Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bunker Boinkery

My Team Chief and I had to fly out to a distant FOB last Sunday to conduct an investigation. We were examining the crime scene, a reinforced concrete and sandbag bunker, and without going into details, soon realized that these bunkers are apparently the location of choice for romantic trysts. One bunker even had been equipped with a cot, pillow, an ashtray, and a thoughtful touch...a box of condoms, stolen from the medical clinic, duct-taped to the wall, with a hand-printed sign reading, "Take One...Avoid Embarrassing Questions From Your Significant Other Back Home!"

Sunday, December 27, 2009

In Between Investigations...

What do agents/soldiers do during the minimal downtime between solving crimes in the busiest jurisdiction in Iraq? Some, like me, write and blog. Others take online college courses. Most of us catch up on professional development reading. But the overwhelming favorite activity when there are a few spare minutes is to plan and execute a really great practical joke. Nothing mean-spirited, but sometimes they can get pretty messy.
One office favorite prank was perfected by one of our team chiefs (TC). Someone sent him one of those nylon fabric and spring steel frisbees, which twist and fold into a 4-inch diameter circle. The TC discovered if you fold the frisbee, then pack it with the small paper bits from the office shredder, it delivers a big cloud of confetti when springing open. Since everyone in the office has heavy case files on their desks, it's a simple matter to slide the loaded frisbee under the file...
These surprise attacks have been christened PBIEDs, for Paper Based Improvised Embarrassment Devices, and they serve a positive purpose in addition to the entertainment value. Everyone is now conditioned to scan their desk area for the slightest clue a PBIED lurks within. Sherlock Holmes would be proud to see the improved powers of observation demonstrated by his Army proteges. Even the most clever agent can fall prey to the PBIED. One of our best agents, who I'll call, "Raul", had for 5 months carefully avoided detonating the confetti bombs emplaced in his workspace by meticulously checking every inch of anything that looked suspicious, whenever he had been gone from his office for more than 5 minutes. That pattern eventually led to his undoing, as everyone else worked together to bag this prized trophy. One agent faked receiving a call on our "hot line" from the MP desk, and then asked "Raul" for some guidance. While "Raul" was thus distracted, another agent started feeding paper into the shredder, the noise covering the sound of yet another agent sneaking into "Raul's" office, and sliding the loaded PBIED into the Stars and Stripes newspaper "Raul" had just brought back from the mess hall. Once the device had been successfully emplaced, the distractions ended, and "Raul" was soon covered in confetti!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in the Middle East

Since this is the closest I'm ever likely to be to Bethlehem on Christmas, I've been soaking up the ambience as much as possible. Last night I was scanning the skies for the Star of Bethlehem...thought I saw it, but it turned out to be a countermeasure flare from a C-17. Early this morning, as I was cat-napping through a Nyquil-induced haze, I heard the Muslim Call to Prayer being broadcast from the nearby mosque, and it struck me how non-commercial the holiday has been over here. I've been truly blessed to receive care packages from family and friends, filled with special gifts which have brought a reminder of home, and definitely chosen with a lot of thought and kindness. My sister even surprised me by sending tins of two different spice cookies which were specialties of my mom and my grandmother. Hadn't had those for over 30 years! On my desk, there's a small Christmas Tree, covered with ornaments...the smiling faces of my colleagues at my civilian job back home...All day, I just have to glance up from my case files to be greeted with Kodak grins! Sure makes it easier to be here.
So, even though I'm under the weather, forted up in my CHU with supplies of Kleenex, Nyquil (also known as the "Baghdad Buzz"), Ricola cough drops, and a way cool retro video game console complete with Pac Man, Galaga, Pole Position, Frogger, etc., I am having a very Merry Christmas! Thank you all very much for your FB greetings, emails, photos, and other creative ways to keep my spirits up! "Police Navidad!" from The Fighting Leprechaun.

Monday, December 21, 2009

And the Winner Is...

No, not the latest "Sole Survivor" from this season's reality show...(though one of the very few benefits of being over here is that I got to watch the show without causing my spousal unit distress and nausea)...but rather the winner of the "Leprechaun's Loser AFN Commercial" award. For those of you who have ever experienced the dubious pleasure of watching what Armed Forces Network (AFN) replaces regular commercials with, well, those suckers haven't improved much. I swear that some of the spots AFN used to broadcast when I was stationed in Europe in the mid-70's are still airing today...and not as part of a TV nostalgia show. We have commercials promoting driver safety, good weapons cleaning and maintenance procedures, classes in blowin' stuff up, the Army Corps of Engineers (best soundtrack award goes to those folks, by the way...wish I could add it to my iTunes library), suicide prevention (a different one at least every hour...and they don't seem to be helping...), anti-drinking and driving, physical fitness, and just plain rah rah spots promoting different units.
But even with this Plethora of Pap to choose from, in my mind one commercial stands out from all the rest...and not in a good way. Here's the scenario:
A clearly over-caffeinated soldier and a frumpy civilian female walk together to the parking lot after some sort of on-base college class, somewhere in Europe. The soldier reaches his car and starts crawling around on the pavement, looking behind the wheels and under the chassis, while the woman, in a voice only slightly less annoying that Judge Judy's, asks the soldier why he always is checking his car. Her phrasing imples that she thinks he's a twitchy dude. The woman heads toward her own car, spots a big-ass cardboard box placed behind her front tire, and starts shrieking hysterically. The camera cuts to a presumed terrorist female who is watching this from her own car, finger hovering over the buttons of her cell phone, waiting for the right moment to blow up the woman, who is STILL wailing...(at this point, pretty much everyone watching this commercial is yelling, "Push the damn button, lady!")...The soldier runs over, asks the wailer, "Did you see anyone? I'm calling 9-1-1!!!" (But completely overlooks the only occupied car in the parking lot, which speeds past 'em as the soldier obliviously shouts into the phone!) Shrieking a bit more quietly, the woman turns to the soldier and asks him, "Why me? why didn't they try to blow YOU up?" The soldier turns his steely-eyed squint toward his colleague and growls, "Because I made myself into a HARD TARGET!" (Cue the porno movie soundtrack...)
While I can never do full justice to the complete and utter cheesiness this commercial exudes, you'll have to take my word for it...the sheer suckitude defies description. Oh well, perhaps it has made its way on to Youtube by now...If so, I promise to post the link, and you can judge for yourself...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Home of Battlefield Justice

This is where I work. Nice, ain't it? (Note the elegant sunshade, hand-painted sign, and the huge amount of free parking in the mud.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Victory Over America? Not!

I got to tour the ruins of one of the late, unlamented Saddam Hussein's many palaces. This one is
ironically-named, "Victory Over America", to commemorate Saddam's perception that by remaining in power after the Gulf War, he had in fact triumphed over the USA. The photo on the left is the entrance to the Grand Ballroom, which was remodeled slightly by a 1,500 lb "bunker buster" bomb in 2003. Personally, I like what they've done with the place. This palace had some Medici-like features, including the stairways being uneven in places, so anyone pursuing the dictator up or down the stairs would be thrown off stride, while the fleeing Saddam, who knew where all the quirks were located, could outdistance his enemies. This joint reminded me of Hitler's "Eagle's Aerie" in Berchtesgaden, except this is a Walmart version, with much crappier scenery.
Speaking of scenery, the photo on the right is a view toward Camp Liberty. My detachment office is located on the far side of that anthill-looking thing, called either "Antenna Hill" (no panache' there) or "Strawberry Hill", a possible tribute to Boone's Farm wine. All those man-made lakes were created by diverting Tigris River water from the irrigation canals the local farmers depended upon to grow crops, so Saddam could have houseboats and beach parties. Whatta guy! By the way, there are lots of fish, including some lunkers weighing up to 50 lbs, populating those lakes...I plan to celebrate Christmas by getting my line wet, and trying out different lures and bait contributed by my generous friends back home. "Fish On! Ho, Ho, Ho!"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Seattle Mariners Madness!

