Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Airing My Dirty Laundry

No, I'm not about to disclose any dirty secrets, or whatever the subject line is supposed to mean.  It's meant more literally.
This week is a series of lasts, and today was my last chance to turn in my laundry, which is collected between 9 and 9:50am on certain mornings.  Except that this morning, for some inexplicable reason, they decided to collect it at 8:50am.  So when I went to drop off my dirty duds shortly after 9, I had missed the deadline.  So I now have an increasing pile of dirty clothes to carry around with me to Kuwait.
But even if I never had the chance to launder anything again until I got home, I think I'd still be happy.  Now that my return is a virtual certainty, it's very hard to disappoint me with anything.  Even very bad internet connectivity and a very busy schedule as I turn over with my replacement (poor excuse for lack of a post yesterday, I know.)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Grin and Grip

Every time my officer in charge sent out an update of the schedule showing who would go home when, it was accompanied by a caveat, "Subject to immediate and violent change without notice," as well as a warning not to be too excited about going home until you were shaking hands with your relief.
I haven't quite made that handshake yet, but my replacement is on an airplane as we speak, and before the night is out, I expect to be making that important handshake that really locks in the certainty of my imminent return home.  I am, of course, in a great mood and looking forward to a busy week of turning things over to him, as well as packing my bags.  Soon... so very soon.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Thoughts on the Surge

As I digest what will hopefully be my last Sunday dinner in Iraq, I figure I should answer the few of you who have been asking me what I thought of the latest surge plan.  I'll start out with a few disclaimers.  First, I have no special inside knowledge into what's going on here.  I'm basing my opinion largely on what I read in news reports.  Second, I'm not an expert, and my opinion is just that, an opinion.  It's probably wrong, and many people much smarter than I are working the problem.  Third, as an active duty member of the military, I've sworn an oath to obey the orders of my Commander in Chief and I will continue doing so.
Now, a few thoughts about the current plan:
  • The U.S. Military can be expected to succeed at any particular task assigned to it.  Specifically, the 20,000 extra troops sent to secure areas of Baghdad can be expected to complete that mission successfully.  Personally, however, I don't know what that will get us.  Will it buy us time to proceed with more reconstruction? Create jobs? Make life better for the moment?  Yes.  But that improvement will only last as long as we stay, and I don't foresee our country collectively having the stomach to stick it out as long as it takes.  And any gains we make will be undone when we leave unless the Iraqi government steps up.
  • In light of the above point, it is good to note that this is not a military war.  It is a political one.  Iraq, and the insurgents, have very little organized military power.  Unfortunately, the media and anti-war politicians are helping the insurgents get their message out by wavering in their support and encouraging opposing forces to continue attacking.  In particular, the current move in Congress to pass resolutions opposing the President are a horribly bad idea.
  • The Government of Iraq is more disfunctional than the U.S. Congress.  And they aren't getting any better, and won't, until they are in extremis.  The surge will do nothing to put more pressure on the Iraqi government.
  • General Petraeus, who was just confirmed as the top General here, is the Army's counter insurgency expert.  If anybody knows how to succeed here, he does.  He should be given a chance to implement his doctrine.  I think we'll know by mid-Summer whether we're having any success.
  • The Iraqi Army is slowly growing and slowly getting better.  You can't build an army overnight.  You can't rush the process.  Yes, there are deep problems with it, but the media highlights the few exceptions to the generally good news coming out of the transition teams.
  • The Iraqi culture is utterly different than our own.  If it turns out that this policy fails, it is not a failure of the US, but rather a choice of the Iraqis: in particular, their government.  If they choose to perpetuate their culture of violence and sectarian divisions, there's not much we can do to help them, and we need to back away and let them figure it out for themselves.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Technical Difficulties

Those of you looking for a post yesterday were, obviously, disappointed by the lack thereof.  The dish I share with a bunch of other people went down (and still is down) so I've got limited ability to post updates.  Compounding that, apparently Yahoo Groups, which distributes the mailing list, apparently had some sort of database crash two days ago and is backlogged delivering the old messages.  Fortunately, I'm down to single digits for days in Iraq dealing with these issues. 
I have truly procrastinated as long as I can in cleaning my room for my relief's arrival.  I'll spend the good portion of my day off tomorrow doing that.  Or perhaps even tonight if I can't log on to the internet!  Perhaps the outage is a message from above!

