Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

Well, the Meineke Car Care Bowl was a good, exciting football game. Unfortunately for me, my team was on the losing end of it at the end, but you can't beat the cinderella story of the walk-on place kicker winning the game for Boston College. Now it's time to fully devote my energies to cheering the Denver Broncos into the playoffs tomorrow.

As a final look back before the New Year starts, I just have to repeat a comment that "Andrea in California" made on my Retrospective post two days ago. Poetic words.

"When you return home your footprints in the sand will disappear quickly, but what you will have left behind will have made life better for many..."

Thanks, Andrea, and thanks to everyone who has commented throughout the year. Hopefully you'll only have one more month to follow along this desert odyssey.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Winding Down

It's hard to believe it's almost 2007. We had our last staff meeting of 2006 today. People are generally in good spirits as we enter the new year, and I'm trying to temper my own enthusiasm as I start, hopefully, a month of "lasts" in Iraq.

The talk around the place today is, of course, everyone's reaction to Saddam's execution. Nobody is really celebratory about it. Most recognize it as a significant event in our lives, but I'm not sure we've all had time to really think about what it means. Like many things that happen here, I'm sure their significance will be much clearer after several more years of history show the impact of them.

I'll be taking the usual half-day off for New Year's Eve, and celebrating a little bit with friends (without the usual champagne, of course). That'll be good for tomorrow. Tonight, I'll be able to watch the Meineke Car Care Bowl live. Go Navy!

Friday, December 29, 2006


In hindsight, I probably should not have complained about the cold weather in yesterday's post, since my mother and lots of other family members are digging out from the second snowstorm in a week in Colorado. I certainly have nothing to complain about compared to them! It's more the contrast I was noticing between 120-degree Summer days and 12-degree Winter nights that was interesting.

Speaking of hindsight, as the year draws to a close, it's appropriate to think back this year to what I've accomplished. And while I've spent 9 months of 2006 deployed and sometimes feel a bit useless in my day-to-day staff duties, I was reading our commander's letter on the JCCS-1 webpage and was reminded just how important our group, in the aggregate, has been:

"Although I can’t talk about the details, the heroics they perform each and every day never cease to amaze me. The Commanding General of Multi-National Forces-Iraq, General Casey, told our Secretary of the Navy that JCCS-1 was the greatest force multiplier in the Iraqi Theater of Operations. The Commanding General of Multi-National Corps-Iraq, Lieutenant General Chiarelli, told his soldiers that our command was responsible for saving more lives than any other command in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. All I can add to that tremendous support is that it has been the most personally rewarding tour of my military career and my great pleasure to have served with each and every member of this team."
I have to share my commander's assessment that my time here has been the most personally rewarding of my entire Navy career. You just can't beat the job satisfaction of "saving more lives than any other command."

Not that I'd want to spend all of 2007 doing the same job. It's time to let someone else have that job satisfaction!

Thursday, December 28, 2006


It’s down right chilly outside right now. I think Iraq uses the Celsius scale, so I would be correct if I said the temperatures were subzero. They’re actually in the upper teens on the Fahrenheit scale, but down to single digits with wind chill (and we get a lot of wind here).

The Christmas holiday sure did help time fly by. It seems I just blinked and another week has passed. I’m hoping a similar thing will happen for the New Year. There are a few celebrations planned, and it will be nice to start looking at dates with a year in which I’m going to return home. And have another child. And start a job search. Yikes…. Lots is coming up in 2007, and I barely remember what I did in 2006. While I’m enjoying the rapid pace of time as I get through this deployment, it would be really nice to slow down once I get back home, so I can enjoy a lot more. I guess that will be one of my resolutions for the new year.

I’m enjoying both the college and pro football seasons as they draw to a close. My picks for the Bowl Games aren’t doing to well, especially after UCLA’s loss yesterday, but at least the Broncos have a really strong shot at making the playoffs. And of course Navy will play in the Meineke Bowl on Saturday, and I hope that will be an exciting game. I’ll even try to get some of my Army friends to cheer for the only service academy in a bowl game. (Some of them are still sore over their loss earlier, so it’s tough.) Go Navy! Go Broncos!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

If you don't like the weather, wait ten minutes

It only took a week of being officially winter before the weather decided to catch up to the correct season. The nights have started to get really cold, just a few degrees above freezing. It’s nice to have a heater in my room to keep me comfortably warm.

It also rained yesterday… on and off for about ten minutes over the span of an hour. It truly was a demonstration of the old adage about not liking the weather and waiting for it to change. I walked in to the barber shop to get a haircut and the sun was out. I stepped out into a thunderstorm. By the time I walked to work, five minutes away, the rain had stopped.

