Friday, June 30, 2006

Home is where the homepage is

TGIF! I've made it to another weekend. Friday is a late day but now that it's over, I can actually relax for a few days. There is still work to do, but the crunch of extra administration for various weekly briefings is over. Today our command finally announced that they have a webpage! You can see it here. I've been waiting for a while for them to do that, as it lets you read about my job from more official, vetted sources and I don't have to worry about whether what I'm saying is something I'm allowed to say. Check it out! I'll add a link to the sidebar tomorrow. Speaking of links, I've added another blog to the list. Desert AW (or "Desert A-dub") is getting ready to join JCCS-1 out here as well. The Navy is going to take over this place! Be sure to give him your support as he goes through the same training and preparation that I did.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Whew! I almost finally crawled out of the office a second consecutive night forgetting to post an update. Don't want you all to start worrying about me! The weekend is approaching and I'm actually trying to get stuff done ahead of deadline this time. That means that Wednesdays and Thursdays have become my busiest days. Things should let up tomorrow, though, as we approach the slow weekend days. The temperatures are warming up, approaching 120 most days. I'm spending a lot of time in the air conditioning. I've started delaying my dinner meal until about 7 or 7:30 in the evening, when it actually is a nice "comfortable" 108 or so. For today's picture, we'll look closely at the water tower situated about midway between where I work, eat, and sleep. In other words, I'm always close to this thing. It, along with many other structures on base (including aircraft hangars), has an interesting camouflage scheme. It's painted a sort of light blue, with yellow puzzle-piece shaped splotches on it. I really wonder who designed it and if it's supposed to blend into... the sky, maybe? Or perhaps they just had extra yellow paint? I suppose we'll never know.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Misery Loves Company

Okay, so it's not that miserable here, but I have stumbled on (or been told about or had comments made by authors of) other blogs of Navy people out here in the desert, so I've added a section to the links on the right hand side to these other blogs, appropriately titled "Fish out of water." Currently the links to Navy folks over here are to cdr salamander and Dried Squid (I like that name!). Also, a girlfriend of someone in my organization has her own blog from the homefront, My boyfriend, the Sailor, is in Iraq!. Feel free to read these other interesting blogs, and also let me know if there are other links you'd like to see. The photo du jour is of one of the few places on base that is off-limits to us, but accessible by the local population (once they get through us!). There was a mosque on the base when we took it over and we have, of course, respected the locals enough to stay away from it. Some of the locals stop by periodically to check on it and do some renovations, anticipating the day when they will be able to take the base back from us. I just finished a videoteleconference with the unit coming to relieve the 181st. One of my first thoughts after looking at all the staff members on the TV screen was "Boy are they all old." Then I realized they are all probably about my age. I guess I'm old. Anyway, they do look like a great group of people to work with... they're National Guard, which means they will be bringing a different perspective to the fight as well. Should be interesting.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bird on a wire

Another Monday has come and gone. Once again, taking some time off on Sunday ends up causing extra work the next day. Good thing coffee is plentiful. Today's picture is of a pigeon sitting on the fence near the building where I work. It, and a friend, seem to always be there, and frequently my colleagues accompanying me on trips to the DFAC will throw a piece of gravel at the birds, invariably missing. I'm told that the pigeons are actually a real problem on the flightline, as feathers and jet engines don't mix well together. Apparently, occasional "hunting parties" are organized where a bunch of soldiers (or airmen) get in a bus with pellet guns and drive around shooting the birds. Now I know why we have fried chicken at the DFAC so often.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

