sit there until the election is safely over, and then fly in to Baghdad . We plan to welcome them with a compass and a Battalion phone list.

One final thought; it occurred to me as I was walking across the camp the other day that I’m trapped in the middle of a Country and Western song – I’m surrounded by guns, trucks, and trailers! On the other hand, there are no trains and no beer, so obviously I was mistaken.

OK, so it wasn’t a final thought. AFN radio has deteriorated seriously since I was last forced to listen to it. Now I’m pretty broad-minded in my appreciation of things musical, and I like both kinds of music – country AND western…which is unfortunate, as it’s only played between 0315 and 0316 every other Thursday. The rest of the time you have a choice of rap or listening to an Arab station.

You know, Arab music’s not all that bad once you get used to it.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

WOODY'S UP, HARRY'S DEAD, AND I'M SHORT

Normally it’s no problem for CID Agents to eat alone. Despite our winning ways and solicitous concern for our fellow soldiers, they tend to look at us with all the affection a mouse has for a cat. Poor PVT Woody didn’t have much choice, though; there just wasn’t anyplace else to sit, so he nervously laid his tray down in front of us and began eating without looking up. Now for those of you not familiar with the military, an E-2 Private has typically just gotten out of basic training, so with my incisive investigative instincts, I figured he hadn’t been in the Army long. Poor kid nearly spilled his plate when I spoke to him, and turns out I was right – he had just finished up his AIT (Advanced Individual Training) and shipped right out to Iraq. PVT Woody was all of 19, if that. Skinny and freckles, looked like he would have been out of his depth at a high school prom, and here he was just starting out his tour in Iraq, with a rifle slung over his shoulder that was nearly as big as he was. A man in a boy’s body. We didn’t have time to get into how he’d come to be in the Army, or what his plans were after the Army…or if he had a girlfriend, did anyone write him? As I picked up my tray and headed for the exit, I desperately hoped that PVT WOODY had a good platoon sergeant who would keep him alive long enough to grow up, and began to understand how good sergeants thought of their platoon as their kids.

One of the things that we get stuck with by default is taking fingerprints for immigration of the soldiers who have joined the army as a shortcut to becoming U.S. citizens. Actually, this is really something their S-2 shops are supposed to be doing, but they can’t be bothered with such details and give these poor guys the runaround until they finally wander, dazed and confused into our office. My theory is that if someone is willing to risk dying to earn his citizenship, I can find the time to take his fingerprints. Last week we had PFC Harry (real name changed) come into the office and ask if we could do his prints. He had immigrated to New York City from ….what, Nigeria? How quickly we forget. A quiet guy, and pleasant. He’d wound up with an infantry unit from New York state, and was a driver on an armored Humvee (M1114) when they went out on patrols. That was Monday, and I wished him luck as he left the office.

Wednesday I was checking the casualty reports and saw that there had been a traffic fatality, with an M1114 rolling into a canal and killing two soldiers who had been trapped inside – the doors were combat locked, which makes them harder to get open, and of course they had on about 40 lbs of body armor and ammo, and the canal was just narrow enough to keep the doors from opening at any rate. Two GI’s managed to find an air pocket and buy enough time to lose their gear and figure a way out, but PFC Harry wasn’t one of them. Their buddies went back for them and managed to get HARRY out, but he’d been under for too long by then and didn’t make it, although he revived briefly on the way to the hospital.

I looked over the sad file of paperwork we collect from the mortuary on incidents like this, and I didn’t see anything listing Harry's citizenship. I wonder if there’s some provision for a posthumous award of citizenship, or if it even matters. PFC HARRY didn’t die in combat, but he was a casualty of the war as surely as if he’d been shot, and paid the ultimate price to be an American.

I’ve seen just a bunch of death investigations since I’ve been here, since we were at one time working all the hostile fire deaths, but this was the first time where I could put a face and a voice to a soldier killed, and that made it a little harder. I’m glad there are people like PFC Harry who want to be Americans badly enough to put their life on the line, but it really makes me wonder how we came to that. Hard to say, but I’d guess that maybe 5% of the Army consists of people earning their citizenship in the military. Does that bother you? There is just something profoundly wrong when we become so soft, so fearful, that we have to look to others to fight our battles. Maybe I’m just misreading the situation, and I hope so. Lord knows there are a lot of American young men and women shouldering the burden.

Rumor has it that we may be returning to the States around the middle of February, and as usual, the rumor mill has been working overtime. All week we’ve heard that our relief had left the 21st, so we were expecting them…oh, say today. Then we hear from Battalion that no, that was all a mistake, they had to wait and come over with another unit, and maybe they’ll leave today. Sheesh. I’ll believe it when I walk through the door. Best case scenario, we could be on the Freedom Bird in about 20 days. Or so....

And another thing, we turned our ammo in this week in anticipation of the relief picking it up. Another classic example of bad judgment on my part. I’m grabbing up about a dozen loaded M16 mags, and this time they can have them back just before I get on the plane!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

ODE TO THE PETER PRINCIPLE

Ever notice how every silver cloud has a black lining? Take the relief-in-place (RIP; now you know yet another Army acronym, but don’t worry – I have lots more) of our old Battalion by another CID Bn rotating in from the States. Both Bn’s shall remain nameless for reasons of national security, protection of the guilty, and my innate paranoia.

Now clearly the tearful departure of the old Bn was a cause for rejoicing, since it signaled that our replacements were on the horizon. That, and it’s an old Army tradition to get all teary-eyed and nostalgic over the departure of bureaucrats-in-arms; we sit around and sing army songs, roast MRE’s over an open fire, and pass out medals to prove how brave we were. All very moving.