I’m told we don’t get that much rain in Al Asad… normally only two inches per year, compared to over thirty in Baghdad and other places east of us. That’s fine with me, since the rain mostly just turns the dusty soil here into a sticky muck that gets over everything. It’s much easier to clean up the dry dust that gets over everything.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Wit and Wisdom - From the Military Manual

Back to some interesting and amusing quotations, thanks to one of my readers:

"A slipping gear could let your M203 grenade launcher fire when you least expect it. That would make you quite unpopular in what's left of your unit." - Army's magazine of preventive maintenance.

"Aim towards the Enemy.." - Instruction printed on US Rocket Launcher

"When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend. - U.S. Marine Corps

"Cluster bombing from B-52s are very, very accurate. The bombs are guaranteed to always hit the ground." - USAF Ammo Troop

"If the enemy is in range, so are you." - Infantry Journal

"It is generally inadvisable to eject directly over the area you just bombed." - U.S. Air Force Manual

"Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons." - General Macarthur

"Try to look unimportant; they may be low on ammo." - Infantry Journal

"You, you, and you ... Panic. The rest of you, come with me." - U.S. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt.

"Tracers work both ways." - U.S. Army Ordnance

"Five second fuses only last three seconds." - Infantry Journal

"Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid." - David Hackworth

"If your attack is going too well, you're walking into an ambush." - Infantry Journal

"No combat-ready unit has ever passed inspection." - Joe Gay

"Any ship can be a minesweeper. Once."

"Never tell the Platoon Sergeant you have nothing to do." - Unknown Marine Recruit

"Don't draw fire; it irritates the people around you." - Your Buddies

"If you see a bomb technician running, follow him." - USAF Ammo Troop

"Though I Fly Through the Valley of Death , I Shall Fear No Evil. For I am at 80,000 Feet and Climbing." - At the entrance to the old SR-71 operating base Kadena , Japan

"You've never been lost until you've been lost at Mach 3." - Paul F. Crickmore (test pilot)

"The only time you have too much fuel is when you're on fire."

"Blue water Navy truism: There are more planes in the ocean than submarines in the sky." - >From an old carrier sailor

"If the wings are traveling faster than the fuselage, it's probably a helicopter -- and therefore, unsafe."

"When one engine fails on a twin-engine airplane you always have enough power left to get you to the scene of the crash."

"Without ammunition, the USAF would be just another expensive flying club."

"What is the similarity between air traffic controllers and pilots? If a pilot screws up, the pilot dies; If ATC screws up, .... The pilot dies."

"Never trade luck for skill."

The three most common expressions (or famous last words) in aviation are:

"Why is it doing that?", "Where are we?" And "Oh S...!"

"Weather forecasts are horoscopes with numbers."

"Progress in airline flying: now a flight attendant can get a pilot pregnant."

"Airspeed, altitude and brains. Two are always needed to successfully complete the flight."

"A smooth landing is mostly luck; two in a row is all luck; three in a row is prevarication."

"I remember when sex was safe and flying was dangerous."

"Mankind has a perfect record in aviation; we never left one up there!"

"Flashlights are tubular metal containers kept in a flight bag for the purpose of storing dead batteries."

"Flying the airplane is more important than radioing your plight to a person on the ground incapable of understanding or doing anything about it."

"The Piper Cub is the safest airplane in the world; it can just barely kill you." - Attributed to Max Stanley (Northrop test pilot)

"A pilot who doesn't have any fear probably isn't flying his plane to its maximum." - Jon McBride, astronaut

"If you're faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible." - Bob Hoover (renowned aerobatic and test pilot)

"Never fly in the same cockpit with someone braver than you."

"There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime." - Sign over squadron ops desk at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, 1970

"If something hasn't broken on your helicopter, it's about to."

Basic Flying Rules: "Try to stay in the middle of the air. Do not go near the edges of it. The edges of the air can be recognized by the appearance of ground, buildings, sea, trees and interstellar space. It is much more difficult to fly there."

"You know that your landing gear is up and locked when it takes full power to taxi to the terminal."

As the test pilot climbs out of the experimental aircraft, having torn off the wings and tail in the crash landing, the crash truck arrives, the rescuer sees a bloodied pilot and asks "What happened?". The pilot's reply:

"I don't know, I just got here myself!" - Attributed to Ray Crandell (Lockheed test pilot)

Monday, December 25, 2006

The. Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever.

It's a wonderfully sunny and cheerful Christmas Day in Iraq.