A matter of timing

While occasional mortar shots come into the base, many times they are just a one-shot deal and are over before we even knew about them. Last night, however, there were several in a row, and we were supposed to be in shelters for an extended period. In a horribly ironic sense of timing, I was using the latrine facilities at the time. That would be just my luck... if I ever get hit by a mortar, it will probably be in a compromising position like that. Anyway, as usual nothing really happened and it's back to business as usual. It's a new moon tonight. I haven't really been tracking moon phases, but since there are very few street lights on the base, it's very noticeable when it gets really dark. In the parlance of the weather people, "0% illumination." It's quite a contrast to the full moon, which seems so bright that the sky never really gets black, instead turning a deep shade of blue. One good thing about the dark new moon sky is that it makes for nice stargazing. Today's picture is the stop sign at the intersection between my office and the DFAC. I can't read the arabic letters but I'm told they are pronounced like the word "cough." If I ever have to tell someone to "cough" I'm probably in some trouble. You'll also see the street signs next to it. Obviously those were invented by Americans as we adapted the base to our uses. The main streets that run up and down the base are named for states. My office is on Alabama. My hooch is on Pennsylvania Avenue. I wonder how close my "white house" address is to 1600...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Electric Slide

Many of you will recognize the title of this post as a particular type of line dance. And you would be correct. I just returned from spending a few hours line dancing. Or at least stumbling around the dancefloor at the MWR trying to learn a bunch of new moves. Fortunately I was not the only one. One of the sergeants at my battalion has become the instructor for the line dance class, and recruitment is heavy around here. About half the participants are from our unit. It's actually fun, and it's also a good work out! I'm worn out! I did tell my wife about my line dancing and she remarked that every time she talks to me I'm talking about dancing, or movies, or some other fun thing I'm doing. Like I'm on vacation! I assured her that I'm working hard enough to earn those few hours of "play" time! While I took some pictures today, I forgot to bring my camera in to make this post so you'll have to settle for a comic strip I read yesterday that deals with my current assignment in the "Transportation" business. It's self explanatory. Speaking of transportation, I'll make one final comment. The Line Dancing class was at the MWR on the opposite side of the base, so I rode in a Humvee to get there. One of the rules around here is that you have to wear your Kevlar helmet when you're riding in a Humvee. Even if you're not wearing your uniform. I have frequently seen other people driving around in Humvees in PT gear and Kevlar, and always thought it looked silly. Well, tonight I must have looked silly. Fit in with the theme, I guess.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Any Time, Any Task

Another weekend approaches. Friday is "Opening Night" for new movies here, and the Disney/Pixar picture Cars just opened. I caught the first showing along with several of the other Navy folks here. I was quite surprised how much I enjoyed a "G" movie, even without kids. (As I type this, the wife and kids are attending the same movie back home!) Very amusing flick. (I *really* liked the "One Man Band" short clip at the beginning!) In my continuing series of pictures, we'll move right outside the office building door. One of the ubiquitous structures around here are concrete barriers. They surround all the housing units, many buildings, and pretty much anything that needs to be protected from mortar attacks. The troops, of course, don't like to see plain grey concrete barriers everywhere so they use them as canvas for their artwork. This barrier outside the 181st Transportation Battalion was painted by one of their current soldiers. There's another 181st Trans painting over by the DFAC, pictured here. It's from the group that was here for the initial OIF, and as you can see from the picture, their mission has changed quite a bit! They aren't exactly breaking down doors on a regular basis. I'm apparently famous among some of the other folks in our Navy unit. One of the petty officers was talking to me today and asking a bit about my home command, career, etc. He recognized my profile from this website and said, "You're Desert Periscope, aren't you?" He said he'd tell all his friends that he'd met me. But he didn't ask for my autograph. I finally finished my analysis project, and I'm embarking on another programming project in Excel. Yep... teach me a new toy and I'll find all sorts of nails to hit with a sledgehammer!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lost in Translation

Since work life is starting to get largely repetitive (and I can't really say that much about it anyway) I figured I would put my camera to work and start taking more pictures around the base. I'll start right outside my office. Above the door, even. As I've mentioned before, most of the buildings that people operate out of are buildings previously constructed by the Iraqis. Some of the nicer buildings (like the main headquarters) have nice marble flooring and really classy decorations. Our building is much more utilitarian, but most of the offices do have signs painted above the doors to indicate what office they are. Or, more accurately, were during the Saddam era. This is the sign above my door. Can anyone translate it?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Stars Align

Happy Summer!

I'm sure you are all aware that today marked the Summer Solstice, remarkable for being the longest day of the year. So I can now say I have successfully completed the longest day I will spend in Iraq. I took a photo of the sunset to commemorate the moment.