One of the innoculations against complete and utter homesickness over here is following our favorite sports teams. While a very wise friend has often stated, "The only thing Seattle Mariners fans are entitled to is disappointment," I re-energized my optimism last season when Ken Griffey Jr. returned "home", the M's won a bunch of games, Ichiro was finally enjoying himself... and it continues to grow on a weekly basis. Adding pitcher Cliff Lee and infielder Chone Figgins to the lineup were brilliant moves. While anyone who isn't a baseball fan will yawn at this news, for me it's like an early Christmas present!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Leprechaun's Lost Lunch

Coming from a FOB where there was one mess hall, a Pizza Hut trailer, and an espresso stand, the stunning array of chow halls, (at least 10), fast food joints (maybe 30), and civilian restaurants (over 10) on the Baghdad Victory Base Complex is pretty darn overwhelming. While the folks in my office usually stick to either one of the two closest mess halls, when another agent and I had to drop by Coalition HQs to get some radios programmed, we figured on grabbing lunch at the Super Mega Low Mart of mess halls, which is the size of a pro football stadium, and holds almost as many people, most of them Majors or above, with a sprinkling of peons like me. The lines were longer than the commercial breaks on network TV, but we finally got a sandwich, and plunged into the maelstrom of people and tables. We plunked our trays down at a couple of empty spots, then I went in search of a diet soda. I had to circumnavigate the whole darn place before finding a cooler with a diet beverage. I backtracked to my seat, or so I thought, and soon found myself utterly lost. Must've made 4 complete circuits before I just came to a stop, staring blankly at the sea of humanity. I probably looked pretty pitiful, because a tall, wiry Brigadier General stopped, squinted at me, and drawled, "Son, you look damn lost!" I confessed my situation, which drew a laconic, "Guess you better get used to going hungry!" I gave up on my sandwich quest at that point, and met up with my colleague where we had parked the SUV. I ended up dining at the office on Wheat Thins and Crystal Light. Next time I'm faced with dining at the Coloseum of Chow, I'm getting my sandwich to go...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Return of the Leprechaun

Sorry for not posting for a while...I just didn't have a lot of motivation. But, I'm back, and ready to recount what has been happening in Baghdad over the past two weeks. First of all, my investigation workload has been like transferring from Mayberry PD to NYPD. We have two teams of agents, and rotate the duty each day. We can count on the phone to ring with a "duty call" on the average of twice per day. I'm carrying a caseload equivalent in size to what the entire office had at my old FOB. Every other agent has the same load...or bigger. This requires good teamwork, and that's where my colleagues really excel. I won't go so far as to say crime scenes are now fun, but the good humor, horseplay, and tips to increase efficiency really make the long days go by faster.

I've been afforded the opportunity to expand my professional knowledge in unique ways, for instance I am now certified as a Unit Prevention Leader...more commonly known in the Army as a "Piss Tester". Yep, the Army has a pretty aggressive drug testing program which requires random urine testing for everybody...even for the highest-ranking General Officers. (How many times have we soldiers said, "Whoever thought THAT up must've been on drugs!" Well, now we'll know for sure!) The certification training included such topics as "Cleaning up spills", the "Proper Method of Observation", and my personal favorite, "Detection of the Whizzinator". It's an actual product used by dopers to pass urine tests. The Whizzinator includes a realistic looking latex wiener (comes in a variety of skin tones), a vinyl bladder which users fill with drug-free...er...liquid obtained from non-using buddies, and even a small chemical heating pad to ensure the sample is at 98 degrees. There is even a female version...don't ask!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lafayette, We Are Here!

No thanks to the brain-dead folks operating my old FOB's air operations office, I finally hopped on a flight last Monday and was at Baghdad International Airport (known in these parts by its acronym, BIAP) 20 minutes later. Before I forget, even though lots of negative comments get heaped upon the civilian contractors who work for the former Halliburton subsidiary of KBR, I need to mention some shining exceptions: The folks who operate the civilian motor pool and the employees running the Army Post Office at FOB Kalsu are dedicated, competent, non-bureaucratic, and best of all, extremely customer-service oriented...I shall really miss working with them all. Of similar competence are the men and women who keep the BIAP military helicopter passenger operations humming like a...rotor blade? (Points deducted for crap-o analogy.) TSA could really learn a thing or 50 from these professionals.

Now, on to the story at hand. I wrote about what it was like to visit Baghdad, not expecting to be taking up residence here 30 days later. Since I'm apparently on an analogy kick tonight, I'm going to compare the Victory Base Complex (VBC) to a gigunda anthill. Yeah, not fresh in the least, but if you saw the little figures scurrying around the big, bare mound nicknamed "Commo Hill", named so because it is bristling with every kind of radio, microwave, and likely TV antennae, anthill would come to your mind as well.

After a week here, I am very happy with the change. The pace is definitely high-speed...I've done more interviews in one week than I did in the previous month. We're averaging one or two new cases per day. My colleagues are pretty high-speed as well. It's definitely a fun working environment, with lots of practical jokes being sprung. I have a lot more resources at my disposal, especially a file server containing electronic case files for the past 4 years. Need an example of a crime scene sketch for a motor vehicle theft? It's in there. Reward request and poster? There are literally 50 different types available. It makes doing casework fast and efficient.

Living conditions are a bit different from FOB Kalsu...nah, they are a LOT different! The CHUs are less sturdy, and square vs. rectangular. I have bunk beds in my room, (shades of 1964!) plus a "pleather" leprechaun-sized loveseat, and a full-sized desk for my laptop and TV. My CHU is located in a sprawling housing area, sort of a "combat Levittown", and in the midst of a persistent sea of mud. Even though the last rain was a week ago, the mud is just as wet and gooey. Topping off the location's charm is the distance to the latrine, which I reach after trekking a quarter-mile through the muck...which gives me incentive to increase my sprint speed!

I'll follow up shortly with my account of touring the ruins of the "Victory Over America" Palace, (I have photos) and the Hooters Girls appearance where I was on the security detail (sorry, NO photos...)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Stuff You Can't Just Make Up

While still stuck in Lodi...er, my FOB, killing time waiting to fly to Baghdad, I bought a military history magazine at the PX. In this reputable publication, my eyes fell on an advertisement that I first thought was a parody, headlined with "The Ultimate WWII Reality Experience!" The ad continues: "Book your place now for the reality tourism experience of a lifetime. For ten days you will be an Allied Airman, shot down over Nazi-occupied Poland. Polish resistance agents will protect you and show you Warsaw, then you will be arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Stalag Luft XIX, our authentic re-creation of a WWII Luftwaffe POW camp..." (italics are mine).