The morning started out with a wonderful surprise, as the post office made a Christmas delivery! Amazingly, a box shipped only six days ago from California reached me on Christmas Day. I think the Post Office was working extra hard to make holiday deliveries out here to the sandbox, and it was much appreciated (as were the contents of the boxes!)

I opened my gifts this morning along with the soldiers who work in my office, and then we shared a glorious Christmas dinner complete with just about any traditional dish you wanted. Turkey, prime rib, shrimp, king crab legs, potatoes, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and a giant Santa cake (20 feet long), and other very festively decorated desserts, among things I saw. Oh, and the sparkling white grape juice. I'm sure there was more. If I had to be away from family today, this was a nice second best.

And speaking of my family, I got Christmas Eve news from my wife of a wonderfully special gift that will be "delivered" next July or August. To say I'm thrilled is an understatement. This has got to be The Best Christmas Gift Ever.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Different Christmas Poem

Merry Christmas!

The clock's about to tick to midnight, and according to Norad's Tracking the big guy is right overhead. Truth is, I already saw him walking around the base posing for photos with soldiers and marines. Not sure how he did that while he was supposed to be delivering toys to China. Must not have had that many chimneys to slide down there.

I just came from a wonderful candlelight service at the chapel. It was packed... felt quite different singing Christmas carols surrounded by a couple hundred soldiers. But it still put me in the right frame of mind for a short while.

Early this month, a friend forwarded me a poem that I'll pass on to you this Christmas. Please think of all those serving their country away from their families today.

A Different Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.
Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.
My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.
My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.
"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night.
It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.
My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam',
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.
I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile."

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home.
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat.
I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my life with my sister and brother
Who stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."

"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."
"But isn't there something I can do, at the least?
Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."
Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget.
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.
For when we come home, either standing or dead,
To know you remember we fought and we bled.
Is payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

LCDR Jeff Giles, SC, USN
30th Naval Construction Regiment
OIC, Logistics Cell One

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Gift Wrapping 101 (For Men)

It’s almost Christmas! I can hardly wait! I’m being good and leaving the wrapped gifts under (more accurately, all around) my little tree, and I’ll be getting together with my office-mates on Christmas morning to open them together with their gifts from home.

Speaking of wrapped gifts, I’ve seen the below story before (probably every year for the past several) but can’t resist sharing it!

This is the time of year when we think back to the very first Christmas, when the Three Wise Men -- Gaspar, Balthazar, and Herb -- went to see the baby Jesus and, according to the Book of Matthew, "presented unto Him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

These are simple words, but if we analyze them carefully, we discover an important, yet often overlooked, theological fact: there is no mention of wrapping paper.

If there had been wrapping paper, Matthew would have said so: "And Lo, the gifts were inside 600 square cubits of paper. And the paper was festooned with pictures of Frosty the Snowman. And Joseph was going to throweth it away, but Mary saideth unto him, she saideth, 'Holdeth it! That is nice paper! Saveth it for next year!' And Joseph did rolleth his eyeballs.

And the baby Jesus was more interested in the paper than the frankincense."

But these words do not appear in the Bible, which means that the very first Christmas gifts were NOT wrapped. This is because the people giving those gifts had two important characteristics:

  1. They were wise.
  2. They were men.
Men are not big gift wrappers. Men do not understand the point of putting paper on a gift just so somebody else can tear it off. This is not just my opinion, this is a scientific fact based on a statistical survey of two guys I know. One is Rob, who said the only time he ever wraps a gift is "if it's such a poor gift that I don't want to be there when the person opens it." The other is Gene, who told me he does wrap gifts, but as a matter of principle never takes more than 15 seconds per gift. "No one ever had to wonder which presents daddy wrapped at Christmas," Gene said.

"They were the ones that looked like enormous spitballs."

I also wrap gifts, but because of some defect in my motor skills, I can never completely wrap them. I can take a gift the size of a deck of cards and put it the exact center of a piece of wrapping paper the size of a regulation volleyball court, but when I am done folding and taping, you can still see a sector of the gift peeking out. (Sometimes I camouflage this sector with a marking pen.) If I had been an ancient Egyptian in the field of mummies, the lower half of the Pharaoh's body would be covered only by Scotch tape.

On the other hand, if you give my wife a 12-inch square of wrapping paper, she can wrap a C-130 cargo plane. My wife, like many women, actually likes wrapping things. If she gives you a gift that requires batteries, she wraps the batteries separately, which to me is very close to being a symptom of mental illness. If it were possible, my wife would wrap each individual volt.