More remarkable today was the interesting sense of timing on something job related. I've mentioned the past several days that I have been spending a lot of free time working on an analysis project, and learning lots of tricks in Microsoft Excel, and programming in Visual Basic. Well, today, just as I put the finishing touches on the first version of my project, I got an email about certain tactics we will have to recommend, and it turns out my project is a perfect way to help decide which recommendation to make. I am trying to figure out if I was really that good with the foresight, or just plain lucky with the timing — the stars aligning. In any case, it's nice to get a new "complicated" task and already have put in all the heavy lifting to get the answer almost instantly.

The summer weather is definitely going to heat up. The forecast for the weekend is 120. I'm told it can get up to 135... I just don't even want to think about that yet. Good thing we get free gatorade.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Going Batty

Finally something interesting happened! I was enjoying some of the nice cool (in the 90s) evening air in the courtyard of the building where I work, and chatting with one of the other officers on the staff, when we were suddenly, and without warning, assaulted by bats! I had seen the evidence of some creature (I think the bat term is 'guano') but had dismissed it as birds until I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Needless to say, I hoofed it indoors pretty quickly after that. Other than that, not that much has happened. I went shopping to buy the appropriate safety accessories for my bicycle (helmet, headlight and taillight, and lock) which, ironically, cost me more than the bike itself. Go figure! And in the rest of m time I've been toying with my spreadsheet program and Visual Basic, getting even more dangerous than I was before. My working prototype is already turning heads, and I'm adding bells and whistles to make it even snazzier. Some of the comments I've had are "you've got too much free time." But it is part of my job, really! I have definitely gotten past my initial excitement over the food, and I am starting to partake of the occasional ice cream (yes, Baskin Robbins) for dessert, just to mix it up a little. I think I've earned it!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Busy and Fun

I realized sometime during the day today that I hadn't posted an update for yesterday. While I did have some time off, the main reason is probably that I just got caught up in my project that I'm working on in Excel. Those who know me know that when I get involved in a coding project (and that's essentially what this is), I tend to really get into it! The good news is that I've made great progress and got lots of things done with it. The bad news is... well, obviously you missed a day's reading about me. But I'm sure you'll get over it, and the world will be a better place for the work I'm doing. It is actually fun work that I'm doing now, and useful skills that I can bring home with me after this tour. And, like everything else around here, when I keep busy doing work, time just zips on by. I did take a break from work to watch a movie tonight. (The Break Up, if you must know. We all decided it was a definite chick flick, but a bad movie is better than a good meeting at work.) There was a mortar attack while we were in the theater. It's kind of nice to know you're sheltered and the safest thing to do is continue watching the flick! We discussed, and felt sorry for, some of our fellow Navy guys at some of the other bases who are not in as comfortable conditions as we are. And speaking of comfortable conditions, I think I'll head back to my comfortable hooch and catch some sleep so I can program more efficiently tomorrow!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Basic Training

No, the title of this post has absolutely nothing to do with boot camp. I have been working on a data analysis project associated with my job, and finally got down today to the nitty gritty of actually trying to get Microsoft Excel to do some more advanced things, which involved delving into the wonderful world of Visual Basic programming. Those who know me will not be surprised to learn that with a few searches on Google and a few experiments and searches of Excel's Help functionality (I even smiled at Clippy, the paperclip), I managed to do exactly what I wanted to do. I guess I can say I've learned yet another programming language. Although I can't see that it's very much different than others I've used... but I have learned how to implement it. And that's fun for me. I know, I'm a complete geek, but hey. One has to do what one has to do. My project is moving swimmingly along, and that's a good note on which to end the day, and the week, as I enjoy my half-day weekend tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Marking Time