It seems, however, that Lieutenant Colonel (LTC) NEW didn’t like the way LTC OLD ran his shop. No, that’s not quite right. Better to say that LTC NEW’s blood pressure would have blown a sphygmomanometer right off his arm. Hope you appreciate that word – I had to look it up. Down in the basement of Bn there is a little-used room with a large conference table in it, set far back from the passing public eye that was used in happier days as a break room. Well! That sort of mollycoddling certainly had no place in the new Reich, let me tell you. Forthwith it was transformed into a sterile conference room, the AFN TV banished to a dusty closet, and uncomfortable straight-backed chairs placed strategically lower than the padded Commander’s chair at the head of the table.

LTC NEW noted with no small disdain that LTC OLD didn’t have a full-time driver assigned to his personal use. How in the world can you be expected to inspire fighting men when they might chance to see you DRIVING YOURSELF around the base?! Fortunately, LTC NEW came prepared, and promptly picked a driver for those 30 minutes a week he might have to drive around. Unfortunately for the driver, there no longer is a break room, so she is forced to wander the hall’s like a spirit forever seeking its rest until summoned to the Great Office itself.

Ah, and all those filthy crumbs and coffee cups at the desks! Away with them! This is a professional organization, and we don’t eat and drink at our desks. If you absolutely had to succumb to hunger and thirst during duty hours, you could do it in the break room. Or, you could have done that in the break room if one existed anymore.

Regrettably, I only learned of the aforementioned changes after LTC NEW decided to drop by and inspire his far-flung outposts. Forewarned would have been forearmed; instead, I had placed my faith in the vain hope that his driver would a) get lost; or b) wreck out on one of the strategically-placed speed bumps on his way over.

Now I should explain that our office hours generally run something like 0730 to 1900 or so, six days a week. Sunday is a down day, and only the duty agent is expected to show up at the office. I know, I know what you’re thinking. How do you ever get anything accomplished if you’re going to take off one day a week? Fortunately, LTC NEW dropped by to correct our error in judgment.

So there I was, sitting behind my rickety desk at the office, minding my own business as usual when what to my wandering eyes should appear but LTC NEW and his driver. I was impressed. I mean, here’s this busy little martinet who finds time in his schedule to pay a social call on the great unwashed. I’m so impressed, in fact, that I stand up and offer my hand in greeting, which he accepted with all the grace of a hypochondriac kissing a leper. I then offered an introduction of one of the most promising young warrant officers I’ve seen lately, but by now his store of hospitality had been exhausted, and he resumed glaring around the room while the young warrant waited vainly for some sign of recognition.

It can’t be healthy for the veins in your neck to bulge out like that.

I braced for the worst. I could see the local papers now: “Local soldier executed by commander in Iraq for keeping a disorderly house!” I could only hope that they wouldn’t print my name and bring dishonor on my family. And I at least had the peace of mind of knowing that my will was duly witnessed and tucked away in a safe place. Obviously, I would be interrogated at the very least, and perhaps if I confessed my sins I would be allowed to redeem myself through hari-kari. I rehearsed all the answers in my head: name, rank, serial number…was there anything else? Oh, yeah, I could tell him about the 15 cases we closed out this week, while we opened up another 10. I could tell him about the all-nighter we all pulled responding to an attempted murder, processing the crime scene, taking statements collecting evidence. I could tell him how we’d mounted two convoys through a high risk section of the city (well, basically, ANYWHERE in Baghdad is high risk, so maybe I’m exaggerating). With baited breath I waited for the fateful interrogation to begin:

“Chief, why are the lights out on that side of the room?”

“Uh…because we didn’t turn them on, sir?”

“Well, it looks like a (expletive deleted) cave over there! Driver! I’ve seen enough! Get me out of this place!”

Just my luck. Out of all the possible LTC’s I could have got, I had to get one that’s afraid of the dark!

I got to re-live that afternoon in all it’s glory when I was summoned to the Palace a few hours later to explain why our duty agent hadn’t responded to three calls the night before. Now, there was a question I could answer! We had, in fact, responded to two – and the “rape” that was reported in the MP blotter turned out actually to be a peeping tom – a kind of sexual ocular assault, I guess – and the “stabbing” turned out to be a GI that merely displayed a bayonet in an argument. The third call we never got.

Just because I could answer doesn’t mean that I got to, mind you. This was obviously meant to be a one-way conversation, so I practiced my thousand-yard stare and nodded encouragingly at what I thought were the appropriate places.

And then, he got around to what was really bothering him: It seems a certain senior warrant officer whom I hold in unusually high esteem had failed to shout “attention!” when a LTC entered the room. Argh! What could I say – guilty as charged. My only excuse was that the last time I knew about that kind of pomp and circumstance was nearly 30 years ago when a kindly old Drill Sergeant was beating it into my head. Somehow the knowledge had atrophied over the decades. To make sure it doesn’t happen again, I’ve started jumping up and yelling “attention” anytime anyone over the rank of second lieutenant walks through the door. Very annoying to the staff, but they’ll only have to put up with for the next couple of weeks or so.

The guy that’s paying the highest price for our incompetence, though, is Old Boy, our faithful mechanic. Since he was the culprit who feloniously, and with malice aforethought, failed to turn on the lights on the east side of the room, he is now assigned as full time battalion watch. His job is to maintain surveillance on the battalion and alert us anytime LTC NEW leaves the Holy Land. Don’t feel sorry for him, though; we’ll pull him off as soon as we develop some informants in battalion to pass on the info to us. Given the level of morale there, it shouldn’t be hard to recruit somebody!