My point is that gift-wrapping is one of those skills like having babies that come more naturally to women than to men. That is why today I am presenting:

Gift Wrapping Tips for Men:

  • Whenever possible, buy gifts that are already wrapped. If, when the recipient opens the gift, neither one of you recognizes it, you can claim that it's myrrh.
  • The editors of Woman's Day magazine recently ran an item on how to make your own wrapping paper by printing a design on it with an apple sliced in half horizontally and dipped in a mixture of food coloring and liquid starch.
They must be smoking crack.

If you're giving a hard-to-wrap gift, skip the wrapping paper! Just put it inside a bag and stick one of those little adhesive bows on it. This creates a festive visual effect that is sure to delight the lucky recipient on Christmas morning:

YOUR WIFE: Why is there a Hefty trash bag under the tree?

YOU: It's a gift! See? It has a bow!

YOUR WIFE (peering into the trash bag): It's a leaf blower.

YOU: Gas-powered! Five horsepower!

YOUR WIFE: I want a divorce.

YOU: I also got you some myrrh.

In conclusion, remember that the important thing is not what you give, or how you wrap it. The important thing, during this very special time of year, is that you save the receipt.

Author Unknown (...but definitely male...)

Friday, December 22, 2006

I'm dreaming of a wet Christmas

The days are ticking by as Christmas closes in. Today I got wonderful news from the mail room. Not one, not two, but three packages (and a Christmas card as a bonus) were delivered to me. I feel so loved! Many of the gifts were wrapped so I’ve stuck them under my tree to open in a few days. I’m excited! It’s almost like being home!

There’s about zero chance I’ll get a white Christmas out here, unlike my family in Colorado. But it did rain a little today, so I could conceivably have a wet Christmas. Personally, I’d be content to have it dry and brown.

Many thanks to everyone who’s sending me e-mailed Christmas greetings as well. I truly feel appreciated.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter Wonderland

In a little over four hours, the Winter Solstice will mark the passing of another season. Having spent most of Spring, and all of Summer and Fall deployed, I'm looking forward to Winter because I have high hopes of returning home before the end of this season. (Really high hopes if you've checked my counter lately.) I'm still trying to stay prepared for the inevitable bad news of a delay (this year's seemed to be a never ending string of bad luck) but at the same time stay hopeful and prepared to resume a normal life.

After lots of Christmas packages arriving around last weekend, it's been a few days with no mail. I'm guessing there will be one more big delivery before Christmas and I'm hoping to see another package or two in it.

While the holiday should make a three day weekend, we are unfortunately having to do a bit more extra work this weekend thanks to some VIPs who want to come visit us and show how much they care. Oh, the irony.

Happy Winter, everyone!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dear Soldier

"Any Soldier" Christmas letters can be wonderful. I quote:

Dear Soldier of the USA,

My name is Jacob. I live in the state of Oregon. It is peaceful here because of you. We all bless you and hope that you will have a good life. I hope we will have a good world to live in. I always wanted to help the troops in Iraq, but my mom says I have saved them by wanting to help them.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Politically Correct Night Before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas and Santa's a wreck...
How to live in a world that's politically correct?

His workers no longer would answer to "Elves".
"Vertically Challenged" they were calling themselves.

And labor conditions up at the north pole
Were alleged by the union to stifle the soul.

Four reindeer had vanished, without much propriety,
Released to the wilds by the Humane Society.

And equal employment had made it quite clear
That Santa had better not use just reindeer.

So Dancer and Donner, Comet and Cupid,
Were replaced with 4 pigs, and you know that looked stupid!

The runners were taken from under his sleigh;
The ruts were unsafe said the Fed E.P.A.

And people had started to call for the cops
When they heard all those noises upon their roof-tops.

Second-hand smoke from his pipe had his workers quite frightened.
His fur trimmed red suit was called "Unenlightened."

And to show you the strangeness of life's ebbs and flows,
Rudolf was suing for the use of his nose.

And had gone on Geraldo, in front of the nation,
Demanding millions in claimed compensation.

So, half of the reindeer were gone; and his wife,
Who suddenly said she'd enough of this life,

Joined a feminist group, and left in a whiz,
Demanding from now on her title was Ms.

And as for the gifts, why, he'd ne'er had a notion
That making a choice could cause such commotion.

Nothing of leather, nothing of fur,
Which meant nothing for him. And nothing for her.

Nothing that might be construed to pollute.
Nothing to aim. Nothing to shoot.

Nothing that clamored or made lots of noise.
Nothing for just girls. Or just for the boys.

Nothing that claimed to be gender specific.
Nothing that's warlike or non-pacifistic.