Friday, January 26, 2007


Every time the phone rings these days and I hear that it’s a call from my boss, or our unit’s headquarters, I’m always paranoid that it will be someone informing me that something happened to my relief, and that I should plan on hanging around another month. I’m not sure if that’s pessimism or cynicism, or really what the difference is between the two. I guess I’ve just gotten used to surprising news regarding this deployment and I’m still trying not to celebrate too much until everything is really certain.

Fortunately for me, the contact from headquarters today was from my relief! Lots of simple questions that I was more than happy to answer, but more importantly, evidence that I’m still on track to make my way homeward. It’s hard to stop me from smiling these days. Other than that highlight, I kept busy doing important things, with a small cleaning break, but I’m still procrastinating the major cleaning until this weekend. Literally the last minute, as I’m hoping my relief will show up on Monday.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

So close I can taste it

I mentioned in a previous post that the menu at the DFAC rotates on a 20-day cycle. I realized today that I have less than 20 days left of eating Army food! That brings a whole new meaning to experiencing the same meals I’ve had for nearly 300 days previous. I can look at that glob of noodles and tomato sauce I had for lunch that they claim is lasagna, and savor it as the last time I’ll have to eat it! Or at dinner, hope that this is the last T-bone steak that I will attempt (unsuccessfully) to cut with a plastic knife. Mmm. I’m already coming up with the list of restaurants I want to visit after returning to the real world.

I’ve continued to procrastinate preparing for my relief’s arrival, but time is running short, so I really should get focused on that soon. With luck, I’ll also be able to sell him the TV and some other comfort Items I’ve picked up to make my stay here more comfortable. And he won’t make me reassemble the bunk bed I took apart. There are some advantages to turning a room directly over to someone instead of having to vacate it and get it inspected.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Acting Presidential

It's interesting how much politics is in the news these days, a few weeks after the new Congress has convened and years before the next Presidential election. I've lost track of the number of candidates who have declared that they have formed exploratory committees. Actually, I saw a brief segment on a news show which told how to get the form declaring such to the Federal Election Commission. It's free (the news show said it cost a 39 cent stamp, but mail's free from over here!) I'm debating sending the form in so that I can run for President. I wonder how many votes I could get...

The other Presidential thing in the news is tomorrow's State of the Union address. It'll be 5 in the morning here when it's broadcast, so I don't think I'll watch it live, but I feel a constitutional duty to catch one of the many replays tomorrow. Supposedly he's going to talk mostly about domestic policies rather than the war. And given my relocation in only a couple weeks' time, I'm in the mood to think domestically as well.

Light at the end of the tunnel or oncoming train?

Time always seems to go faster when deadlines are approaching, and this week is no exception. I have among the best deadlines possible... getting work done to get ready to go home! And, of course, I'm running out of time to do it. I'm working later than I have in a while (on an unrelated upsurge in things to do) and the need to start packing and cleaning and moving things is barreling down unmercifully.

At least I don't have TV to distract me. The AFN signal has been out at my trailer for the last two days. I'm not sure who I need to contact to fix it. But I better get it back up in time for this week's American Idol episodes!

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Quid Pro Quo

Today was a relaxing day, although I spent most of the evening tutoring one of the soldiers in my office in his Algebra course. Remember "completing the square"? Or the quadratic formula? I had to bang it into his head, but I think he finally got it.

I've been helping him out for several weeks, now, and he was asking the other day about getting me a gift certificate or something as way of thanks. I insisted he not spend any money, as it was my job to teach, but today I figured out a great way for him to pay me back. Turns out as my fellow sailors are checking out in Kuwait, they're running into problems turning their weapons in clean enough. And since the only thing most of us know about cleaning an M-16 was learned almost a year ago and we've had little practice since, they're getting them rejected. So I told the soldier to help me clean my weapons when I get ready to go home, and we'd call it even. It's a good trade of expert skills to help each other.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Yet Another Blogger

I decided to spend a little quality time with Google and uncovered another blogger with JCCS-1. Like a significant number of our officers, he appears to be a pilot with a call sign of "Stimp." And according to his blog, My Desert Adventure, he likes to run a lot. At least he gets a lot of interesting blog entries from his (daily?) jaunts. Probably a lot more interesting than my updates on what TurboTax is telling me today.

Speaking of TurboTax, I realized today that my 5-year-old son has to file a tax return since his college fund yielded some nice (reinvested) dividends. At first I was annoyed at having to pay additional tax, but after crunching the numbers, it appears that since most of the amount was capital gains, which are taxed at a lower rate, including his income actually ended up saving us money! Go figure.