Friday, January 14, 2005

FOXHOLES AND ATHEISTS

Fortunately, I haven’t had to spend much time around foxholes (around here they tend to fill up with camel spiders, and that takes all the fun out of it)…and I doubt that I’ve spent much time around atheists, either.

No matter how much it disappoints the ACLU (bless they pointy little heads), I get the impression that a sizeable portion of the Army is Christian, and proud of it. The last time you went to a restaurant – how many people did you see saying grace before their meal? I’ve been watching the GI’s at the mess hall for sometime now (not much else to do!), and I would guess a good 40% of them bow their heads for a quick prayer before they start eating. Now, granted, part of that may be just asking for divine protection from the quality of food they’re about to partake, but I think it goes beyond that. Don’t get me wrong; you’re average Joe is not particularly interested in going to church, and not overtly religious. We are, after all, talking young men in their early 20’s for the most part, and the flesh may well be weak, but still I get the sense that they do have some kind of core spiritual belief. Not, of course, that they would ever admit it publicly.

Maybe an appreciation for the spiritual comes with maturity, and a lot of these young men have had to mature in a hurry here. And too many of them never got the chance to mature further, come to think of it. But when your buddy takes an overdose of shrapnel right next to you, and you walk away with just scratches, it’s bound to make you wonder about exactly what’s going on. Any war carries with it the seeds of the worst in man, and the best. Negotiating your way between those two poles sure makes you think about some kind of an anchor to hang on to.

Ran across an article in Stars & Stripes last week (extracted from The Wichita Eagle) that talked about theodicy (yeah, I had to look it up, too – means the justice of God in the face of evil; in other words – why do bad things happen to good people?), and it posed this paradox: “If God is God, He is not good; if God is good, He is not God”. In other words, if God is God (all powerful & omnipresent), he permits evil, which is not good. On the other hand, if God is good, but can not deter evil, he can not be all powerful and omnipresent. Well, it didn’t take long to figure out that I was hopelessly out of my theological depth, so I summoned a convocation of the other Agents in the office and posed the question to them.

Oh, Lordy, what was I thinking, starting a theological discussion with a bunch of cops?! The discussion generated a lot of heat, but precious little light, I’m afraid. We were fortunate to have an interpreter with us at the time who is Muslim, so we had the advantage of a little different perspective. A diligent search failed to turn up any soldiers of the Jewish or Hindu faith, so we weren’t able to get any direction from those religions. If there were any around, they probably heard the argument and decided it was a good time to evacuate the area…all in all, commendable good judgment on their part.

I wish I could report back to you that 8 cynical cops were able to untie the Gordian know that has bound theologians since the dawn of time, but we didn’t arrive at an answer that anyone thought was entirely satisfactory. I guess the closest we got to some kind of consensus was that it all boiled down to faith, whether you were Muslim or Christian. I can not intellectually reconcile how God can be omnipotent and good at the same time in the face of so much unwarranted suffering – but I don’t have to. I just know that He is at once God, and good. I like what Charles Spurgeon, a 19th –century preacher had to say about it: When we cannot trace God’s hand, we must simply trust His heart.

For those of you scratching your heads and wondering where in the world this blog came from, don’t despair. I’ll be back to talking about Zebras and firepower in upcoming pages. Why, just the other day I saw a Lithuanian armored personnel carrier go by with a….well never mind, I’ll cover that later!




Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Army Loves Me, This I Know, 'Cause the Army Tells Me So

For the past four months the Army hasn’t quite been sure how best to protect their little boy, Jerry. At first they piled up big baskets with sand and stuck them around my trailer. Then someone else’s brother-in-law got the contract for force protection, and they hired some Iraqi’s to come move those baskets (Hesco baskets, if you must know) away from the trailer.

Somehow, I didn’t like the logic of hiring Iraqi’s to remove my protection. But I gotta admit they went about it with real enthusiasm, so maybe I was wrong….

The next two weeks my protection from shrapnel consisted of good ol’ thick aluminum trailer walls. It ain’t easy sleeping in your body armor, but it can be done if you’re highly motivated. Finally, a big ol’ crane visited the area and set up a couple of concrete barriers about 6’ x 6’ along the front of the trailer, although they didn’t put anything in front of the door. Guess the shrapnel has to have some way to get in, after all. Much better, although I still was left with an uncomfortable feeling of what happens if a mortar shell hits BEHIND the trailer. OK, time to move all the furniture, clothes, and equipment against the back wall. And I kind of like the symbolism of my copy of War and Peace soaking up fragments. I’d have bought a thicker book if they had one.

Tuesday morning this week I noticed that at last someone had gotten around to putting a concrete barrier in front of the door. Right in front of the door, to be exact. I also noticed it Wednesday night when the warning siren went off and I bolted through the front door for the bunker at about two in the morning. Silly me, trying to push that concrete block out of the way with my nose. (Memo to Self: Make sure path is clear before running out of door in the future.)

Along with their commendable efforts to cut down on the number of perforated bodies they have to patch up, the Army has also gone to considerable trouble and expense to keep us warm. When you come through Kuwait on your way here, you go by a Rapid Issue Facility (RIF) warehouse, where you’re issued some neat, high-speed stuff that has skipped the normal army supply channels to get it in the hands of soldiers as soon as possible. Outstanding, says I. ‘Bout time they didn’t something logical like that. Among the neat stuff you get is a black fleece jacket, lightweight and warm, just about perfect for the desert mornings and evenings around here. Take it off when the day heats up, it packs down to nearly nothing, and you’re on your way. About as close to perfection as the old P38 can opener.

I know I’m pitching a softball to you guys that were in the military, but here it comes, anyway. What do you think happened when it turned cold here and soldiers actually started wearing their issued jackets?