No candy or sweets...they were bad for the tooth,
Nothing that seemed to embellish a truth.

And fairy tales, while not yet entirely forbidden,
Were like Ken and Barbie, better off hidden.

For they raised the hackles of those psychological,
Who claimed the only good gift was one ecological.

No baseball, no football... the kids could get hurt;
Besides, playing sports exposed them to the dirt.

Dolls would be sexist, and should be passe;
And Nintendo would rot your entire brain away.

So Santa just stood there, disheveled, perplexed;
He just could not figure out what to do next.

He tried to be merry, tried to be gay,
(you've got to be careful with that word today).

His sack was quite empty, limp to the ground;
Nothing acceptable was to be found.

Something special was needed, a gift in the night,
That wouldn't anger the left or the right.

A gift that would satisfy, with no indecision,
Each group of people, every religion;

Every ethnicity, every hue,
Everyone, everywhere...even you.

So here is that gift, it's price beyond worth...
"May you and your loved ones enjoy peace on earth."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Santa's keeping busy

It's feeling really Christmassy here today, as I got not one, not two, but THREE packages in the mail!  I feel loved!
Many of the packages contained wrapped packages, which I've stuck under my 2-foot tall Christmas tree.  Unfortunately, I peeked at the customs declaration so I have some idea what they are.  But I'll save some suprise for Christmas morning.
Speaking of surprsie, I'm watching the Survivor season finale right now... the marathon fire making session!  I'm sure you already know the winner.  I'll know soon enough!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Star of Wonder, Star of Light

I mentioned yesterday how dark it was getting. That does have its benefits, as I noted last night, stumbling along and trying not to trip. I looked up, and saw, without the interference of light pollution, an absolutely beautiful night sky full of stars.

An early Christmas gift (thanks mom!) reminded me that I'm quite close to Babylon, where a little over two thousand years ago, a trio of magi were also studying the night sky, also without the benefit of light pollution. Planetary conjunctions probably prompted them to make their long journey to Bethlehem, a little bit west of here. This site describes what I believe was most likely the star they followed.

So while I'm going to be spending this Christmas season away from my family in a lonely desert place, it's a unique privelege to be so near to Bethlehem, the site of Jesus' birth. And if the three wise men followed Abraham's route from Babylon to Jerusalem, it's very likely they passed through Al Asad on their way.

Ten Grand

I started this blog primarily as a convenient way to let friends and family know what I was doing in Iraq. I'm surprised and humbled that many more people have stumbled onto this journal and make it part of their daily reading.

My counter just went over 10,000 visits, and average of 40 per day since I started posting. Thank you all for your interest! Your suggestions on what (if anything) I should blog about after I get home are welcome.

Speaking of counters, I've made a small adjustment to my "time to go" counter on the top of the blog, inching it downward. Odds are I'll get to leave before my full year is up (yay!). How much before is still in question so I'm not going to lower it too much just yet. I'll keep it as a "worst case" estimate.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In the Dark

I don't usually pay that much attention to the phases of the moon when I'm back home, with plenty of light around. But around here, knowing whether to be prepared with a flashlight makes the difference between getting where you're going quickly and stumbling around in the dark, tripping over lots of things on the way.

The moon is nearing its new phase, close enough that it is pitch black from sunset to sunrise. The weatherguessers say 30 percent illumination, which is just plain dark. In the coming few days it will be what they call "darker than dark." And since we are approaching the winter solstice, these are going to be some of the longest dark nights of the year.

Speaking of our fine meteoroligists, they predicted two full days of rain this weekend. I did wake up this morning to a lovely light sprinkle, but so far the rest of the day has been overcast and generally blah. And actually warmer than it seems to be on clear, dark nights, since I guess the clouds hold some of the heat in. No complaints here, although the overcast doesn't do much to lighten my dark mood.

Why the dark mood? The fact that some guys from our group are headed homeward now. I should be happy for them (and I am, really, on some level) but part of me knows that I would have been in that group if I hadn't had to switch jobs, so it's mildly frustrating. I keep trying to comfort myself by adding up the extra money I'm making by sticking around a few more months. And really, anything shorter than the full year I came over here prepared to serve is supposed to be a good deal.