Today was an especially busy day, which I suppose had its advantage in that the time flew by (as usual). The unfortunate thing was that I am not sure just how much work I accomplished other than communicating a lot of things to a lot of people. But then again, it was important stuff I was communicating, so I guess I did do something. While not quite at the point of being one fifth of the way through this deployment, I was pleased today when my tracking spreadsheet rounded up to the 20% compete point! I'm making progress! The second ten percent certainly seemed like it went faster than the first, so I'm hoping that trend continues. Still, there's a lot of red in that picture. Being assigned here for a year does give me some face credibility with the troops, though. They see me as in the same situation as they are (although they'll be leaving before me, it's all the same year). Not so most of the Air Force people here, who tend to do 4 month deployments. Yep, 4 months. Two groups of Air Force people will come and go and a third will have arrived before I go home. The Air Force people also tend to walk around in PT gear a lot more than the Army does... I guess they've learned the right way to live in Iraq and the Army is still stuck in its old ways with long sleeved shirts. At least my arms don't get sunburned (but my solar powered watch keeps complaining!) My phones are improving. The name has been corrected, and one of them works well. The other dials out fine, but won't take incoming calls. I wonder if that's a good thing... should I bother getting it fixed? Let's just say repairing it won't be a high priority.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


Not much new happened in the job front today. It's the classic case of crisis management, where procrastinators win by getting to do the job only when required, and those who planned ahead see their plans go up in smoke. I, fortunately, am a procrastinator. It was a little bit hotter today (about 113) then it has been over the last several days. Lots of blowing dust has been keeping a haze over the entire base (kind of like fog) which has kept the temperatures in the high 100's. I really can tell the difference when it jumps up above 110. And Summer hasn't even officially started! I hope it doesn't get much worse... About half the time I'm able to have lunch with people from either the unit I'm stationed with, or others from the Navy who work at other commands on the base. But other times I'm on my own, which has presented numerous impromptu conversations. The questions are always the same... what's a Navy guy doing here. Most of them understand after a brief explanation. I'm finding out about the wide variety of Army jobs here. It's amazing the diversity of tasks required. I can generally categorize the people into two groups. There are the family people, like me, who enjoy talking about their wife (a little) and kids (a lot), and are counting the days until they leave. And then there are those talking about trying to extend their time here, who are invariably single. Not a great surprise, really. I probably wouldn't mind a longer tour here if it wasn't the fact that I'd much rather be with my own family. But I only have 35 million seconds until I get home! Yay! Oops. That's a very big number, isn't it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Boxes Galore

I should start with an apology to my loyal daily readers for the missed post yesterday. I got busy and the update slipped my mind. Yesterday was another great mail day. It started with a care package from mom (Hi Mom!) with some wonderful items in it. And then I spent most of the day coordinating the delivery of another "package" of really important stuff for my job. Here's a picture of me and several other Navy guys (and a few civilians) shortly after dinner, smiling and celebrating the delivery of the container full of boxes of fun stuff. (The vehicle moving the container is called MHE, which I think is Material Handling Equipment. It picks these huge containers up off flatbeds and then drives them to where they need to go. Pretty impressive machinery.) That's probably the last time we'll all be quite as happy for a while. Unpacking the boxes and doing good things for the war with the items inside will keep us very busy for some time to come. Today's great news was that the VOIP phones on my desk finally came to life! No longer do they say "Registration Rejected." Now they have my name displayed. Or, someone else's name that looks very similar to my name. I guess I can make prank calls now and pretend I'm "CDR Willis." I'm told it will take a few days for that to get fixed. That's the Army for you. I'm busy sorting through all the pictures and drawings I got from my family and hanging them on my office and hooch walls. I definitely feel much more connected to the family now. And boy, my little girl sure is growing fast!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Big things come in small packages

I was surprised this morning to receive a rather large box in the mail! I've been referring to it today (in a very bragging manner) as the MOACP. That's Mother Of All Care Packages. While my wife was visiting family a week ago, they all got together and made up care packages, which all got shipped in the same box. I still haven't had time to go through it all, but I'm quite excited about it all! It's all very much appreciated! (Checking the postmark, it took exactly 7 days to get here!) But one of the most welcome items in the package took up only a small amout of space. A small book of drawings, lovingly colored on by my son. I have a considerable collection of artwork now to decorate my walls. *proud dad look* In other news, I sold the TV I repaired to another Navy guy, and bought a used bicycle today from someone getting ready to leave next month. It needs a little TLC, but it's workable and I'm sure will serve its purpose of getting me around the base faster than walking.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rocky Mountain "Hi!"