Yep. Command Sergeant Major Zebra nearly had a stroke. One day all is right in his Army, and the next day, he’s surrounded by soldiers wearing UNAUTHORIZED clothing. Good grief, there’s not even a place to put a unit patch on those things, or worse – no place to sew all those stripes on! How in the world can an army function if the head Zebras can’t be identified from a hundred yards?!! Clearly, something had to be done to restore order before morale completely disintegrated and the Iraqi Expeditionary Force turned into some kind of Air Force Rabble or something. So the edict goes out across the land, let there be no more wearing of the fleece as an outer garment. If you insist on trying to stay warm, you wussy, you’ll wear the jacket in shame under your shirt.

Fortunately, this edict (also known as a FRAGO) only lasted about as long as it took the General to walk over to the Zebra shed, dressed in his black fleece jacket.



I am pleased to report that despite this setback, morale and discipline are still holding up.

Friendly fire isn’t. That pretty much sums it up. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Joe is as big a threat to you as ol’ Hajji, but it does pay to be careful. If someone gets careless and has an accidental discharge as you’re coming in, or gets a little too paranoid, it would be pretty easy to find yourself on the wrong side of an American machine gun. Add the confusion that’s unavoidable when you have joint American-Iraqi operations, and things can get crazy in a hurry. I don’t think I realized exactly how big a threat that is until I got over here. I get a little nervous every time we come back inside the wire and go through the checkpoints. All it would take is one shot, or one loud boom, and things could go south in a hurry. One of the things I noticed as a cop was that it might be hard to make that first shot, but after that the next 20 or so came pretty fast – and it’s hard to yell loud enough in the middle of a gunfight to get it stopped.

There is a daily summary here called the Seats Report, which is a compilation of significant activities that occurred across the theatre during the day. Any unit or convoy that is attacked or fired on reports the incident, and the capture or killing of enemy forces is reported, along with recovery of arms and ammunition. Maybe it’s just an aberration, but it seems to me that the quantity and quality of attacks against U.S. forces has slowed down lately. A good many of the attacks consist of just a few rounds of small arms fire, or an RPG fired in the general vicinity. And everyday we’re killing or capturing key targets, something that I suspect is not very widely reported in the press, and maybe that’s just as well. Another encouraging sign is that we’ve established an outpost on Haifa Street in Baghdad, right square-dab in the middle of Baghdad, and are patrolling the street there, which is where so many attacks have come from in the past. When it was first set up the insurgents tried to drive us out, but they were quickly killed or convinced to take up more peaceful pursuits, and the area is considerably calmer now. That is exactly what the Iraqi Police and National Guard should be doing, but I guess it remains to be seen if they’ll step up to the plate on that.

Good news! The replacement battalion for our battalion HQ arrived this morning. That will mean a lot of confusion initially as a new command takes over, but most importantly it means that our relief shouldn’t be too far behind them. Calloo, Callay, oh Frabjous Day!

Sunday, January 02, 2005

STAKEOUTS AND FIREWORKS

I’m not sure whether I should be happy or disappointed. I wasn’t sure what to expect for New Year’s at Beautiful Downtown Camp Liberty, but truthfully, I always secretly harbored a suspicion that our friendly local hosts would try to stage some sort of celebration in our honor. Once again, Islam has let me down.

Those of you familiar with CID will not be surprised that I rang in the New Year working a stakeout on an area that has been frequently burglarized. Considering that the next best option was drinking luke-warm white grape juice at the Morale and Welfare Tent, it really wasn’t that bad a deal. There’s nothing more depressing than being around a bunch of soldiers making fools of themselves on grape juice.

Now your typical stakeout is kinda like first dates – lots of false alarms and not much happening. The best part of it was having a good seat for the midnight show. The arty boys on the south side put up about a dozen illumination flares exactly at midnight. Now, I know the Army would never approve of something as frivolous as wasting perfectly good ammunition just to ring in the New Year, so I figure it had to go something like this:

Infantry Joe gets on the occasionally working field phone to DivArty (Division Artillery) about 6 PM on New Year’s eve, and tells them he just got some reliable information from a captured insurgent that there’s going to be an attack at…oh, say midnight tonight, and can he go ahead and pre-register for some illumination rounds? And I can just imagine DivArty saying – are you sure six is going to be enough? We don’t want to take any chances of not giving you guys enough support. We’ll just go ahead and make it an even dozen. Good luck repelling the evil hordes…and oh, yeah, Happy New Year, Joe!

Stakeout postscript – well, our Bazaar didn’t get broken into, but about 30 minutes after we broke off the surveillance, some Filipino contract workers got into a discussion about cutlery about a hundred yards from where we had been. The loser was stabbed five times with a pretty nasty-looking knife and nearly bled out before someone noticed him on the side of the road and got him over to the troop clinic. They did a quick patch job on him, and then, to quote the Doc who worked on him, “Sometimes the drug of choice is JP8” (helicopter fuel). They evacuated him out to the big hospital in Baghdad, and last I heard he was still alive. Here’s the kicker though – even though we have to work the case, no one will prosecute it. The guy that did the stabbing isn’t subject to military justice, the Iraqis have absolutely no interest in taking on this case, and the Philippines don’t have any sort of extraterritorial jurisdiction. About all we’ll accomplish is to have the guy fired and sent back home.

Have I mentioned the latest Force Protection Measure at our Mess Hall? Ever since the bombing at Mosul, they've had an ambulance parked in front of the mess hall loaded up with stretchers. I've been losing weight ever since! Wouldn't want to put out the survivors who had to carry me out, and listen to them griping about how much I weighed. That, and there's just something about the stretchers that doesn't help the ol' appetite, you know?