Anyway, I've added Stimp and Barbie's blogs to my blogroll link on the right! Go visit them and tell them how much you appreciate them being here. And know that I appreciate them (and all the incoming group) much more than any of you! Hah!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Lack of interest

I spent a bit more time today finishing up my taxes, and had a frustrating realization. Apparently before I accounted for my pitiful amount of bank interest, I was in a lower category. But thanks to rounding in the tax tables, adding in $6.11 of interest from my checking account resulted in an additional $5 of tax. As if that 2% wasn't already pathetically small, the government gets most of it! Oh, well.

I was pleasantly surprised by a few tax credits I didn't know I would be getting. Apparently, thanks to the fact that only 3 months of my annual salary were taxed, I qualified to get a credit for a portion of my IRA contributions. And also, I'm apparently being refunded some amount from the phone company billing excise taxes or something for the past three years. More money! I better enjoy it while it lasts, since the new Congress plans on raising taxes on the rich, and I'm probably one of a large group of people that never knew they were rich until Congress told them.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Spring Cleaning

As I've started work through the administrative checklists for heading homeward, I've realized one of the first things I need to do is make some room for a roommate. While most people over here have to share their third of a trailer with someone, I've been fortunate enough to be ranked high enough to get my own room, which I'll hand over to my replacement. We'll have to share it for a week or so during the turnover process, but that's a much better situation than the Army units who routinely move out of their quarters into tents for their turnover period. (Their philosophy is that they'll sleep on the ground if they're on their way home, and I would agree it's a great philosophy.)

In order to keep the side of the room I tend to stay on uncluttered, I've used the other side as a storage area. I'm debating whether to try to clear off the other side completely for my relief, or do the easier task of just moving out of the uncluttered side and moving myself. Or perhaps I could plan ahead and actually pack up a lot of my stuff over the next week instead of waiting until the last minute. What, me procrastinate?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Out with the old, in with the new

Today was one of the more exciting days of my time here, as I finally got a name associated with a relief! That makes my imminent return home all the more probable. Like a well trained sailor, of course, I'm bracing myself for the (some would say inevitable) news that they've changed their mind. What's worse, if something happens now it won't just be a generic "we didn't have anyone" decision, but it would be getting personal. I'm remaining hopeful, of course, but they keep telling me not to truly celebrate until I'm shaking hands with my replacement so I'll keep my celebration muted. (And update my counter with a more accurate return date.)

Speaking of new people coming over, another member of JCCS-1 has joined the blogging crowd. The author of The One Wire is an F/A-18 pilot, cut from the same tough-guy mold as your favorite characters in Top Gun. Except his call sign isn't nearly as cool as "Maverick" or "Ice Man." He's... get this... "Barbie." I suppose he must have a sense of humor to admit it. Be sure to check out his blog and add it to your daily reads! His counter was at 2 when I stopped by this morning, so he needs an audience!

Tax Time

One good thing about technology is that many things have moved online. That includes not only filing taxes, but getting tax statements. I’ve spent a little time over the last week collecting electronic copies of everything I need to file my taxes, which I do with TurboTax. I’ve got just about everything I need, with one exception. My bank, with the few pennies I’ve earned in interest, won’t give me the tax data until they put out the monthly statement next week. It’s mildly annoying especially when I’m expecting a rather large refund (I only have 3 months of income for tax purposes, thanks to the Combat Zone entitlement.)

Hopefully I’ll be able to get the taxes filed in a week or so, so that my refund arrives about the same time I get home. And I’ll promptly use it to buy a car since my wife saw fit to sell mine when I left.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Old Friends

Not much of interest happened today. While it’s a federal holiday back in the states, it was a workday just like any other Monday in Iraq. I wonder, when I get home, if I can claim comp time for all the holidays that I worked…

I did have the opportunity on for totally separate and unrelated issues today to chat (either by phone or email) with some old friends… old being a relative term. I’ll say people I served with in Balad. It was nice talking about the “good old days” when we had our whole tour in front of us and the excitement of all the things we were going to do to change the world. As we draw closer to the end we’re all working on making sure the people replacing us will have a solid foundation to stand on, but looking ahead is mostly looking homeward.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Extend and Rotate

The words in the subject line normally apply to stretching and twisting in preparation for PT, but they’re generally applicable to a lot of folks around here. On the “extend” portion, some of the guys on base, who were getting ready to go home in a month or two, just found out they got extended as part of the President’s “surge” plan. Amazingly, they seem to be taking it rather well. Part of it is because they are National Guard troops and will pick up an extra $1000/month bonus for the extension.