As a final tribute to the subject line (and Lemony Snicket's last book, for those in the know), I'll note that all of us are in the dark about holiday visitors to our base. You're probably aware of the habit of senior administration officials to drop in around the holidays, and of course we rarely know they're here until they're already here. Sometimes (like the latest Rumsfeld drive-by) even after they're already gone. So as Christmas approaches, we all look forward to some surprises.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Hokey Pokey (as it might have been written by Shakespeare)

O proud left foot, that ventures quick within.
Then soon upon a backward journey lithe.
Anon, once more the gesture, then begin
Command sinistral pedestal to writhe.
Commence thou then the fervid Hokey-Pokey,
A mad gyration, hips in wanton swirl.
To spin! A wilde release from Heaven's yoke.
Blessed dervish! Surely thou canst go, girl.
The Hoke, the poke -- banish now thy doubt.
Verily, I say, 'tis what it's all about.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Bowl Game Game

Are you a College Football fan? Do you not care much about College Football but love to gamble? Or, perhaps, are you just looking for an interesting way to make the Bowl Game season a bit more interesting and exciting?

Last year I was invited to join Bowl Game Game, a family pool in which you get to pick the winners of the 32 bowl games and rank them according to your confidence in the outcome. That's it! It's that easy! I knew absolutely nothing about most of the teams involved, threw together some picks, and ended up placing second out of 328 players. That's a nice share of the pot. You, too, can join this pool and perhaps get as lucky as I did, even if you know nothing, like I did (and do).

I should have posted this much earlier, as the deadline (midnight Saturday) is fast approaching. If you're interested in joining, visit the Bowl Game Game website, create an account, and make your picks. If I know you (and trust you) a simple email to me with an IOU will confirm your entry fee (you can follow up later). If you'd prefer to deal directly with the organizers, their contact information is on the website. In any case, don't delay! Give yourself an excuse to actually follow the Bowl season as it unfolds, and perhaps make the final game really exciting (like it was for me last year).

Lights Out

One of the frustrating things about my housing area is that the generator providing us power is a little old.  And the company who built the generator no longer manages it, while the new company doesn't carry parts for the old company's stuff. It all boils down to frequent (but mercifully brief) power outages at my little trailer.

So far it hasn't proved to be overly annoying, but the other morning I woke up a bit chilly since it had been out most of the night. Allegedly there's a plan to replace it with a new, more reliable generator sometime. Now that would be a nice Christmas present.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Special Deliveries

As Christmas draws closer, the post office workers are getting exceptionally busy. On the bright side, "mail call" is taking on a new meaning as people pay closer attention to when the packages are delivered, and fight for the honor of collecting packages for their department so they can get all the thank you's as they hand out goodies.

Lots of people are getting care packages every day, and are of course sharing the goodies. Not only are there packages addressed to individuals, but lots of "Any Soldier" packages are arriving as well.  I think I have enough chewing gum to last me a year.

We're also getting several Christmas cards per day, all thanking us for our service. It's heartwarming reading them and knowing people are taking the time to let us know how much we're appreciated. As unpopular as the war itself may be back home, I get the feeling that those of us serving here are still very much appreciated for doing our jobs. Thanks for the affirmation, those of you who send it. It means a lot.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another day of adventure

I've been sitting here for an hour trying to come up with something interesting that happened today. After all, one can't go 250 days or so and always have something new and exciting. (No, I didn't check the counter so I don't even know if I'm right — I'll check later!)

In any case, this Monday was much like any other day here. And I suspect Tuesday will be much the same. But I shouldn't knock monotony. Routine can be good. I'll just try to come up with something more interesting tomorrow. I'll start thinking about it now.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

One sock short

Anyone who’s ever owned a washing machine is familiar with the mystery of missing socks.  Laundry in Iraq is no exception, as I have one mismatched sock floating around in my wardrobe.  I figure it’s just a matter of time until I lose another one and will have an even number again.


But being that it’s the Christmas season, socks have a whole new meaning.  In our office area, someone has gone to the trouble of hanging up dozens of Christmas stockings, each labeled with the name of one of the officers or soldiers who works in our section.  Everyone’s there, except me, a discrepancy I noted with amusement today.  Someone commented they think they have some baby socks somewhere to take care of that.  Yep… still sore losers from the Army-Navy game.


Always moving forward

Today I had a few errands to run, and borrowed some wheels, in particular a golf-cart sized vehicle made by a company called Polaris.  (They, and the Gator brand are popular.)  It’s a much better alternative than tooling around in a Humvee (which requires an “assistant driver”) or waiting for the bus, which doesn’t go everywhere and you have to wait for it a lot when it does go somewhere.


One thing I didn’t realize until I had nosed the vehicle into a parking spot, completed my errand, and prepared to leave, was that the reverse gear on the thing was broken.  It only goes forward.  While that’s a great motto for a motivational speech, it’s not really ideal for a vehicle.