Not sure, but think I may have blundered my way into posting a link on this page that will take you to a collection of photos made since I've been over here. I can't get to it, you understand, because the Army server doesn't trust me to go there, but hopefully you can. Thanks to Al Leiby, my old Army buddy, for hosting the pictures.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

SGT ZEBRA AND THE CROWS STRIKE BACK!

Ol’ Boy, our faithful mechanic and chauffeur, is normally not what you would think of as a troublemaker. He generally doesn’t spend enough time awake to get into trouble in the first place, come to think of it. But this week he was drawing fire like Carolers in front of a Mosque.

It all started out innocently enough when Ol’ Boy went out and bought himself his very own radio-controlled model airplane. I should have known that letting Ol’ Boy use a powered ANYTHING without adult supervision was inviting disaster, but I was distracted filling out Department of the Army Form 3873-A, (Accounting for Expendable Supplies in a War Zone).

Ol’ Boy got off to a promising start by crashing his plane into the side of a Colonel’s Suburban, who took it with all the good grace you’d expect of an O-6 who hasn’t had a beer since he got here last March. After that, OB happened onto the idea of picking on something smaller than him, and started buzzing an unfortunate crow that happened to be sitting on post near our trailers. Denny was having a great time chasing the crow around, right up to the point where the crow gave out the secret crow distress signal, which brought about a dozen of his buddies into the fray, and they started whacking the plane around. With visions of his new toy spiraling into the ground in ignominious defeat, OB decided it was time to bring the plane home to Papa and put it up while it still had both wings.

It was that “home to Papa” thing that got him in trouble. When he flew the plane back to where he was, it was hotly pursued by almost a dozen very irate, homicidal crows who now had visual lock on OB. The best part was that OB had locked his trailer door, and had to stand on the step fumbling for keys while the crows were buzzing him. Now he’s pestering me for a Purple Heart, under the theory that he was injured fighting off Iraqi Insurgent Crows. Fat chance. If I don’t get one for all the paper cuts I’ve sustained in the line of duty, he ain’t getting one for losing a fight with a stupid bird.

OB is a quick study, though, and figured out that the crows would probably leave him alone at night. Now, true there was a problem with being able to see the plane at night, but he solved that little problem by strapping on a couple of chem-lights to the plane. When I first saw it, I thought they were the slowest darned tracers I’d ever seen, until I realized that not even Iraqi tracers do loops. Actually, it looked kind of Christmassy, what with a green chem.-light under the right wing, and a red one under the left wing. Filled with the spirit of the Season, I wandered off to the office to fill out some more forms, and left OB under the supervision of Wojo. In retrospect, perhaps not one of my better delegations of authority.

Somehow or other, OB’s little airplane had attracted the attention of the Supreme Plenipotent Command Sergeant Major that I had such a pleasant discussion with earlier. SGT Zebra roars up in his customized Chevy Suburban with Kojak lights flashing awy on the dash, and demands to know who the ranking person is at the scene. That would be Wojo, a person never noted for his fondness of Zebras, Plenipotent or otherwise.
SGT Zebra: “Who authorized this…this plane flying?!!”

Wojo: Good evening, Specialist Zebra. We weren’t aware that authorization was required.

SGT Zebra, sputtering: “Now see here, soldier, can’t you see my stripes in the dark?! I’ll have you know I’m a Command Impotent Major Sergeant, and you’ll treat me as such!:

Wojo: You got it, mac. Now what can we do for you?

SGT Zebra: First, you can stop flying that damned aircraft. It’s a hazard. It’s evil, wicked, mean and nasty. Good for nothing, bad in bed, and better off dead!

Wojo: Good grief, Corporal, I had no idea a model airplane was that dangerous! We shall forthwith cease and desist…uh, exactly what was it we were endangering again?

SGT Zebra: Damn it, man, I told you I’m a Imperial Sergeant Maximus, now get that straight. And speaking of rank, what rank are you? What’s that “US” thingy on your collar?

Wojo: Well, Sarge, that’s what CID Special Agents wear, in accordance, as I’m sure you’re aware, with AR 195-2.

SGT Zebra: CID! (Stepping back…) Say, you’re not one of those guys that walks around with loaded guns in the mess hall are you? Your guns not loaded is it?

Wojo: Why, yes, it is. Here, let me show…

SGT Zebra: Stop it! You’re threatening an endangered species! I’ll report you to …CID!

Wojo: Calm down, your Sergeantness. I’ll see that this miscreant is duly punished, and that his lethal model airplane stays parked. We’re all One Team over here, after all!

SGT Zebra: That’s more like it. He could have caused a helicopter to crash if it had hit that fool machine of his. We have lots of 10 ton helicopters flying at 20 feet over a billet area, after all.

Kids. You just can’t let them out of your sight for a minute. I now have OB’s toy locked up in my wall-locker, and he has to come get me to supervise him when he goes flying. I’d hate for the fighting 38th MP Det (CID) to get credit for downing one of our own choppers, after all.

Happy New Year, my Friends and Family! Never forget that you sleep safe at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on your behalf. (Tip of the pen to George Orwell….)

Monday, December 27, 2004

Christmas Posted by Hello

















Saturday, December 25, 2004

CHRISTMAS PHOTOS

The mess hall here really went all out to put out a good spread for Christmas. They even had Rappin' Reindeer, which wasn't exactly my style, but, hey, it's the thought that counts. After the blast in Mosul, security was tight getting in, but the wait was worth it. Thought you might want to see some pictures from the Mess Hall. This ain't your father's mess hall....

