Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Going Deep!

It's been a long few days of traveling, but I have finally arrived home. The excitement, smiles, and hugs have been wonderful as I've enjoyed the day with my family. But crossing eleven time zones in two days without more than a few hours of sleep has left me exhausted. I'll be crashing early tonight, and spend the next few days getting reacquainted with a normal life.

I have enjoyed keeping this journal as a record of my experiences over the past year. Marking time with a daily post was an excellent stress-reducing routine, and looking for interesting things to share helped pass time in an otherwise dull and monotonous place. I have had many more interesting stories than I could share publicly, I have made good friends and look back on this last year as one of the most rewarding times in my life.

As I am no longer in the "desert", I feel this is an appropriate time to bring this blog to a close. It will remain available, of course, as long as the information in it is relevant to future Individual Augmentees, but this will be my final post as I slip beneath the waves. I encourage you to continue reading the other fine sandbox sailor blogs listed in the blogroll to the right, especially The One Wire, My Desert Adventure, Sandboxrich, the Segredo Family Blog, The Adventures of Professor Lieutenant Soule, The Landlocked Sailor, Mission Iraq - Round 2, and Air Force EWO in Iraq members of the group replacing mine. I'm sure they'll appreciate having an audience and hearing any comments you have about their experiences.

Fair winds and following seas! Dive! Dive!

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Penultimate Periscope Post

I've always liked the word "penultimate". For the uninitiated, it means second-to-last, and this will be my second-to-last post to the Desert Periscope blog; the last one from overseas. Expect silence for about three days and a final post once I'm safely home.

This morning we had a few meetings and we're all done except for a very long process of getting up early, taking a long bus ride, checking through customs, waiting a very long time (overnight in an air terminal), riding a very long flight, and finally arriving at Baltimore sometime Sunday evening. Due to my bad luck with my e-ticket, I'll end up in "Amazing Race" mode visiting the ticket counter and trying to find the first flight home (or anywhere nearby) and if I have enough time, getting a hotel room for a quick catnap before an early Monday flight. No doubt I'll be exhausted, but happy to be home when it's all over.

Most of the idle speculation among us is how long it will take before we're sent back here. Most of the younger officers see their return as inevitable. I am fortunate enough to be close to my retirement, and I'm sure the timing will work in my favor to prevent a return. It's not bad duty, really, except for the long separation from the family. That is something I really don't want to do again.

Off to finish packing and fly home!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Load off my Shoulders

Today was the first official day of our four-day checkout process. My boredom from the past two days (a result of early arrival to guarantee being here on time) was rewarded with a few hours of actual activity! Only a few hours, but boy were they productive.

In the morning, we turned in two full duffle bags worth of equipment that the Army had issued us (and turned in the duffle bags, too!) It was nice saying good bye to heavy armor, unnecessary mosquito netting, a trenching tool, and a lot of other things I never used. I did somehow manage not to lose anything in all that time.

In the afternoon, we were able to finally turn in our weapons. My arrangements with my Army officemates to help me clean paid off, as I didn't have to do any cleaning and was complimented for having a weapon so clean "It should be an example for everyone on how to have a clean weapon." I did fess up that I'd had some help, mainly because everyone else who was having to re-clean theirs was asking me how I did it. The best part about that turn-in is that I don't have to carry those heavy items around all the time or worry about having someone watch them. It's truly a liberating feeling.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

K - U - Wait some more

I wish I could have something more interesting to report, but today has been another day of doing nothing but sitting around and waiting. With a scheduled flight home, there's nothing I can do to move up the process, and only a limited amount of things to do until then to pass the time.

I have unpacked and repacked a few times, experimenting with ways of doing it more efficiently, and deciding it really doesn't matter. I have more stuff than will fit in one bag, and not enough to fill two. At least I have some flexibility in how to arrange things.

Tomorrow we'll get to turn in most of the Army-issued equipment, including our weapons. That will be a relief -- at present we have to either carry our weapons around everywhere or make sure we have someone guarding them. So even our time off isn't totally "off" since we're trying to take our turns playing lookout.

I'm still working on shifting my flight up 10 hours, but haven't heard any results yet. My wife had the great suggestion of an alternate airport with more flight options, and I may do that! After waiting this long to get home, there's no way I'm going to wait around all day at an airport stateside!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

K - U - Wait

Well, it's been a lovely, and boring, day in Kuwait. I've accomplished exactly two things, each of which took five minutes, and spent most of the rest of the time sitting around. First was a post-deployment health screening, where I got to officially complain about breathing the fumes from the burning trash pit at Balad. Duly noted. And second was locating my e-ticket itinerary for my flight home.

And that's where I got really annoyed. My flight into BWI from Kuwait arrives late enough that I can't get another flight home until the next day. Not a big problem; I was expecting that. But worse than that, they booked me on a flight that doesn't leave BWI until that evening! I'd spend almost 20 hours sitting around in Baltimore wishing I was home, and not arrive until late in the evening. And the most frustrating part is that another member of the same unit, returning to the same airport as I am, is booked on a nice early morning flight that gets in at noon! Waah!