Admittedly, like most boys who grew up in the 50's and 60's, I was fascinated by WWII movies and TV shows, idolized my Dad and uncles who served in the war, and built model Spitfires, B-17s, and P-51 Mustangs...and even enjoyed Hogan's Heroes for the parody it was. That said, I think this whole deal seems to cross most boundaries of good taste.
Check it out for yourselves, and let me know your opinion: www.powescapes.com

(I can see it now...in 10 years, the Iraqi Government will launch Water(board) World: Book your next vacation at a faithful reproduction of Saddam Hussein's political prison, staffed by re-enactors who might still be actual members of the Baath Party. )

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Welcome to the Hotel (FOB) California

Where apparently I can check in anytime I want, but I can never leave. Looks like it is going to take me 4 or 5 days to make it to my new duty station...which is less than 50 miles as the Blackhawk flies. Discussing why it's taking so long is prohibited here in Blogland, but let's just say it's not Army Aviation's finest hour...

Having said my goodbyes to acquaintances on FOB Mayberry 3 separate times now, it is getting kind of embarrassing to run in to them in the mess hall..."What, you're still here?" I've moved in to the office so as to leave my CHU vacant for my replacement, who may make it here some time tonight...hooked up my laptop to the internet connection, and have set up a cot, so there are all the comforts, yet I'm still packed up and ready to roll at a moment's notice. I'm definitely better off than the group of Air Force folks who have been waiting in the small bus station-like airfield "ready room" for the past 3 days. Those guys are starting to look like cast members on "Survivor"...except they have no hope of profiting from an immunity challenge which would get 'em on a helo.

Wish me luck...and send your happy thoughts to the Combat Stress Clinical Team and Civil Engineering Group, so that they may soon be finally voted off the "island".

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

NOW I Know

why there are all those metal grates outside every building door here. The mud here isn't just ordinary mud...it's SUPER MUD!!!! This stuff sticks to my boots like dog poop, will not wash off, and doesn't dry out for weeks. Is this evidence of Iraqi bio-engineering? Did "Chemical Ali" figure out the formula for replicating the same mud which bogged down both Napoleon's and Hitler's armies outside of Moscow?

By the way, the metal grates don't really work all that well, but it gives the illusion that we've done something prior to tracking thick brown gobs all over the floor...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Weekend Update

And unfortunately, no Amy Poehler here either...
I was informed yesterday that I am part of a "musical chairs movement", and will be reporting next week for duty in the Greater Baghdad Area. That'll place me in much closer proximity to "the flagpole" than I'd like, but it's still better than being almost anywhere in Afghanistan. The new scenery and working conditions should provide a lot of blog fodder, though I will miss the bucolic life here on "FOB Mayberry". (Photo of my new office location is posted above.)

By the way, I was going to recount my experience with an Iraqi Police senior officer the other day, but quickly realized that by doing so I would likely run afoul of Multi-National Force-Iraq blog guidelines. You can read between the lines here. At least it'll provide the basis for a great vingnette in the slowly-developing novel.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lotsa Work, and My (Belated) Veteran's Day Commentary

Greetings, Dear Readers...

Sorry for not posting in a while, but when the "new kids" arrived in town, they brought a crapload of problems with them. We'd had it pretty easy with the old brigade, which was settled in and running smoothly when we arrived. Their soldiers weren't perfect, but they didn't seem to commit a lot of serious crimes over here. That made for a boring, but perfectly acceptable situation. No more lazy Sundays watching TV and fishing lately, though, and there's no end in sight. Our office has been receiving RFAs (Requests For Assistance) from the CID office at the stateside post where our new unit is based at a prodigious rate (1-2 per day), and most of these RFAs require travel to an outlying FOB. Our "away game" schedule is beginning to resemble that of the Seattle Mariners.

Veteran's Day in the Sandbox reinforced how fortunate I am to have the very best family, friends, and colleagues possible. "How's that?" you may ask...Well, while there was a lot of nice sentiments expressed on TV shows, concerts, and I'm told places like Applebee's, Famous Dave's BBQ, Krispy Kreme Donuts, and others offered free meals to veterans and active duty folks. But while I've been deployed, y'all have treated me like EVERY day is Veteran's Day. I don't know if I've adequately expressed how much your support has meant to me, between the positive emails, letters, care packages, and phone conversations, but all of your efforts have really kept me sane and grounded during the tough times over here. I've definitely got it much easier than those of you that were engaged in active ground combat, but war is still hell, especially having to be so far away from home. By the way, in honor of Veteran's Day, our Mess Hall served free meals to everyone!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Old Battlefields

My partner and I flew to a base down on the Iraq-Iran border to conduct an investigation. As we neared to within 20 miles of Iran, I looked out the door of the UH-60 and was surprised to see hundreds of old artillery emplacements dotting the flat terrain. There were even piles of shell casings, and a few gun carriages dumped in some of the more remote areas. The scene reminded me a bit of the WWI battlefield at Verdun. Of course, there was no grass growing on the trenches, and definitely no memorials. Up to the moment that I saw all these earthworks, I had only a vague awareness of the Iraq-Iran War's magnitude. This area sure looked like good tank terrain, though I don't know how marshy it was.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Different Kind of War Casualty

While the nation's attention is focused on the growing numbers of battle deaths occurring in Afghanistan (and rightfully so, as those fallen warriors deserve to be honored to the greatest extent possible), most of the general public is not fully aware of the soldiers who are dying as a result of "non-battle-related incidents." That's Pentagon-speak for any death due to accidents, natural causes, homicide, or suicide. My colleagues and I are tasked with investigating each and every "non-battle-related" death over here, and it is a tough mission, especially so for the suicides. The Armed Forces have devoted a lot of attention and effort to proactive suicide awareness and prevention programs. On AFN-TV, there's at least one suicide prevention-related public service "commercial" on every channel, every hour. The Army has developed a relevant and sensitive suicide awareness/prevention program which features interactive video and handouts, coupled with unit-level training on a regular basis. Almost every FOB has a combat stress control clinic, staffed by highly qualified psychologists and counselors.
Yet despite all of these excellent resources, young men and women continue to end their lives in Iraq, and it just doesn't make sense. Some of them are just months, weeks, or even days from going home. Many are on their first deployment. It has been really rugged seeing battle-hardened NCOs and officers, trying to figure out why one of their soldiers decided to take their own life.
Although I've seen a lot of death during my military and law enforcement careers, and grieved for friends and fellow officers killed in the line of duty, investigating these "non-battle-related casualties" has gotten pretty darn tough for most of us. I wish I had an answer...but I sure don't.