Now about Christmas eve - we had a litle party at the office where everybody drew numbers for a gift. Granted, the shopping opportunities here were a little limited, but everyone was pleased with their trinkets and we had a good time. About 30 minutes afterwards, while we're all basking in the spirit of Christmas cheer (since they won't let you have any other spirits here), we heard a bodacious (that's LOUD, for you not familiar with that military term)boom outside the building, and realized our Muslim brethren were helping us celebrate our holy day with fireworks. They're so damned thoughtful that way. While we were outside, we heard a gunfight cranking up in the direction of the post exit onto Route Irish. One of the FNG's, Young Billy, thought it might be a range. We pointed out that even the Army wasn't Scroogeish enough to run a range on Christmas Eve, and besides, the volume of fire was much too intense. Then we started seeing the tracers arcing out into the air. We all grabbed up a cup of hot coffee and crowded outside to watch the fireworks, which lasted for about 15 minutes.

Ha! Bet your Christmas didn't have that, huh?


(If you don't see any pictures, it's because my able assistant, Igor, hasn't gotten around to posting them yet. We have to do an end-around because the Army server won't let me post photos directly.)

They gave us real silverware for the occasion!



The Dessert Table -



Our Christmas Cabana -



Friday, December 24, 2004

THEY MISSED ME

My apologies for those of you who may have wondered if I was all right after hearing the news of the bombing at the mess hall in Mosul (fade to Sally Fields accepting the Oscar : “You love me! You really love me!”. I probably should have posted something sooner to let you know I was OK, but it somehow seemed kind of pretentious to assume I rated that high in your thoughts. Darned glad to know that I do!

Mosul is well north of us, and has always been a mortar magnet. All of the mess halls I’ve seen over here are pretty similar, so I can imagine only too well how much damage an explosion in one would do. The first assumptions were that some raghead just got lucky with a rocket or mortar, as all of the bases get IDF’ed (Indirect fire – mortars and rockets) pretty regular, despite our best efforts to reason sweetly with the disgruntled few.

Early on I started hearing a buzz that it was a suicide bomber, probably an Iraqi National Guardsman (ING), and it appears that this is indeed the case. So far, the Iraqi security forces have been a pathetic joke, and unless they develop the motivation and skills to police themselves and ruthlessly seek out and engage the insurgents our efforts here will have been in vain. I’m not optimistic that will happen.

Had an interesting conversation with an MP Captain who supports the Iraqi Police Stations in Baghdad. The U.S. was so concerned about abuses by the Iraqi police that when we dismantled them and put them back together again, the only thing we would arm them with was second-hand AK47’s and Glocks, plus a light machine gun or two. Plus they have no armored vehicles, half as many sets of body armor as they need, and radios that don’t work half the time.

Bad deal, right? It gets worse. The Iraqi police system is composed of at least three separate and unrelated divisions – the major crimes unit, that does investigations, the patrol division who do what we would generally think of as police work, and a third division that sits around the station, drinks tea, takes the occasional walk-in report, and are charged with abandoning the station and their weapons if someone looks at them in a threatening manner. Guess which Division most of the cops think they belong to? And the Divisions don’t talk to each other, of course. My MP Captain was telling me that he finally got one station to actually put patrols on the street, and the third day of patrolling they had a van pull out in front of their Land Cruiser and riddle it with AK47 fire, killing one officer and wounding another. American cops would have beaten the ground flat to find and…uh, arrest…those guys, but the Iraqis took this to mean they were taking too many chances with too little protection. Gee, imagine that. So now they sit around their station and drink tea, while murderers walk the street with rifles slung over their shoulders.

And there’s one more twist. Since this is an American/British show, there is a lot of tension over which model of policing the Iraqis should use. The Brits naturally prefer their system, and we want to make them into San Francisco PD East. We should probably contract out the police training program to the Italian Carbinerri; their model seems to me to be the most appropriate. But whichever model is used, it won’t succeed unless politicians are willing to defend the police and army from CNN and the host of critics who seem to think you can reason with armed zealots.

Well, you can - as long as you have superior firepower and lots of high explosives on your side.

As long as I’m ranting, might as well sound off on the media coverage of the Mosul bombing. Did anyone else besides me get the impression from watching the breathless, concerned faces on TV that we have just sustained the greatest and most devastating loss of life since the D-Day? What this country needs is not a good five cent cigar, but a better understanding of the definition of war. I am in no way minimizing the tragedy of those soldiers and civilians killed at Mosul, but it was just another day in a war. I can’t imagine the media in WWII, Korea, or even Vietnam going as completely bonkers over what is really just another battle, and I’m afraid we’re conditioning the public to believe that wars can be won without casualties. Iraq is the opening round in a war against Muslim extremists, and we had darned well better recognize it as a war and quit whimpering when we get an occasional bloody nose. If you want to use it as a goad to get mad and destroy the enemy any way possible, good on ya, mate – but please don’t bring out the crying towels and try to second-guess everything.

I know, I’m not being very direct about my feelings. I’ll work on that.

But on to more cheerful subjects. Today is about my favorite day of the year – Christmas eve, and not even Iraq can dampen that enthusiasm. Now, being away from my wife on Christmas eve can, but that’s a whole ‘nuther web page. The day got off to a good start when I grabbed up a MRE and Dr. Pepper and headed over to the artillery pad to watch the 155mm self-propelled guns ring in this day of peace and love. With my usual impeccable timing, I got there just as everyone was leaving. They really should publish a program or something.

All the agents are getting together about 7 tonight to swap some gag gifts and give some recognition to the Christmas Holiday. I’ll probably get a lot of shampoo and hair conditioner as usual. Sigh. Then after that I’ll come back to the trailer and hope desperately that we don’t get a duty call so I’ll have the time to drown my sorrows in a DP and meditate on the flashing lights of my little Christmas tree and recall all the pleasures of Christmas past with family members no longer here. And celebrate the joy of the wonderful friends and family in my life now.

Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

THEY MISSED ME

My apologies for those of you who may have wondered if I was all right after hearing the news of the bombing at the mess hall in Mosul (fade to Sally Fields accepting the Oscar : “You love me! You really love me!”. I probably should have posted something sooner to let you know I was OK, but it somehow seemed kind of pretentious to assume I rated that high in your thoughts. Darned glad to know that I do!

Mosul is well north of us, and has always been a mortar magnet. All of the mess halls I’ve seen over here are pretty similar, so I can imagine only too well how much damage an explosion in one would do. The first assumptions were that some raghead just got lucky with a rocket or mortar, as all of the bases get IDF’ed (Indirect fire – mortars and rockets) pretty regular, despite our best efforts to reason sweetly with the disgruntled few.

Early on I started hearing a buzz that it was a suicide bomber, probably an Iraqi National Guardsman (ING), and it appears that this is indeed the case. So far, the Iraqi security forces have been a pathetic joke, and unless they develop the motivation and skills to police themselves and ruthlessly seek out and engage the insurgents our efforts here will have been in vain. I’m not optimistic that will happen.

Had an interesting conversation with an MP Captain who supports the Iraqi Police Stations in Baghdad. The U.S. was so concerned about abuses by the Iraqi police that when we dismantled them and put them back together again, the only thing we would arm them with was second-hand AK47’s and Glocks, plus a light machine gun or two. Plus they have no armored vehicles, half as many sets of body armor as they need, and radios that don’t work half the time.

Bad deal, right? It gets worse. The Iraqi police system is composed of at least three separate and unrelated divisions – the major crimes unit, that does investigations, the patrol division who do what we would generally think of as police work, and a third division that sits around the station, drinks tea, takes the occasional walk-in report, and are charged with abandoning the station and their weapons if someone looks at them in a threatening manner. Guess which Division most of the cops think they belong to? And the Divisions don’t talk to each other, of course. My MP Captain was telling me that he finally got one station to actually put patrols on the street, and the third day of patrolling they had a van pull out in front of their Land Cruiser and riddle it with AK47 fire, killing one officer and wounding another. American cops would have beaten the ground flat to find and…uh, arrest…those guys, but the Iraqis took this to mean they were taking too many chances with too little protection. Gee, imagine that. So now they sit around their station and drink tea, while murderers walk the street with rifles slung over their shoulders.

And there’s one more twist. Since this is an American/British show, there is a lot of tension over which model of policing the Iraqis should use. The Brits naturally prefer their system, and we want to make them into San Francisco PD East. We should probably contract out the police training program to the Italian Carbinerri; their model seems to me to be the most appropriate. But whichever model is used, it won’t succeed unless politicians are willing to defend the police and army from CNN and the host of critics who seem to think you can reason with armed zealots.

Well, you can - as long as you have superior firepower and lots of high explosives on your side.

As long as I’m ranting, might as well sound off on the media coverage of the Mosul bombing. Did anyone else besides me get the impression from watching the breathless, concerned faces on TV that we have just sustained the greatest and most devastating loss of life since the D-Day? What this country needs is not a good five cent cigar, but a better understanding of the definition of war. I am in no way minimizing the tragedy of those soldiers and civilians killed at Mosul, but it was just another day in a war. I can’t imagine the media in WWII, Korea, or even Vietnam going as completely bonkers over what is really just another battle, and I’m afraid we’re conditioning the public to believe that wars can be won without casualties. Iraq is the opening round in a war against Muslim extremists, and we had darned well better recognize it as a war and quit whimpering when we get an occasional bloody nose. If you want to use it as a goad to get mad and destroy the enemy any way possible, good on ya, mate – but please don’t bring out the crying towels and try to second-guess everything.

I know, I’m not being very direct about my feelings. I’ll work on that.

But on to more cheerful subjects. Today is about my favorite day of the year – Christmas eve, and not even Iraq can dampen that enthusiasm. Now, being away from my wife on Christmas eve can, but that’s a whole ‘nuther web page. The day got off to a good start when I grabbed up a MRE and Dr. Pepper and headed over to the artillery pad to watch the 155mm self-propelled guns ring in this day of peace and love. With my usual impeccable timing, I got there just as everyone was leaving. They really should publish a program or something.

All the agents are getting together about 7 tonight to swap some gag gifts and give some recognition to the Christmas Holiday. I’ll probably get a lot of shampoo and hair conditioner as usual. Sigh. Then after that I’ll come back to the trailer and hope desperately that we don’t get a duty call so I’ll have the time to drown my sorrows in a DP and meditate on the flashing lights of my little Christmas tree and recall all the pleasures of Christmas past with family members no longer here. And celebrate the joy of the wonderful friends and family in my life now.

Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

ANGELS

The message below is shamelessly plagarized from the late Paul Crume, a former columnist for the Dallas Morning News. I don't think he would mind my use of his column, though.

I've always liked the article, and I like it even more this year, for I have felt the brush of angel wings in the prayers and support of my friends and family. God Bless you all, and Merry Christmas!
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

A man wrote me not long ago and asked me what I thought of the theory of angels. I immediately told him that I am highly in favor of angels. As a matter of fact, I am scared to death of them.

Any adult human being with half sense, and some with more, knows that there are angels. If he has ever spent any period in loneliness, when the senses are forced in upon themselves, he has felt the wind from their beating wings and been overwhelmed with the sudden realization of the endless and gigantic dark that exists outside the little candle flame of human knowledge. He has prayed, not in the sense that he asked for something, but that he yielded himself.