I have, of course, put in a request to change my ticket but I'm not holding my breath. They may have had only one seat on the earlier flight, and by the luck of the draw (or perhaps alphabetical order) it went to the other person and costs me 10 hours with my family. Kind of goes with the theme of this deployment. One last little kick on my way home.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Thinking Out of the Box

Woohoo! The first leg of the homeward journey is complete. Well, the first three legs if you count all the take-offs and landings today. But as the sun sets I find myself in Kuwait, after having bid goodbye to Iraq for the last time.

One of the local "slang" terms in the military for Iraq is "the sandbox". Even though there's plenty of sand here, it isn't "in the box" and is, therefore, a bit more relaxed.

Coincidentally, our aircraft stopped briefly at Baghdad on its way here, and the last time my feet were on Iraqi soil (concrete, actually) were very close to the first place that I set foot in the country over nine months ago. Back then I had no idea what I was getting in to. It was quite a different feeling having all the experiences behind me as I headed the other direction.

Now that I really have no possible way of checking my work email or helping my replacement out, it's safe to get my mind off the war and back toward getting home. I won't have much to do for the next two days other than watch TV, read, eat, sleep, and repeat. Well, that and 8 days' worth of laundry.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Homeward Bound

If all goes according to plan, this should be my last post from Iraq. Although I tried to sneak out today, first on a scheduled flight, and later by Space-A, things didn't work out. For having the entire day "off" I sure don't feel like I rested. In order to try to go Space-A, I had to wake up at 4am just to sign up for a flight. When I did finally wake up, and headed off to shower, I returned to find my room locked (with my key inside) and my roommate/replacement off on a 5-mile run. Various attempts to get a backup key failed until he returned. By the time I finished packing and had lunch, it was time to go up to the terminal to try to catch a flight. By the time I got back from that failed attempt, it was dinner time. Only now, in the evening, do I have some time to kick back. Well, at least I'm not complaining about being bored in Kuwait!

Several readers have been leaving comments recently on how much they've enjoyed reading over the last year. Thank you all for the kind words. It has been a fun part of my routine and a great way of helping the time go by. I do hope you've found some other great blogs, including some of the newly arrived folks, that you'll enjoy reading. As for the Desert Periscope, I expect to end this particular journal when I return home. I'm still deciding whether to start another blog (and on what subject) or fade back into the void of cyberspace. Suggestions are welcome!

As a final note, during my 4 years at the Naval Academy, I had a tradition of playing Simon and Garfunkel's song "Homeward Bound" the day before I returned for leave. It's appropriate now as I begin my journey back to home and family, and I've got the mp3 playing as I conclude this post.

"Homeward bound
I wish I was
Homeward bound
Home, where my thoughts escaping
Home, where my musics playing
Home, where my love lies waiting
Silently for me"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Persona Non Grata

One of the most common quotes I heard today was "Why are you still here?"  Apparently after a grandiose ceremony this morning where my commander gave me an award and I made a nice little farewell speech, people are surprised to see me coming in the office occasionally.  I did have a few final things to do, and am addicted to checking my work email just in case someone hasn't gotten the word that I've been replaced.
I did spend a good portion of the day waiting in line at the post office, having completed the second of the two categories of packing.  I'm taking advantage of free postage from APO boxes to FPO boxes, sending a footlocker of stuff to one of my friends who is the Executive Officer on a ship in San Diego.  (He was my roommate during my deployment two years ago, for those who remember those emails!)  I'll be visiting there within a week of going home and can just pick it up then.  It's all unimportant stuff, and saved me about $40 in shipping!
Originally I was supposed to fly out tomorrow, but that flight was cancelled.  Fortunately for me, I expected that cancellation and have booked backup flights the next two days.  So I'll hang out tomorrow with absolutely nothing to do.  Well, except make the final packing decision on what to carry home and what to leave here in Iraq, to my replacement's benefit (although he'll have to put up with a roommate for one more day).

Getting Short

You know you’re getting really short when people start saying their goodbyes “in case I don’t see you again”.  And in fact, I am down to one final (long) meeting before all my duties here are done.  Again, the farewell is bittersweet.  I’m reluctant to leave an assignment with such great job satisfaction, but boy am I excited to be going home to my family again.


I’m working through all the various checklists of things I need to do, to make my transfer smooth and keep me busy, and am organizing my things into four groups:  turn in to the Army, mail home, carry home, and abandon in place.  So far I’ve got part 1 packed, and need to get working on the others.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Right Seat/Left Seat

In the standard Army Relief In Place/Transfer Of Authority (RIP/TOA) process, they generally refer to two phases, "Right Seat" and "Left Seat" rides.  The analogy would be driving training.  You spend the first portion of the turnover process in the right seat, observing the more experienced person in the left (driver's) seat.  Then, about halfway through, you switch places.  The new person takes over in the left seat, with the more experienced person available in the right seat for some last-minute mentoring before departing.
I'm about halfway through my own turnover process with my replacement, and we executed our equivalent of the Right Seat/Left Seat swap today, as we moved files back and forth between our computer systems and he took over my desk (and my seat).  I'm now relegated to "guest" status in my own office, and have to reluctantly sit back and let him take charge of what was, up until now, my job.  Daily routines really get drilled into you over here (the only sane way to pass the time) so it takes a real mental effort to step back away from them.  But time marches inevitably forward, and it's time to let someone else have the fun and immense job satisfaction that I've had for nearly a year.