(On a very personal note, I am very fortunate to be blessed with a strong support system and coping skills, which allows me to get through all this stuff with my psyche, and sense of humor intact. I wish everyone was similarly blessed.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Notes from a Combat Truck Stop

Late Friday afternoon my partner and I got the word that we were going to a convoy support camp to handle a death investigation. We had about 20 minutes to gather our crime scene gear, grab our "Go Bag", and jump into an MRAP (Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected) vehicle convoy headed down MSR (Main Supply Route) Tampa to the camp. The MRAP is kind of like one of those mini-buses that the retirement communities use, only heavily armored, with a hull designed to deflect roadside bombs. Couldn't see much in the growing dusk as we zoomed south down the highway, but the MRAP has a surprisingly smooth, quiet ride, lulling a number of our fellow passengers to nod off. No snoozing for me or my partner (nicknamed "K-9", as she used to be an MP dog handler), since this was our first time outside the wire in a ground convoy. It took us about an hour to get to the camp, which has the primary mission of supporting the military convoys coming to and from Kuwait. "K-9" and I hit the ground running, and worked straight through the night, processing the scene and interviewing witnesses. We took a break for breakfast in the camp's small mess hall, which like a truck stop diner is open 24-7, and come to think of it, has about the same menu. The camp commander had given us a couple of CHUs, so we headed there to grab a short nap and a shower before resuming our investigation. It was just before dawn, and for the first time in Iraq I heard the Muezzin broadcasting the "call to prayer" from the minaret outside the camp walls...really felt like I was living in an arabic country, instead of a very large trailer park in southwest Arizona. My partner and I worked through lunch completing our interviews, and finished up in time to catch a ride with an armored Humvee patrol heading back to our FOB. It was a very different experience riding northward in the Humvee...a lot noisier, but since it was daylight, I could see everything around us. The civilian traffic flew by us, gents in arabic dress crammed into SUVs and tiny sedans, a few luxury Mercedes Benz cars, obviously armor plated by their low ride, and a lot of young men peddling their heavily-loaded bicycles down the shoulders of the highway. Our patrol lumbered pretty slowly by comparison to every other vehicle except the bikes, but we didn't stop for traffic slowdowns, moving instead into opposite lanes to get around jams. Every few miles I saw an Iraqi Police pickup truck posted on the side of the road, with a cop in the bed manning a light machine gun on the roof...talk about heavy traffic enforcement! There were goat and cow herds along both sides of the road, and as we approached a recently-built highway overpass, instead of a line of motor vehicle traffic crossing over our heads, it was a conga line of cattle shuffling placidly along. About midway back, we were detoured around a traffic collision...but instead of orange traffic cones, the IPs had set out big rocks and scrap metal to mark the temporary lanes. (Maybe dog agility people stole all of their cones!)
Roadside commerce is sure different in Southern Iraq; gas stations consist of a single pump in a mini-van sized shack, and the restaurants are all open air affairs, most featuring big rotisseries roasting large chunks of meat. It reminded me of travelling up old California Highway 99 through the Central Valley in the early 60's...all it needed was a couple of "Big Orange" stands to complete the picture.
I enjoyed the ride, even more so due to the lack of IEDs or other bad guy activity...it was enough to keep me awake until we got back home, secured our packages of evidence, and grabbed a quick bite of dinner before surrendering to the siren call of our CHUs.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bummer in Baghdad

Our unit suffered its first casualty of the deployment. Our battalion executive officer lost his life due to a "non-combat related incident" on Tuesday. I can't discuss details, but my deepest condolences to the XO's family, friends, and colleagues.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Live Blog From Baghdad

After spending my tour of duty up 'til now in small Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), I happily volunteered to take a piece of electronic equipment up to our unit headquarters in Baghdad for repair. It was a great opportunity to see my friends from our reserve unit, and do a little sightseeing. I wasn't prepared for the amount of traffic, pavement, and huge buildings that cover the gigantic Victory Base Complex, and felt kind of like a "country bumpkin" while staring goggle-eyed at everything around me. The centerpiece is the renowned Al Faw Palace, which is opulent in a cheesy, Las Vegas sort of way. No visit to Al Faw Palace is complete until tourists have been photographed while seated on Saddam Hussein's throne. The Leprechaun couldn't resist the lure of planting his posterior for posterity...some pretty famous rear ends have occupied this surprisingly comfy piece of furniture.
Another pleasant surprise awaited me during dinner in one of the Mega Mess Halls. The USO put together a cartoonist tour to visit bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so I got to meet and chat with "Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau. Mr. Trudeau is a truly gracious fellow who has used his strip as a "bully pulpit" to increase Americans' awareness of the struggles our Wounded Warriors encounter. He drew a nice little sketch of "BD", personalized it, and presented me with a "Doonesbury in the Sandbox" commemorative coin. I'll try to post a photo of both mementos soon.
More photos from Baghdad will follow, but after a pretty sporty helo ride on the return trip, I'm worn out and gonna hit the sack!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

CHU Like My Place?

I intended to share photos of the metal box that is my home during this deployment, but just never got around to it until today. This is my assigned Containerized Housing Unit, or CHU...also known by equally-homey terms such as "Can" or "Hootch". A quick tour: You'll note the state of the art "Home Theater", complete with 22" LCD TV; I receive 10 channels of Armed Forces Network TV, plus I have a collection of DVDs, and an external hard drive containing over 200 movies, which play on my TV when connected to my laptop computer. The comfy chairs even have handy cup-holders! When it's bed-time for Bonzo, the surprisingly comfortable mattress, covered with the camoflage-pattern "Woobie" (that's the unofficial GI name for the quilted poncho liner, which is probably the Army's best issue item) has been kind to me. My "stuff" is inside that classy gray steel wall locker...thankfully I don't have, or need much "stuff"! My fishing pole is in the corner, ready to go at a moment's notice whenever I get free time during daylight hours...which hasn't happened lately. (The turtles are no doubt thankful for this respite!)

Well, I hope you've enjoyed the tour...Look for the 3-star rating in next month's "Michelin Guide to Combat Zone B&Bs" available at better bookstores everywhere!

Interesting Meeting

I had the privilege of meeting Iraqi Major A_____, who is the "Rule of Law" for the province. Very gracious and friendly, he was at our office as part of a series of orientation briefings on the American military justice system here in Iraq. I showed him the size of the case file I'm currently working, which when stacked up is close to 24" high...the Major was amazed, and astutely asked why we haven't adopted an all-digital case file system. I learned, through an interpreter, how the Iraqi Army (IA) interfaces with the Iraqi Police (IP), which is substantially different from how the US Armed Forces work with our civilian counterparts. After a very interesting conversation, I presented Major A_____ with my CID brassard and patch from my uniform...I think he would have preferred either our super-glue fuming apparatus, or maybe my Sig-Sauer pistol...!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dodged a Bullet (Figuratively!)

I was assigned an RFA (Request For Assistance) from a Stateside Army post today. Turned out to be a "bad news/good news" deal.

The Bad News: The RFA will require interviewing up to 20 different soldiers, plus the suspect(s), all said to be located at a remote patrol base, which will require 3 days of grueling investigation away from most of my tools, such as my computer for taking sworn statements.

The Good News: After I carefully read over the documents attached to the RFA, I realized that the unit with all of the involved soldiers had re-deployed back to the USA almost a year ago...which the sending agent apparently failed to check. Oops. So, I got to send back the RFA with a polite, professional note which roughly translated to "Not it!"

All in all, it was an excellent omen for the weekend.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Nights in White Shattin...