Angels live daily at our very elbows, and so do demons, and most men at one time or another in their lives have yielded themselves to both and have lived to rejoice and rue their impulses.

But the man who has once felt the beat of an angel’s wing finds it easy to rejoice at the universe and at his fellow man.

It does not happen to any man often, and too many of us dismiss it when it happens. I remember a time in my final days in college when the chinaberry trees were abloom and the air was sweet with spring blossoms and I stood still on the street, suddenly struck with the feeling of something that was an enormous promise and yet was no tangible promise at all.

And there was another night in a small boat when the moon was full and the distant headlands were dark but beautiful and we were lonely. The pull of a nameless emotion was so strong that it filled the atmosphere. The small boy within me cried. Psychiatrists will say that the angel in all this was really within me, not outside, but it makes no difference.

There are angels inside us and angels outside, and the one inside is usually the quickest choked.

Francis Thompson said it better. He was a late 19th-century English poet who would put the current crop of hippies to shame. He was on pot all his life. His pad was always mean and was sometimes a park bench. He was a mental case and tubercular besides. He carried a fishing creel into which he dropped the poetry that was later to become immortal.

“The angels keep their ancient places,” wrote Francis Thompson in protest. “Turn but a stone, and start a wing.”

He was lonely enough to be the constant associate of angels.

There is an angel close to you this day. Merry Christmas, and I wish you well.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

ATTACK OF THE MUTANT ZEBRA

Good ol’ Army! Just as I was worrying about coming down with a terminal case of writer’s block, the Army bureaucracy stepped in to save me. As my regular readers know, I’m big on minding my own business. So there I was in the mess hall, minding my own business in a military sort of way, when some derelict with more stripes than a mutant zebra slithers up and hisses, “Chief, you have a magazine in your pistol.”

The guy is obviously fishing for compliments, so I praised him for his astute powers of observation and try to go back to enjoying my swill. No such luck. The Zebra brays something about being the supreme plenipotentiary Command Sergeant Major of some organization or other, and informs me that base policy requires all weapons to be cleared before entering, and I’d better get with the program.

OK, this ain’t my first rodeo, and I don’t make the beginner’s mistake of pointing out that he is obviously going to lose this argument. If nothing else, I have bullets in my gun and he doesn’t. But never mind that. I’ll try casting pearls before swine, or in this case, zebras. I’ll beat him with his own stick. Between bites of some long-deceased mammal, I point out to him that Army Regulation 195-2 specifically authorizes CID agents to lurk about in an armed status, and that generally, AR’s outrank local municipal decrees by RLO’s (Real Live Officers, as compared to the higher life form of Warrant Officers) who are looking for an excuse to get their name on a memo.

The Zebra blinks, but he’s tough and recovers quickly. “Chief, I don’t care who you are or what you do, you gotta comply with our silly, I mean, relevant, regulations just like everyone else. We can’t have soldiers eating dinner with loaded guns. Why, just the other day we got a nice letter from Sarah Brady and Handgun Control, Inc., that what we’re doing is right.” I can’t help but notice that his bright red face goes nicely with all those black stripes. And I sure can’t help but notice that he is now screaming and spraying DNA samples in what used to be a perfectly non-poisonous meal.

The trick to dealing with enraged zebras is to show no fear, maintain eye contact…and smack ‘em soundly between the running lights with a large, heavy object. Regrettably, bludgeoning him with my plastic force would only infuriate him more, so I once again try the voice of sweet reason. “Sergeant Zebra, when you were back at the zoo at Fort Hood, CID agents ate at the mess hall on a regular basis while armed. We’re still agents, and we’re still in the Army. What’s the difference?”

I can’t make this stuff up. Here’s what he said: “I’ll tell you the difference, Chief. That was back in the States, and now we’re in a war zone. We can’t allow soldiers to go around armed in a war zone.”

Oh, this zebra was good. Now it was my turn to blink, temporarily stunned by an absolutely masterful delivery of unbridled stupidity. With shaking hands, I reached to open a shirt pocket, and pull out my ace: FRAGO 658, dated 6 Sep 04, reluctantly concurring that it was OK for cops to carry loaded weapons. But not soldiers. Fortunately, under the terms of FRAGO 658, I qualified as a cop.

SGT Zebra turned his head and covered his face like a vampire seeing the dawn, then stamped his feet and stalked away. Probably looking for some private fresh off a combat patrol who didn’t have clean boots to pick on. Zebras. You gotta love ‘em.

This news just in: heard from a MI (Military Intelligence) type that some of the haji RPG gunners believe that Americans have a “force field” around their vehicles to deflect incoming projectiles. Fortunately for the hajis, their scientists have managed to come up with a way to defeat our force fields – you just wrap a garbage bag over the head of the RPG round, seal it up good and tight with duct tape, and this blocks out the secret emissions that deflect the round.

It also produces the greatly-to-be desired effect of screwing up the arming mechanism on the RPG’s so they don’t detonate. Which is probably even more proof to the frustrated RPG gunner that the evil American force field is especially strong. Maybe he’s supposed to wrap TWO garbage bags around the warhead?

While this may come as a shock to some of my friends, I’ve been attending Sunday services somewhat regularly here. (Well, 3 times in 3 months. It was enough to rate a phone call from Ripley’s Believe it or Not.) The choir is good, even if they do sing songs I’ve never heard in a church before. I don’t know. I may keep it up when I get home, but I’m sure going to miss seeing machine guns stacked by the pews. Somehow, it just won’t seem like Sunday without them.

Hope SGT ZEBRA doesn’t find out about this!

P.S. In an unusual burst of energy, I published two pages today, so you might want to check the previous page,
METEOROLOGY & GLOBALIZATION