It was a lazy Sunday, with only a little bit of work and a lot of time to catch up on some reading I'd been putting off for a long while. I enjoyed the chance to recharge my batteries and I'm ready to hit the next week running! At least I think so on Sunday night. Ask me again on Monday morning. The office is coming together: we have lots of educational posters on the walls now (essentially super-sized versions of powerpoint slides!) and on Saturday we finally got our phones brought into the room. Problem is, we're still not connected! They are Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) phones, one each for the unclassified and classified networks, and a request got put in to get the lines activated. But for more than twenty four hours now, I've been watching them continually try to connect but always end up with a disheartening "Registration Rejected" message. Ah, well. Maybe sometime next week. As a final comment, my Colorado extended family will be happy to know that my beverage of choice for most lunches and dinners has become the Non-Alcoholic version of Coors. It's odd, since I haven't been that much of a beer drinker before, and I'm certainly not doing it for the alcohol (there is less than 0.5% per can). I do seem to enjoy the taste, but more importantly, all the other drink options (soft drinks, water, gatorade) are in refrigerators that never get cold because they are opened so often, while the beer is kept on ice. And there's something about an ice cold beer (even without alcohol) on a hot day that is just plain satisfying.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Return on Investment

Another week has passed, and I'm having a relaxing Saturday evening. I'm starting to relish my half-day weekend! The highlight of today was purchasing a new fuse for a dollar and successfully repairing the TV that I got for free when I moved into my new hooch. It works great now (and probably will until someone plugs it into 220 volt power again!) I can probably turn around and sell it for a tidy sum. I guess I can add "repairs electronic equipment" to my resume. My ribeye was delicious at the barbecue, and I'm getting ready to watch the second half of last Saturday's movie, The Blue Max. The talk over dinner was the improvised tactic that someone is using in Afghanistan. We've heard of VBIEDs (Vehicle Borne IEDs) and PBIEDs (Pedestrian Borne IEDs.) Turns out someone put a bomb on the back of a donkey. The question is, do we call it a DBIED (Donkey Borne IED)? Or, the popular favorite, a "Weapon of Ass Destruction."

Friday, June 09, 2006

In Search of Food Diversity

Just another day in paradise. Ironically, the marshland intersection of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers here in Iraq is supposed to be the site of paradise: specifically, the Garden of Eden. Apparently, Saddam directed many water redirection projects from that area after the indigenous people tried to rise up against him after the first Gulf war, and he essentially ruined the area. The UN called it "one of the world's greatest environmental disasters." Recently, a U.S. State Department project called Eden Again has made great gains in restoring the area. I'm still not sure I'd want to live there, but it's home for someone, and I'm glad we were able to undo some of the damage done by the former regime. In the much dryer areas north of Baghdad, it's not quite as lovely. After deciding that the repetitive food was not appetizing for dinner, a friend and I set out to visit one of the other DFACs today. There are actually four on base, but one of them is on the other side and takes a while to get to, leaving us three real choices. Each is unique. DFAC-1 is the biggest and seems to have the most choices. DFAC-2 is closest to where I work and live, but it is also the most repetitive and bland. DFAC-3 was where we walked for dinner, and I scored with some unique offerings, specifically lasagna and a strawberry smoothie. Definitely a good change of pace. On the way back we stopped at the PX to purchase steaks. All us Navy guys and the civilian contractors who work with the equipment we're trained on are going to have a barbecue. The PX sells frozen meat, so it takes a bit of planning to make sure you're ready. We got a nice deal on a pair of ribeye steaks, so tomorrow the DFAC will just be our source for condiments. I think they'll still charge us (or the taxpayers) the alleged $30 per plate charge for stepping in the door. Off to call home and get permission for other shopping splurges I identified. Wish me luck...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Al Zarqawi meeting arranged with Allah