While they got the bad news, there are a lot of other people rotating out, and they are obviously happy to be going home. I’m happy for them, of course, and looking forward to being in exactly that position in not very much more time.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Poor visibility

I’ve mentioned in previous posts about how the rain turns the plentiful sand around here into sticky mud. One big problem of all that mud is that the vehicles track it everywhere and it splatters the sides of vehicles. Our unit’s bus, for example, that we ride to and from the dining facility, is so caked with mud that you can’t even see out the windows. It really looks like a nice smooth coat of tan-colored spray paint all over the outside. The front window is kept clean, of course, but the rest of the bus is rather dark.

I’ve seen people driving their Gators (golf-cart like things) with obscured windshields, sticking their heads out the side like dogs to see where they are going. Amusing, if not completely safe. Fortunately for me, I walk pretty much everywhere I go (except for the bus ride to chow) so I don’t have to deal with it.

Despite the few days of rain we’ve had, we’re still well below average for the season. Perhaps it’s global warming?

Saturday, January 13, 2007


I had been remarking to someone at lunch today how Monday would be Payday. Not that I’m waiting on more money to spend, it’s just one more way of marking time. I realized later that we actually got paid today (Friday) since Monday is a federal holiday. Not that we’ll get the day off or anything, of course. It will be just another Monday for us.

Speaking of marking time with paydays, this was a really good one! If all works according to plan, this should be my last payday in Iraq! The bad news is, the difference in my paycheck from the last one of 2006 is paltry. I never realized just how low that 2.2% pay raise was until I see the numbers coming in much as they were before. Oh, well. At least when I get home and start having taxes withheld again, I’ll have another exemption which should improve things.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Got Net?

When I first arrived at Al Asad, my only internet options were at my desk at work, with a highly restrictive firewall, or a long hike to wait in line at the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) building. Within a few weeks I managed to find a guy with a satellite dish and have enjoyed (at some expense, but worth it) a connection in my room since then.

This week, two new internet options became available. Another in-room option, with the same price but more restrictive bandwidth limits, officially sponsored by the base. And our unit just installed our own local MWR trailer a short walk from where I live, complete with phones and less restricted computers, for free! And much shorter lines, of course, than the big building. It's interesting how technology is spreading. It definitely makes keeping in touch with home easy. Too bad it's a bit too late for me to take full advantage of. But I'm not complaining, really.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Just another day

Well, my birthday came and went without much fanfare. Just a day like any other. My wife has promised me a real celebration when I'm home, so I'm looking forward to that. I did get some lovely cards from Mom as well, and lots of email. I felt loved.

Speaking of mail, I don't think anyone's sending anything else. And that's good. Because it's starting to get close enough to my departure that anything you mail might not get here in time. Or it'll get here just in time for me to have to pack it up and bring it home with me. Now that's a nice thought.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Over the Hill

A common answer around here when people start worrying about some project that’s behind schedule, or some report that is filed late, is, “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? They’ll send you to Iraq and take away your birthday?”

It’s just after midnight tonight, and I get to celebrate my birthday in this lovely location. Not just any birthday: I’m turning the big four-oh. Forty. Over the hill. The most immediate benefit for me will be an added 30 seconds of run time on my next physical fitness test! But for now, I’ll have to take the good wishes sent by email and the promises of a belated party when I return home. Which really won’t be much longer, now!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down

A rainstorm blew in last night, hard enough to cause a little bit of leakage under my door and through cracks in my window. It was still raining in the morning, although not as hard as it had all night. This is the first storm we’ve had this year that didn’t blow through in an hour. Most of the rest of the day was overcast, dark, wet, and glum.

The worst part about rain here isn’t getting wet. It’s the sand… which is now acres and acres of sticky mud. The fine, talcum-powder consistency turns into a really sticky covering over very hard clay, and the ground doesn’t absorb the water after the first bit, so there are puddles everywhere. The only good thing about the mud that gets all over everything is that it eventually dries out and easily flakes off and breaks up into its powder-like consistency again. Fascinating, really.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Time Marches On

In yet another installment of “how fast can time go?” I’ll note that I’m surprised that we’re already a week into the new year. I’m nervously anticipating definitive news one way or the other on my potential return home. The guys “in front of me” in line are starting their own process of heading homeward, and at this point it’s just keeping my fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong in the next couple of weeks.