I ended up pushing the thing backwards, occasionally adjusting the steering wheel, enough to make room to drive out frontward, with the occasional offer of help from a passerby.  Fortunately it’s much lighter than a car and I didn’t need the assist.  I’ll have to park more carefully the next time I use it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Furious Friday

TGIF really has lost its meaning for me at my current staff, as Friday ends up being one of my busiest days.  It’s nice to really appreciate the weekend (or half of one) when it finally arrives, but even Mondays don’t compare.  At least I know I can count down a relatively small number of Fridays remaining.


I’m already working on getting back into the swing of my permanent job teaching.  Not by doing any high speed master’s level stuff, though.  One of the soldiers in my office is taking an online Algebra course, and I’ve volunteered to help tutor him.  It’s a blast from the past trying to remember stuff I haven’t done since the 8th and 9th grades.  Yeah, both those years.  I had to repeat that class.  Odd that I ended up specializing in a mathematical discipline.  At least it’s good motivation for the soldier I’m helping.


In case you were keeping track of my weather prediction of a few days ago, it still hasn’t rained, and isn’t forecast to do so for quite some time.  Global warming, I’m sure.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Snowball Express Update

The Christmas season is in full gear here, as people are decorating their offices with trees, lights, stockings, and other festive items. My office alone has three (small) trees, and there are many more in the hallways and other offices. I haven't seen a nativity scene yet, but I'm sure I will eventually.

Speaking of Christmas, I did post a few months ago about the Snowball Express, an organization giving an all expense paid trip to Disneyland (and other nearby places) for families of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They hope it will be a time of healing as the spouses and children interact with others who have suffered the same losses. It looks like they've received a good response, but they are still looking for volunteers. If you live in the Los Angeles area, I encourage you to help out. They're also looking for frequent flier mile donations as well if you have accumulated a bunch of those and are looking for a worthy cause.

It's the time of the month when it gets really dark after sunset until the moon comes up. I missed this particular phase last month while on R&R. Planning ahead and having a flashlight is a must to avoid tripping over things... which some soldiers have done, much to their embarrassment. I haven't laughed at them yet... I could be next!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Half Right

Or half wrong, depending on your opinion. The weather-guessers gave a 50 percent chance of rain today, and the coin flipped to no rain. That was fine for me, as I had to do a bit of walking this afternoon and it was nice to stay dry. The overcast conditions even made it a little warmer at night, which was good. We’ve got another chance to kick off the rainy season tomorrow, and if it stays dry then I might think there’s something too all these claims of global climate change.

Time is zipping by, which is a surprise to me. I had expected it to drag a bit after my return from R&R. I guess part of that is that I have a project due in a week, and deadlines always do that to you. That, and I have been trying to keep as busy as I can.

Despite getting plenty of sleep the last couple of nights, I’m still feeling a bit tired in the evenings. It’s been long enough that jet lag shouldn’t be that much of a factor, but conceivably it is that. Or maybe someone switched the coffee to decaf without telling me.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The rainy season

Some of you may have noticed some subtle differences in the format of the blog. The upgrade went smoothly, although I wasn't able to put everything back exactly the way it was before. But it's close enough. I'm not quite sure I'll take advantage of all the new features, but it's good to know they're there if I want them.

Sometime back in October when we had a day of rain, someone commented that the rainy season wasn't supposed to start until December 5. Well, it didn't rain today, but as if on cue, it's supposed to rain tomorrow. I'm rather impressed at the predictability of precipitation around here.

Actually, I should hold back on being impressed until the forecast actually holds true tomorrow. In any case, I'm bringing my "wet weather gear" in with me just in case.

Monday, December 04, 2006

New Blogger Version

We interrupt this daily update of life in Iraq with a few technical notes.

First off, every time I log in to post, Blogger is nagging me to upgrade to the new version. It promises I won’t lose anything and that the blog will look the same. I’ll probably do that tomorrow sometime, but if the place disappears briefly, blame Google, who I think is in charge of Blogger. They’re pretty much in charge of everything these days.

As a second note, I’ll remind readers that you can get my updates in multiple forms. You can read the blog on the web, you can sign up to have it delivered to your email box when I post, or you can subscribe to the RSS feed. The email delivery uses yahoogroups which is less than reliable… I have noticed delays of several hours to even a day or more in the last few days. But such is the price for to-your-mailbox convenience.

Bragging Rights

With the Army-Navy game win, I suppose I get a year of bragging rights. Actually, this is the fourth consecutive year that Navy beat both Army and Air Force, a feat no service academy has ever achieved... that's really something to brag about! Somehow the year never lasts that long, since in the run-up to the game everyone seems to forget who won, but it should last a short while.