I've not been able to get back to sleep after crawling in to bed at 2300. Right after I dropped off to dreamland, some idiot pounded on my door...wrong door...then a group of idiots across the street at brigade headquarters decided to burn a pile of discarded uniforms, sending a noxious cloud of smoke billowing around our CHUs, and filling my CHU with stinky fumes. Tried 3 times to nod off, but the last attempt was thwarted by the idiots (are you detecting a pattern here?) in the CHU next to me, who decided that 0130 was the perfect time to crank up the volume in their stereo to wall-shaking levels, and then scream like maniacs being gnawed upon by badgers. Thankfully, the Major who lives on the opposite side of these mental dwarfs, and is in their chain of command, flew out of his CHU and slammed some heavy object against their door, then yelled how he was going to "rip off their heads and crap down their necks unless they all shut-the-f**k-up-right-f**king-now!" I quietly opened my own door, smiled and thanked the Major, and he very calmly responded, "You're most welcome, Agent Leprechaun," before returning to his own bed.
I love being here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chronicles of a Combat Zone Couch Potato

After a physically and emotionally-grueling week, I decided to just grab a light dinner to go and return to my CHU and watch baseball play-off games, college and NFL football, President's Cup golf...in other words, nothing requiring cognitive thought. I was rewarded for my indolence with some outstanding sports action: Army beat Vanderbilt, Florida held off LSU, the Dodgers swept the Cardinals (I predict it'll be a re-run of the 1963 Dodgers vs. Yankees World Series, with the Dodgers taking it all...despite not having Sandy Koufax on the mound), Tiger and the American team are up by 3.5 points over the Internationals, and best of all, my UW Huskies came from behind to pull out a dramatic win over undefeated Arizona! Woo-Hoo! This should more than offset the expected drubbing the SeaHawks will take tonight at the hands of Carolina.
Come Monday morning, I'll be accelerating back up to 100 mph, so this has been a much needed respite.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The End of a Sad and Tragic Landmark

I noticed this morning that the old Steilacoom Marina was destroyed by a fire yesterday. The building's demise was especially poignant for me, as I had kept my first boat there while living on one of the islands offshore, and I was one of the primary investigators of owner Paul Wang's murder back in the mid-80's. I could never visit the place without thinking how awful that winter day was, seeing Paul's body on the floor. Paul Wang was kind, generous, and friendly to all that stopped by the old marina. He didn't deserve to be brutally murdered by the two young teenagers who had decided to rob the marina store. I'll never forget how matter-of-fact the suspect that I interviewed was when he told me that they'd killed Paul so they couldn't be identified after the robbery. That was my first exposure to sociopathic behavior, and it chilled me to the bone. Those two murderers are still in prison, and with any luck will remain there until they die.
Paul's widow tried to keep the marina going, but faced an uphill battle. Maybe at long last the spirits that I always felt inhabited the place were released with the flames and smoke, and it can once again be a peaceful spot on the Puget Sound.
R.I.P., Paul...and my condolences to you, Shirley.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Day in the Life

This kind of schedule is becoming more typical as things get busier:
6:30 a.m. Physical Fitness Test: Sit-ups, push-ups, 2.5 miles. Aleve is my friend.
9:00 a.m. Review case files and comments from the boss...generate lots of paperwork.
11:00 a.m. Pick up a new investigation, begin to interview the victim.
12:00 noon Break for lunch...grab something a the mess hall, bring it back to the office.
1:30 p.m. Resume victim interview.
7:45 p.m. Break for dinner, and catch up on interview notes while victim is at mess hall.
9:45 p.m. Victim interview complete; set up appointments for witness interviews.
10:30 p.m. Return to CHU, catch up on emails, get clean uniform ready for tomorrow.
Midnight: Collapse on bed, get ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Go Huskies! Beat the Fighting Irish!

Given that the symbol of the University of Notre Dame is a "Fighting Leprechaun", you'd suppose that I'd be predisposed to root for the Fighting Irish. Sorry...I'm a loyal Dawg, and will be cheering the Purple and Gold on to kick butt at South Bend today! (Oh, yes, Notre Dame...Relax, Don't Fight It...It's Gonna Happen!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Iraq is "For the Birds"!

I suspect that the famous "Triangle of Death" has never been considered a mecca for birdwatchers. On the other hand, as a courtesy to two very nice people back home (Howdy, Burt and Doris!) who are VERY dedicated birders, I offer a snapshot (well, two snapshots, actually) of the bird situation here in Southern Iraq.

I noticed upon my arrival 3 months ago that there were almost no birds to be seen. With the daily temperature at 120+ degrees, I figured that birds were smart enough to hang out elsewhere. The occasional dove would fly overhead and poop on soldiers, (how's that for war zone irony?) but the absence of birds singing was pretty weird. Then one day about a month ago, as dusk approached and we made our way toward the mess hall, the sky was darkened by thousands of little birdies, all emitting shrill cries. These feathered clouds alighted on the only four eucalyptus trees in our FOB and continued their ear-splitting racket, until a controlled detonation of some confiscated enemy explosives caused every bird to take wing simultaneously and scream about 4 feet over our heads. This show now occurs almost every evening.

I snapped a photo of one of these unremarkable brown birds, sans his buddies, as he perched on the concrete blast wall outside of my CHU...I'm confident that either Burt or Doris will supply the identification once they read this. The second photo is a small portion of the nightly gathering. You'll have to take my word that the little black dots covering the branches are indeed birds. I would have gotten closer, but these birds were especially free with their droppings this evening, and I was wearing a fresh uniform! Anyway, loud as those little brown suckers are, it's nice to hear birds singing again...

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Totally Cool!

That's the weather tonight, clear and COOL! Official temperature at the BDOC (Base Defense Operations Center) right now at 9:20 p.m. is a pleasant 70 degrees...Heck, it almost feels like home.
It's not only cool out tonight, it is especially noisy! I must have missed the memo from the base commander ordering everyone to turn up their stereo, honk MRAP horns, crank up the Karaoke Night sound system (and the "talent" is particularly off-key this evening)...even the Iraqi Police are blasting their sirens every few minutes on MSR Tampa, and the final chorus chiming in comes from a pod of crickets outside of my CHU. Good thing I have an excellent set of earplugs, because that'll be the only way I'll be able to sleep tonight!

Monday, September 28, 2009

More Fish Stories

Here's a photo of the FOB's "Fishin' Magicians". (From L to R: Guy, Kurt, and Bill) These fellas are DoD contractors, and were very willing to show this FNG (Fishing New Guy) the best techniques for success. Bill is holding a 16" red-tailed carp, about 3 lbs worth of fighting fury, which was released back into the water unharmed right after I took this photo.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fishin' on the FOB

Thanks to my friends Felix and Caroline, I am now fully-outfitted to engage in some combat-zone fishing! (Thanks, you two!) Although I had planned to spend a couple of hours today angling for wiley carp and catfish, I was the Lone Ranger on the FOB this weekend, so was stuck in the office until this evening. I did manage to get my line wet, learned some helpful fishing tips from 3 civilian contactors (the local carp prefer Slim Jim chunks to anything else), and finally reeled in a big, fat...turtle! (Yep, I yelled, "Terp On!" to everyone's amusement.) I successfully released the turtle without hurting him (it?). As you can see from the photos, our fishing area has been thoughtfully equipped with protection from indirect fire, which adds to the bucolic setting. As I headed off in to the Iraqi sunset, I swore those carp were calling after me, "Bring more Slim Jims!" (NOTE: NO TURTLES OR FISH WERE HARMED DURING THE MAKING OF THIS BLOG...)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mystery Revealed!

I finally learned the name of the restaurant which provides the catering service for our dining facility: It explains a lot...

(Thanks to Dr. Bagacheezi for providing the evidence photo.)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Amazing Leprechreskin!

If you'll take note of the time that I published my earlier post, predicting that the UW Huskies would upset the USC Trojans, you will see that I made this prediction approximately 5 hours before kickoff. I do admit that this prognostication was tinged with wishful thinking, but what a kick that the Dawgs pulled it off! (And congratulations to Coach Sark...so far, you have one more "W" this season than I do, and I'm expecting to see a couple more!)