Of all the things to be concerned about, of course, I guess worrying about being extended isn’t on the chart with some of the other things many people deal with out here. I especially feel for the troops who may or may not be participating in this surge that the President may or may not order. Whatever path lies ahead in Iraq, I hope it leads toward accomplishment of the mission.

Finally, my cousin informs me I’m still in it in another Bowl Game football pool I joined with him… it all hinges on the championship game. Go Buckeyes!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Bowled Over

As the College Bowl Season draws to a close, I'm surprised how long I lasted in the pool I referred to in an earlier post, Bowl Game Game. Tonight's victory by Cincinnati knocks me out of the running. It was fun while it lasted!

Actually, I had put together a spreadsheet and listed several factors helping me decide who to pick (geek that I am) and one of the factors was the ranking in the AP Poll. Unfortunately, I made a small mistake when entering the rank for #3 Michigan, and put it in the column for Western Michigan, the underdog in today's International Bowl. Otherwise I would have picked the winner! Drat! Of course, on the bright side, if I had correctly ranked the real Michigan, I would have lost the Rose Bowl pick instead of accidentally winning with USC.

The other big bowl game on today was the Army's All American bowl. Looked like a big recruiting ad! Still, it was fun to watch.

I'm disappointed the Denver Broncos aren't in the postseason, but fortunately my 2nd choice team, the San Diego Chargers, are poised to go all the way to the Super Bowl. They have a bye this week, but it's never to early to say Go Bolts!

Friday, January 05, 2007

It was a dark and stormy night

Leave it to me to comment a few days ago about sunny weather. I woke up this morning to cool rain, which morphed over the course of the day to a cold, biting wind in the late afternoon. Very chilly. Still nothing near those Colorado blizzards, but glad I have the comfort of my trailer and a working heater.

Big news back home as my son got his first pair of glasses. Turns out he’s quite a bit farsighted, and finally the squinting and letter confusion prompted a vision test. Amazing that they have the technology to figure out how the lens is shaped.

Work is the usual pre-weekend crunch, and I’m looking forward to a small break.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A great use for sonar

I've been musing for a while trying to come up with an appropriate submarine-related term about ultrasounds. A periscope in the womb, perhaps? Or maybe "returned ping, target acquired!" Whatever the analogy, I marvel at the technology that allows us to peek at a child only six weeks after conception.

There he or she is, the latest submariner in my family. Already swimming around surrounded by water, getting used to the environment. And not scheduled to "surface" until August!

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sunny Days

The days march on, and the last couple have been relatively warm. I’m wondering if the really cold weather of the last two weeks was just a taste of winter, or all of it if this warming trend continues. I guess the coming month will determine that theory one way or the other.

Work is the usual. A few long meetings. A few little brush fires to put out. A lot more administrative paperwork (electronic paperwork, if there’s such a thing) to do. But moving on day to day. I’m trying not to count the days too many times each day, but it seems to be something I do everytime I walk back to my trailer from work and knock another day off the list. At least the sunshine matches my improving mood.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In the groove

One of my colleagues was remarking to me at lunch today how much more efficiently we’re doing business now than several months ago. It’s true that we’ve figured out a lot more about our jobs and made things run a bit more smoothly. In some cases, that gives us some more time off. In other cases, it gives us the ability to do more work. I tend to try to prefer the former when I can, but I don’t complain when I get something to fill my time.

One thing that does help time go by is maintaining a routine. That’s a good thing when you have a lot of time in front of you, but as I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, I still haven’t started altering my routine and doing anything to prepare to leave. I’d like to think it’s because I like keeping my routine, but more accurately I’m just a procrastinator. Something tells me that once the time arrives to start packing my bags, I won’t have any trouble getting it all done in very short order.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Firsts and Lasts

The new year has arrived, not so much with a bang as with a whimper. Other than the occasional “Happy New Year” comments exchanged here and there, it was much like any other day here.

While it’s the first day of a new year, it’s also a time that I can start counting lasts. Like the easy one: 2007 is the last year that I’ll be in Iraq. With a bit more caution, I can hope that January is the last full month I’ll spend here. And as I admire the moon getting bigger every night, I’m looking forward to seeing it full on Wednesday and counting it as my last full moon in Iraq. Indeed, I am starting to get excited about counting down the days. I’m trying to temper that with the knowledge that my return date is “subject to change without notice.” Everyone keep your fingers crossed!