I hope you all enjoyed the spirit spots during the game (if you watched). Some of them were a bit corny, and to be honest, I think Army did a better job with some of theirs. My favorite one, though, was apparently made here in Iraq and had a group of Army guys and Navy guys going off on a mission. As the spot ended, they showed both groups with a "Go Army" and "Go Navy" and "One Team, One Fight!" The Woops (Navy slang for West Point grads) and I all agreed it was excellent. And we really all are on the same team out here.

I did have a bet on the game with the Deputy Commander, namely that the loser would have to sing the winner's service song (in this case, Anchors Aweigh) in front of our morning staff meeting. During the game, he noted that if I had to sing, he and the other two West Point staffers would join me, so I think it's only fair that I will join them in the chorus. As they say, One Team, One Fight.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


'Nuff Said.


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh

"Stand Navy down the field, sails set to the sky.
We'll never change our course, so Army you steer shy-y-y-y.
Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh.
Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey!"
We're within a few minutes of The Game, and I'm hanging out with some West Point grads here at the office so that I can harass them during (and after!) the game. It starts at 10:30pm and runs past midnight, but this is definitely one worth staying up for. We've been trading jabs back and forth all week, including a few well placed back-and-forth notes in this morning's staff brief. (I had the Chaplain on my side, so I think that trumps all the other ones!) Some have asked me why I have put up so much with the Army shenanigans, and I've explained that they need to take their shots before the game since they won't have a chance after! Touche!

If you watch the game until the end, you'll see one of the longstanding traditions, where the players all go to the opponents' side of the field to sing their alma maters... losing side first, and then the winners. I'll repeat that order and post the words here so you can sing along. (I'll actually put all verses, although traditionally only the first verse is sung at the game.)

The Alma Mater by P. S. Reinecke, USMA 1911
"Hail, Alma Mater dear,
To us be ever near,
Help us thy motto bear
Through all the years.
Let duty be well performed,
Honor be e'er untarned,
Country be ever armed,
West Point, by thee."
"Guide us, thy sons, aright,
Teach us by day, by night,
To keep thine honor bright,
For thee to fight.
When we depart from thee,
Serving on land or sea,
May we still loyal be,
West Point, to thee."
"And when our work is done,
Our course on earth is run,
May it be said, 'Well Done;
Be Thou At Peace.'
E'er may that line of gray
Increase from day to day,
Live, serve, and die, we pray,
West Point, for thee."
Of note, the second verse of the West Point alma mater starts out with "Guide us, thy sons, aright" and has not been changed despite its gender specific language. On the other hand, Navy's alma mater was altered in May 2004 to alter "college men" to read "colleges" and "sailor men" to read "sailors brave". While meaning absolutely no offense to female sailors who serve just as valiantly as the men, I'm still going to sing it the way it was pounded into my head 22 years ago.
Navy Blue and Gold
Lyrics by CDR Roy DeS. Horn, USN (Ret)
Music by J.W. Crosley
"Now colleges from sea to sea
May sing of colors true,
But who has better right then we
To hoist a symbol hue?
For sailors brave in battle fair
Since fighting days of old,
Have proved a sailor's right to wear
The Navy Blue and Gold."
"So hoist our colors, hoist them high,
And vow allegiance true,
So long as sunset gilds the sky
Above the ocean blue,
Unlowered shall those colors be
Whatever fate they meet,
So glorious in victory,
Triumphant in defeat."
"Four years together by the Bay
Where Severn joins the tide,
Then by the Service called away,
We've scattered far and wide;
But still when two or three shall meet,
And old tales be retold,
From low to highest in the Fleet
Will pledge the Blue and Gold."

Friday, December 01, 2006

Roomba gets tough

One of my son's fascinations since he was three years old (perhaps even earlier) has been the "Roomba", the round, automatic vacuum cleaner that you may see at The Sharper Image, Home Depot, and various other stores. We actually bought one once, and quickly ran the thing into the ground. "Roomba goes round and round!" was frequently heard as our son mastered which buttons to press until, mercifully, the battery died.

I was amused today to read this article stating that the Roomba-making company, iRobot, is also the main manufacturer of the PackBot EOD, a robot to be used by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts in Iraq and Afghanistan to counter IEDs.

The PackBot looks quite a bit more tough than its floor-sweeping (or the floor-mopping Scooba variant) counterpart, and a little bit more fun to play with. One of my EWO colleagues actually gets to work with these robots in his "real job" back home. I envy him. Too bad the pricetag for this particular iRobot is a bit much for a Christmas gift for my son. He'll have to settle for something more practical.