The storm that I mentioned in that same post developed into a major thunderstorm, with lightning striking the FOB, and crashing thunder so loud that stuff was shaken out of my wall lockers. This was a just plain eventful night, in a good way.

Fall Comes To Iraq

Folks who have been here for a while explained that when the season changes from Summer to Fall, temperatures drop into the mid-90's, and it begins to rain. Well, it must officially be Fall, because after two and a half months, the skies just opened up with an epic deluge. Big windstorm to go along with the water, which makes for a nice change...at least until I have to slog through ankle deep mud to get to the latrine and shower. Fortunately I have all of my shoe-cleaning supplies on hand, including a good scrub brush and bucket, so that I won't track mud into my CHU. Semper Paratus.
Turned out to be the perfect evening to fort up in the hootch, munch on beef jerky, and watch college football...including the stunning upset victory the UW Huskies pulled off over USC...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Hero, Paying Back Since 9/11/01

This story has taken me a bit more time to write than usual, as the subject deserves the effort.
While awaiting a flight on 9/11, I struck up a conversation with a First Lieutenant, a fellow Army Reservist. When he learned that I was retired from law enforcement, the LT mentioned that his civilian job was paramedic with the NYFD. When I asked the inevitable question, "Were you there that day?", a troubled look crossed the LT's face as he seemed to consider how to answer. He then started speaking quietly, describing how he had indeed been there that morning, treating and helping to evacuate people from the South Tower. The LT paused for a minute, then told me how screwed up things had gotten for the first responders. He talked about how he and his fellow medics had been ordered to abandon the non-ambulatory patients, and evacuate the building immediately, as it was about to collapse. The LT said that he had protested, but in the end followed orders, and escaped minutes before the South Tower came down.
I sat there quietly, absorbing how incredibly painful this had been for this guy and his partners.
The LT bowed his head, and said he's carried the guilt with him ever since. He enlisted in the Army Reserve shortly afterward, and since 2001 has volunteered for and served 3 combat tours in Iraq, and one tour in Afghanistan, trying to make up for what happened on that awful day eight years ago. Just then, the LT's boss walked up and pulled him away, and I had to leave without saying goodbye. What I didn't get a chance to say to this hero was this..."You've paid any debt you feel you owe four times over...and you have nothing to be ashamed of."
I think anyone who understands true courage and selfless service would agree.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Inspections and Football

A team of inspectors arrived this afternoon to review our operation. They'll review case files, discuss our approach to investigations, and generally figure out if our office is suffering from Cranial-Rectal Inversion Syndrome...or not. We'll get an update on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow, and the team leader promised to debunk any and all rumors currently flying around the theatre of operations.

In the midst of this minor pressure, once again it's Saturday in the USA, and time for college football on TV. We only get one sports channel, but I'm not complaining. Watching a game or two on the tube adds a sense of normalcy to being in this place. The UW Huskies are playing the Idaho Vandals...if the Idaho players have left their spraypaint at home, it should be a "W" for U-Dub. GO DAWGS!!!!!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

"Mr. Leprechaun, this is your 0430 Wake-Up Call!"

I was sleeping soundly at around 0430 this morning when I was awakened by what sounded like an incoming rocket or artillery shell...I rolled out of bed and hit the floor, only to realize (to my great relief) that it was merely one of the unmanned drones flying really low over my CHU.
Probably shouldn't have watched Apocalypse Now last night before going to bed....

More "Stuff You Just Can't Make Up'

All right, here's a little something for you fans of military absurdity, which I overheard in the mess hall at lunch this afternoon:

There's this unit over here, with about 9 months remaining in-country...been operational for about 2 months...and their HQ apparently put out the word today that all end of tour award recommendations need to be submitted within the next couple of days. It sparked the following conversation...
Lieutenant: "But we haven't done anything yet...we only just now got our computers working!"
Captain: "Doesn't really matter...just write something up in bulleted format after lunch, okay?"

Coincidentally, I learned a new acronym today...FUBIJAR...as in "That's incredibly FUBIJAR!"
(F***ed Up, But I'm Just A Reservist)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Porta-Potty Pistol Procedures

As most of you are already aware, I spend a lot of my time in Porta-Potties. This frequent exposure has required me to develop a regimen to keep my trusty M-11 pistol from taking a belly-flop in to the holding tank.

Remember the joke about the guy who accidentally drops a $5 bill down a porta-potty, pulls out his wallet and throws in $50, before jumping in to retrieve the cash. When he crawls out, dripping with "stuff", his friends ask him why he did what he did. The fellow answers, "You don't think I was going to go in after a measly five bucks, do you?" Well, in the Army, anyone unfortunate enough to accidentally drop their sidearm into the poop pool will definitely be expected to retrieve it...although the recovery procedures are not specified in any regulation or field manual.

Since I have absolutely no desire to muck about in the sewage, I developed a routine to prevent such a disaster. First action upon entering the confines of the Porta-Potty is to put down the lid, and only then do I remove my pistol from my belt holster, and place it next to the seat. (For those of you wondering why I even take my sidearm out of the holster, try pulling up your pants and tightening your belt with a 3 lb weight hanging on one side.) Once my pistol has been secured, then I am free to take care of business. When finished, I do the whole process in reverse before returning my pistol to the holster.

Do you think I'm being overly-cautious? Well, this morning I was kind of in a hurry. I followed the procedure outlined above, but when I drew my pistol from the holster, it caught on the hem of my shirt, and dropped about six inches...right on to the closed lid. I must be living right.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

This just in...

Life is about to imitate blog, as I got a "heads up" that my partner and I will be soon heading to one of the "austere" bases mentioned in the series of articles I linked to a few days ago. OPSEC prevents me from saying more, but I promise a full report once we return... (Hopefully illustrated with photos!)

By the way, I met the company First Sergeant from that base this afternoon, and this guy is one of those old school infantry warriors that I really admire. For you war movie fans, think "Sergeant Major Basil Plumley" from We Were Soldiers, only more loquatious. I'm looking forward to spending time in the front lines, though since there's no shooting going on it should be more like camping at a really low-rent RV park...
The story you are about to read is true; the profanity has been modified to protect the innocent...

Okay, so there I was, sitting outside the airfield shack waiting for a UH-60 Blackhawk to arrive, enjoying the 140 degree heat, when two young female soldiers walked by. One turns to the other and said, "F-in' A, my moms liked the Marx Brothers so much, my f-in' middle name is f-in' Harpo!" The other responded, "F, girl, we learned about that dude in school, but I thought his name was Karl or somethin', not all whack like f-in' Harpo. Ain't that f-in' OPRAH spelled backasswards?" "Yeah," the first soldier said," I could just tell people that my moms digs Oprah, but she's f-in' dyslexic!"

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Leprechaun posts a "W"...

Once again, I can't divulge details, but I finally solved a case. Yeah, about darn time, except it was really the only case of note that I've had so far. And I was bloody brilliant!

Okay, enough self-congratulation...except please note that as of now, I have a better win-loss record than last year's UW football team. (Open Challenge to Coach Sarkesian...Can you guys beat my record...? Please?)

Monday, August 31, 2009

How's YOUR Day Going?