Shortly after 9/11, someone had asked General Schwarzkopf if he had room for forgiveness for the terrorists who had perpetrated the attacks. Stormin' Norman's response was classic (and has since been quoted famously by Denzel Washington as Creasy in the movie Man on Fire): "I believe that forgiving them is God's function. Our job is to arrange the meeting." The big news around the base today is that the number one person on Iraq's "most wanted" list, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, has just met his maker. The operation took place not far away from where I'm based, actually. We're all hopeful that it, along with last week's successful operation against Hasayn Ali Muzabir, who was in charge of Al Qaeda operations near us in Samarra, will improve conditions here. If we're able to reach this high up in the organization, it gives me higher confidence that we're at least starting to get a hold on some of these people trying to kill us. The other lunch table conversation is revolving around the revelation from the VA that nearly all active duty personnel (anybody who has SGLI) had their personal information on the laptop that was recently stolen. I have always thought that the military in general was generally careless with social security numbers and dates of birth, but never thought that a breach like this could affect 2.2 million people. I guess the good news is that I'm literally only one of a few million people and anybody trying to exploit this information will likely pick one of the others, especially if they go alphabetically. It's nice being in the "W" section of the alphabet. As big as news is outside the wire, events inside the wire are relatively routine. It's still hot (although I think today was 'relatively' cool compared to the last few). It was only 111, as opposed to the 115-117 we've seen the last few days. I guess you do learn to adapt to the heat. That's it for today's excitement. Off to call the credit agencies to put an alert on my file.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


Halfway through another week! The highlight of today is the fact that Wednesday is "Mongolian Barbecue" night at the Dining Facility. I tried to organize a get together of our Navy folks to celebrate the Suhkbaatar. If you've never heard that word before, you'll be excited to learn it is the name of the only ship in the Mongolian Navy. Mongolia, if you didn't know, is a land-locked country, so it obviously has little use for a Navy; still, it has one. The Mongolian Navy patrols Lake Hovsgol and is reported to be the world's smallest, consisting of "a ship and seven sailors, only one of whom can swim" according to another blog I found. I figured having a bunch of sailors in the middle of the desert celebrating such an out-of-place Navy would be appropriate. Unfortunately, my dinner invitation was about as memorable as the Suhkbaatar was, and only a few people showed up. Oh, well. Maybe next time I'll celebrate the Brazilian navy. Not much else to report. I'm surprised I've been able to think of new and interesting things every day for a while now. One of these days I'm going to run out of topics. Hopefully not soon!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Lucky Sixes

Well, 6/6/6 has come and gone without the world coming to an end. On this side of the globe, at least. There's no telling what will happen elsewhere in the world as I sleep. As a matter of sheer coincidence, this post is the 66th entry I've made on my blog. And yes, it has been 66 days since I left home. And I have 333 (that's half of 666) days left in my deployment. That's lots of numerical fun! I'm told that in Malaysia the word for 6 is the same as the word for "luck" and it's supposed to be an extremely lucky day. In that vein, I've given my wife instructions to do some gambling in Vegas today. Sixes. Sevens. Whatever works. She always seems to do well when it's my money she's feeding the machines. It was mostly a plain old normal day here otherwise. The highlight of my day was locating some online Excel spreadsheets with data that I wanted. Now I just need to figure out how to get the data into the format that I want. It should be fun. Excel is fun. Powerpoint is evil. Since I gave you the teaser about American Idol, I should confess what happened about 10 days ago. The American Idol finale was playing three times here, and I had happened to miss the first two showings. The last showing was at midnight on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I went to bed about midnight, having given up on staying up to watch it. Well, this was still in my old room, and sure enough, my next-door neighbor had his TV on loudly. I was getting ready to complain when I recognized Simon Cowell's voice and realized what show it was. So I ended up going to knock on his door, not to complain, but to say that since I was listening through my wall, might as well listen in his room. Turns out he wasn't even there! That's right, he leaves his TV on loud after midnight and goes somewhere else! Bah! So I went around back to his window and slid it open and was back there listening to the show through the screen. He came back with about 20 minutes to go and gave me a funny look... and invited me in to view the final songs. As a final note, the other Navy guy who works with me got a care package today, which included a large bag of gummy bears. Or, more accurately what used to be gummy bears. It's now a very large bag of a big gummy blob. It's actually pretty amusing to look at. But not a good idea for a care package in the summer.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Movie Time

Another day in an increasingly blurry calendar. Despite the fact that yesterday was Sunday, by the time this evening rolled around, it took a few seconds to think and remember that today was Monday. More interesting dinner discussion was the fact that tomorrow will be 6/6/6 and the implications that had for being a beast of a day. The other dinnertime conversation was how the food was beginning to be bland. Even some of the best meals that I raved about at first have become less than exciting after the third or fourth iteration. How often would I pass up a T-bone steak and king crab legs in favor of fried chicken? Hey, I needed a change of pace. My first night in my new living quarters went well. Nice and quiet! The whole trailer shakes when the air conditioning kicks on and off, but it's something I can get used to. On the bright side, I did finally find someone today who was selling off their old electronic equipment! I scored a nice-sized TV and a DVD player for only $50! Now I have something on which to watch those episodes of 24! I also had the opportunity to buy a satellite TV system (apparently getting hundreds of channels, including HBO, etc., is trivial here) but honestly, I think the 10 channels of AFN will be enough for me. Too bad I didn't have my TV in time for the American Idol finale (there's a story there that I'll tell sometime.) I capped off the evening with some of my fellow Navy friends visiting the theatre to see The Da Vinci Code (we called it "cryptography training"). I enjoyed it, but then again, I didn't read the book. I can see how it could be disappointing for others. That's it for now. More tomorrow, which I think will be Tuesday.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Location, Location, Location

As excited as I was to finally unpack my bags 3 weeks ago, I didn't mind packing them up briefly today for a trip across base to a new hooch. It's the same size as the other one, but I'm on the end, rather than the middle, so even in the worst case, I'll only have one loud neighbor and I can sleep opposite the wall adjoining him (or her). But more important is the new location, a lot closer to where I work. Now instead of 15 to 20 minutes of walking and waiting and riding a bus, it's a quick 2-minute stroll in to work (I had actually been walking past this trailer on my way in from the bus stop every day). Not only that, but it's a short walk to most of the other amenities on the base like the PX, gym, theater, pool, etc. I don't know what I'll do with the extra 30-40 minutes of the day that this will give me. Probably exercise, since it's now convenient to leave work, change into PT gear, exercise, shower, change back, and get back to the office in the space of an hour, an impossibility where I lived before. The move in paperwork was painless. It was rather interesting when I went to move out of my old unit, however. It seems I needed to get permission to move out and they didn't want to let me do anything. "Fine," I said. "I'll just keep both trailers." That bluff got them at least working with me and it was a short trip to the office to get the necessary paper to give to the people to accept my key. Sheesh! What a bureaucracy! All of this so that I didn't steal the 29 cent wastebasket that I signed for, I presume. I had "The Deathtrap" to drive around all day to accomplish my move, and have decided that it's probably more trouble than it's worth! It doesn't have any working air conditioning, and one of the rules is that you have to wear your kevlar helmet when driving it. Which creates all sorts of logistical problems carrying your helmet around everywhere. And it's really hard to try to keep to the base speed limits, either 15 or 20 mph. So ironically, although I have my license, I'll probably not be doing much more driving while I'm here, especially with my new housing location. I inherited a TV set with the room I moved into. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be a working TV set. It runs on 110 volts, and my guess is that someone plugged it into the 220 volt power and fried it. I might see if I can open it up and see if it's a simple fix (like a blown fuse) before I pronounce it a large paperweight. The final comment about the new room is that it doesn't have the extra bed in it. That has the advantage of giving me more floor space, but it seems empty. And I don't have a place to throw my stuff when I come in, now! I may have to go to the self-help place and build myself a table or chair or something. Anyone know where I can get plans for building furniture online?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Drivers, start your engines!