My day has started out just awesomely, thanks for asking... I was jazzed last night because the mess hall had actual, fresh guacamole!!!!! It is one of my favorite dishes in the whole world, and was the first time I'd seen it here. Yeah, I know, if something new, exciting, and different from the usual institutional or East Indian cuisine shows up in the mess hall, don't trust it. I get the concept of caution, and for that reason have avoided the king crab legs, "lobster" tails (still not convinced those aren't really boiled camel spiders), and when they featured sushi a couple of weeks ago, I literally ran in the opposite direction. But I ask you, how can anyone screw up mashed avocados with a bit of lemon juice, finely-diced onions, and a hint of cilantro? I can report that it even tasted just like fresh guacamole, with enough chunks of avocado to guarantee this was made on the spot. So I fell in to the clever KBR trap, downed a couple of tablespoonfuls of the stuff...and within hours I was doing performance art. "See the Leprechaun actually re-creating the May, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, complete with Pyroclastic Flows and superheated gasses!" I was giving three performances every hour, and the show is still running, with no end in sight.
After returning to my CHU just now (or as I now call it, "backstage") I went to brush my teeth. I avoid the somewhat dodgy water in the latrine sinks, and have been using a combination of Listerine (to wet the brush) and toothpaste, for a result that is both minty-fresh and chemically-powerful. As I dipped my toothbrush in the giant "Osmond Family-size" Listerine bottle, one of my colleagues startled me by pounding on my CHU door, and I dropped my toothbrush into the emerald green depths. Rats! After running off my visitor, I tried retrieving the brush by fashioning a lasso of dental floss, but the floss floats so I can't get it around the end of the handle. While I was attempting this hygienic rescue, I looked down at the floor, and noticed huge globs of wet mud all over my vinyl floor and area rugs. Once again, some KBR water truck had dumped its load on the gravel outside, creating a swamp underneath the dry rocks...and the preoccupied Leprechaun, oblivious to the condition of his footwear, managed to turn a formerly clean CHU into a venue ready to host mud-wrestling...Hmmmmmm...I'll have to ponder that opportunity while getting dressed and heading over to the PX for a new toothbrush...with at least one stop along the way.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

You've Got To Read This Article!

I was checking out the 34th Infantry Division's newsletter today, and read some of the very best humorous writing about what it's like for the grunts (infantry soldiers) over here. These folks are all in my AOR (Area Of Responsibility), but I have it soooo much better than they do that I will feel ashamed if I complain about anything for the rest of my tour.

Check out PFC Lawrence's three articles here: www.theredbulls.org/austerehere I guarantee you will laugh and cry at the same time, and you will also understand why front line warriors have such little regard for POGs (Persons Other than Grunts)...you know, like me!
(It's okay...I've made peace with my Inner Fobbit...)

The Heat is On!

That was a snappy tune from Beverly Hills Cop, and also what it's like over here. Temps have reached the 140 degree mark a couple of times this week, which is waaaaay hotter than anything I've ever experienced before. We were busy searching a bunch of CHUs for stolen items and latent fingerprint evidence day before yesterday, and had to wear latex gloves. In a number of the CHUS, the A/C was pretty anemic, so after just 10 minutes of work, we all were able to pour almost an ounce of water each out of our gloves, and we had seriously prune-y fingers, without the fun of being at a hot-tub party. When our office A/C went out for a bit, we were dripping so much sweat that we had to cover our computer keyboards with plastic wrap to prevent them from shorting out as we wrote our reports.

Whenever I think about the soldiers over the past thousand years who fought wars in the desert, without the benefit of fresh, plentiful and cold water, or air conditioning, I am humbled and amazed....and very thirsty!
Leprechaun of Arabia...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Stuff I Can't Share With You

One of the reasons why the Armed Forces monitor any blogs written by us deployed folks is the concern that we will reveal unflattering or potentially dangerous information to anyone with internet access. The policy actually makes sense...yeah, somebody slap me...but this war stuff is indeed serious business. Anything published that could put our troops (including yours truly) in harms way just shouldn't be out there. Amazingly, the Army is relying a lot on us bloggers to self-censor, and by all accounts it is working pretty effectively.
While I end up almost every day with anecdotes illustrating what life is like for the average soldier here on this FOB, most of 'em just can't be revealed...at least in this type of forum. That is why I have been journaling in my pocket notebook almost daily, because if I change a few things around to protect the innocent, these'll be perfect stories for my novel.
It's almost like there is a team of comedy writers sitting up at MNF-I(Multi-National Force-Iraq) Headquarters, sending out skits for the troops to perform for our ultimate amusement...Maybe it's the AAA farm team for "Saturday Night Live"...but there hasn't been one day since arriving here that I haven't gotten at least one good laugh about "the stuff you just can't make up". I do promise to tell all of these stories someday...they may end up only being entertaining to me, but that's the risk y'all are taking by encouraging me to write!

p.s. Someday, remind me to tell you the story about the Ugandan with 70 pairs of sunglasses in his undershorts...

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Home Theater, CHU-Style

Okay, I admit that I had every intention of resisting the typical Iraq-tour movie mania...folks have external computer hard drives filled with up to 1,000 movies, which means that "Every Night is Movie Night" in this pretty boring place. I had several opportunities to copy some great video libraries during pre-deployment training, but figured there'd be plenty else to keep me busy. Reality intruded, and so when another golden opportunity presented itself the other day, I broke down and got a small hard drive (500 GB) from the PX, and downloaded over 300 movies. By connecting my laptop to my TV with an HDMI cable, I get a pretty good quality viewing experience. Add in a "stir-fry to go" from the mess hall, and it's showtime, folks! (I even have a couple of really bad flicks in the group, so me and my friends can do our own version of "Mystery Science Theater 3000"...)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Army 3, Computers 1

Good news, loyal readers! An avenging angel of electronics, in the form of Captain "M" who is our battalion S-6 (Communications Staff Officer), flew down here last night, and by 10 a.m. had my recalcitrant laptop (aka "Stoopid Kompewter") singing a new tune. All of my required software was installed and actually works, and my printer spits out pages like the library card catalog in "GhostBusters"! She then conquered glitches in two of the three remaining machines before lunchtime...Captain "M" was finally stymied by the boss's laptop, which had the computer equivalent of a nervous breakdown moments after she powered it up. She's here for another day, and my bet is on her to wrassle and pin that last laptop before riding (flying) off in to the sunset.
Also, in the "Be Careful What You Wish For" category, all hell broke loose here over the last 3 days/nights. I'm getting lots of experience, real fast. Sure beats boredom...and sleep is highly over-rated anyway...

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bizarre Bazaar

Finally made it to the FOB's Iraqi marketplace in search of a video cable. We'd been staying away from there for operational reasons, but am now able to check the place out. Reminded me a lot of visiting Tijuana in the 60's...seedy, but filled with entreprenurial frenzy. Nobody was selling Chiclets, though. And I did find the video cable I needed, and for only 35,000 Dinar. (Sounds a lot more expensive than it really is...and I love saying "Dinar".) It's like Alice's Restaurant, 'cause you can get anything you want... "Hassan" met me at the entrance to the courtyard, and served as my guide...straight to his own shop, of course. He tried to convince me that what I really needed was a cool leather shoulder holster, and a T-shirt sporting the logo, "Iraq is for Lovers". (Maybe if I wanted to co-star with Dirk Diggler in a detective film...Ha!) After I politely rejected all of the really awesome stuff that Hassan was trying to foist on me, I spotted electronic cables on the shop wall of one of Hassan's rivals, and made a break for it. (Staying fit comes in handy at times over here, as I dodged Hassan's attempt to block my path, and left him in the dust.) After a spirited discussion about cables and electronics in general, Amir dug under a stack of satellite receivers and came up with what I needed. Now this was the point where a better man would have bargained with Amir and brought the price down to nothing...but I just wanted to escape, and my new BFF Hassan was lurking outside with a whole new selection of merchandise. Besides, the cost was still less than if I'd ordered it from Amazon or Best Buy, and the experience provided me with fodder for this blog post. I also admit that it gave me just a little pleasure seeing Amir do the Iraqi version of "In your face, sucker!" to Hassan... Oh, and the cable works like a charm.