Another week down, and a chance to relax. I am amazed at how fast time seems to be passing. Have I said that before? I'm still keeping busy, and really have not done much clock-watching during the day. Today's big news is that I have a vehicle to drive! I went through the grueling process of getting my HMMWV (Humvee, don't ask me what it stands for) driver's license. Which involved about ten seconds of instruction on how to operate the thing, and about ten minutes of silly administrative work. But the license says I meet the "Army Standard." The vehicle I'm sharing with the other Navy guy who works in my office is an older Humvee that has, somehow, earned a nickname of "The Deathtrap." I'm not sure I really want to know the origin of that term. One possibility is that it has a shell back that makes it look somewhat like a hearse. Or possibly the bullet holes indicate that it was once shot at. The last possibility is that the emergency/parking brake doesn't work, so it's not able to be parked on a hill, without the use of chocks to keep the wheels from rolling. Of course, if you're driving alone, it's impossible to get out of the vehicle to set the chocks without it rolling over you. I've been searching for flat parking spots today. I just finished watching the first half of an old movie called "The Blue Max." It's amazing how warfare has changed in the last century. And amazing how some things are still the same. Other than the above news, things are much the same: long work hours (that's good), temperatures in the 110's (that's not so good), and roommates that play loud music (tonight should be the last night for that. Update tomorrow!) Off to bed so I can be up early for keyboard practice before church. I hope your weekend is much more relaxing than my half-day will be!

Friday, June 02, 2006

My two cents' worth

Yesterday I mused about the perspective of temperatures. If it was 115 yesterday, would 109 feel cool today? The answer is an emphatic 'no'. 109 is still just plain hot. On the bright side, I could walk around without feeling like my lungs were cooking. On the not so bright side, it wasn't a very bright thing to do to walk around. The good thing about it being 115 was that I basically stayed inside most of the time. I should have done that again today. I made what was supposed to be a quick trip to the PX today. I ended up not being able to leave for about 45 minutes due to several successive mortar alerts. (It's nice that you can shop in a mortar shelter!) By the time I escaped I'd managed to locate what I came for, and spend a few extra dollars on impulse buys. I did finally locate a "manly" set of sheets for my brand new twin mattress! (A few of us managed to get them before they sold out, and were all congratulating ourselves on our luck.) You may recall my post from Baghdad about wooden nickels, the gift certificate the PX gives rather than actual coins. One thing I hadn't thought about until today was the fact that they don't come in penny denominations. In fact, the PX doesn't give change in pennies for cash purchases, and hasn't since 1986 (in overseas locations). They just round to the nearest nickel. Seems like a reasonable plan to adopt back in the U.S. I paid with a credit card, though, so the 23 cents didn't get rounded to 25, and I was able to save the extra two cents I would have paid using cash. I don't think I'll spend my time adding up my purchases later, though, to determine cash or credit. Especially because my change gets donated to the coffee fund anyway! Anyway, it's time to take my two cents and head to bed. Report on the new sheets tomorrow.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Perspective is an interesting thing. Before arriving in Iraq, I thought temperatures in the 90's were hot. But after a few days of temperatures from 104 to 106, I remember thinking it felt nice and cool at a balmy 97. Today the temperature outside hit a lovely 115. While it seemed to be a bit cooler in the shade (like, only 105, maybe?) it's still an amazingly hot energy-sapping oven around here. I made sure to spend as much time as I could in the air conditioning. I guess that's what happens as summer arrives here. The main highlight of my day was getting a new mattress this morning! Apparently this has been something promised for some time, and those who have been here much longer than me were a bit more excited about the new bedding. We actually have full-size (okay, technically twin sized, but actually the complete dimensions) mattresses now, that take up all the space on the frames. And presumably would fill out a fitted sheet if we had one (I keep checking the PX but all they've had lately is flowery prints.) I expect to sleep more comfortably tonight than I have for the past few weeks -- not that I was complaining then, of course! As a final note, I should point out that one of the constant training drills the Humvee gunners go through are "rollover drills". You may have read about the tendency of the vehicles to roll, especially when driven too fast. Well, a bunch of us Navy guys are getting together tonight to catch a screening of the movie Poseidon. We're calling it "Navy rollover training." That makes it part of our jobs, right? Anyway, off to become educated on rollovers...