Am also in the middle of a fascinating investigation, which of course I can't talk about... but here's your fun fact for today; Compared to civilian police investigations, we generate approximately 3-4 times the amount of paperwork in the Army. ("Now remember, Agent Leprechaun, ya gotta document that you documented the documentation!") It's no wonder that so many of my active duty counterparts smoke...

Bay Watch!!!!!

Just sayin' "Howdy" to an old friend... Welcome aboard!

Ode To My Boonie Hat

I work out at the Gym most days,
And vow to not get fat,
Or get all crispy sunburned,
Thanks to my Boonie Hat!

For those soldiers over here who are either fashion conscious, or are blessed with sufficient quantities of melanin, they generally spurn the 2 1/2" brimmed Boonie Hat. But for those of us who sport the Celtic Glow, turning red after 30 seconds worth of exposure to the fierce desert sun, our Boonie Hats are treasured and constant companions. Yes, they look incredibly dorky, especially with the floppy brim and unstructured crown, and they take up more room in our cargo pocket when we are in the mess hall, but those are minor flaws. The alternative headgear, aka the Patrol Cap or PC, looks more like what G.I. Joe would wear, but it lacks any ventilation, and the front bill is barely adequate to shade the eyes. (Everyone here is in solid agreement about our happiness that the beret is not allowed over here!)

While my Boonie Hat is developing a battered and stained appearance, I've been reluctant to wash it for fear that it will shrink or otherwise become unwearable. (I hand-washed my patrol cap, and it shrank just enough to make it very uncomfortable...) I've ordered a spare which, if my previous experience with the Army uniform supply system is any indicator, will likely show up 10 months from now.
While before my return I will likely discard most of my already-decomposing deployment uniforms, I plan on keeping my beloved Boonie as a memento of this desert vacation...but promise not to wear it except occasionally, and only in the privacy of my home...when my spousal unit is away. The dogs will no doubt enjoy the aroma, which in a year will be similar to green tripe.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Beltre's Nuts...

When I first saw that headline, I thought that the Mariners' third basemen had been involuntarily committed to Western State Hospital. Guess it would have been better for the team if that was the case, as he'd only be out for a max of 90 days.
(For those of you who don't follow Mariners Baseball, this will be one of the few posts that will either puzzle you, or have you resorting to Google searches.)

Stoopid Kompewters: The Saga Continues

It has been close to 45 days since my Army computer issues were first identified. The damn thing still doesn't function. Just had another visit from the FOB IT people. They screwed around with it, trying to download "patches" and other needed software, and 3 hours later, they've made absolutely zero progress. These computers are supposedly "Essential Equipment" to carry out our duties, but instead mine is turning out to be a "Farce Multiplier".
(I even went so far as to attempt a download of the case management software on to my personal laptop, but SURPRISE!!! this software doesn't function with the Vista operating system. (Yep, you guessed it...that's what is on my laptop.)

It's official...my GAS gauge is on "E".

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Charlie Bravo* Rides Again!

We received our footlockers the other day. Mine contained my Cuisinart thermal carafe coffee maker. With the events of the past week, I didn't really much care about coffee...but yesterday and today I made a pot of decent (German) java, and before I knew it, folks from the adjoining offices were ringing our doorbell and asking where that great coffee aroma was coming from. Of course I shared, and in so doing have changed our own office from a quiet backwater to the functional equivalent of a Combat Starbuck's. Since the outgoing team left a cornucopia of coffee, it's essentially a free service for the representatives of the MNC-I Criminal Justice System. I didn't expect to even want a cup of joe, given the high temperatures even in the a.m., but it's amazing what a Pavlovian response is triggered by the smell of fresh-brewed coffee...in an air-conditioned plywood structure!
Hi Yo, Caffeine! The Lone Barista Rides Again!
* "Charlie Bravo" is the (I hope) affectionate nickname I had back at my civilian job. Don't ask...

Monday, August 10, 2009

The "Combat Patch" as Bar Mitzpha

Or Bas Mitzpha, depending on your gender...

Many years ago (at the end of WWII, I believe) the Army adopted the practice of allowing soldiers who had served in a combat zone to wear the unit patch of their outfit on their right shoulder. The current unit of assignment's patch is worn on the left shoulder. This was a not-so-subtle way of identifying who'd been to war, and who had yet to "become a man". Soldiers referred to this additional insignia as a "Combat Patch", which sounds way more macho that its official Army name: FWSSSI, or "Former Wartime Service Shoulder Sleeve Insignia". A soldier could be highly competent, motivated, and courageous, but without a combat patch, he was just another rookie who hadn't played in a real game yet. After the Vietnam War concluded, there was an entire generation of soldiers who had that slick right sleeve. In the mid-70's to early 80's, almost all of the senior NCOs and officers wore combat patches, which made the rest of us stand out, and not in a good way. Yet for the most part, those who had earned the right to wear a combat patch didn't make a big deal about it, they just had quietly sewn it on their uniforms when they returned home and that was that.
A few soldiers, mostly special ops types, earned combat patches in Panama. Later, more soldiers sported combat patches from the First Gulf War, but still not too many. Then everything changed...After 6 straight years of combat deployments, it's increasingly rare to see soldiers without a combat patch. In fact, the absence of that little piece of fabric and velcro on the right shoulder of an active duty soldier has sometimes sparked quiet, unkind comments from those who have deployed. many with three or more tours under their belts.
So I guess it's only natural for Army units over here to make a big deal about the "combat patch ceremony." It has become quite the event, complete with a quasi-standardized script, read with the requisite gravitas, which tells the no-longer slick sleeved warriors, "Today, you are a man!"

Our team elected to informally slap 'em on just as two of us were ready to board a helicopter, and took a couple of snapshots for posterity...We were all much more comfortable with our approach, and somehow I felt it more appropriate to emulate the same matter-of-fact, low-key manner which previous generations had adopted.
So now I sport an insignia which tells other soldiers that I've gone off to war...and that I guess somehow entitles me to look down my nose at those without it...but I'm not gonna do that, because there are too many soldiers who actually fought, bled, and sometimes died earning that same combat patch...(And those men and women are truly entitled to look down their noses at the rest of us!)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Farewell to a Great Cop and a Good Friend

When I returned to the FOB after a mission about 90 minutes ago, I learned that my very good friend, Steve B., had quietly passed away a couple of days ago. Steve was my partner patrol sergeant with the sheriff's department, and taught me the ropes of first-level leadership. Not only was Steve a superb street cop, but his sense of fun was matched only by his willingness to "push the envelope" in testing the bureaucracy. If there was an opportunity to make mischief, Steve usually was the prime instigator. He loved airplanes and flying, whether it was in the department Cessna as an air observer, or on the computer "flying a mission" with his air combat flight simulator. But above all, Steve's first and most important love was his wife, a great cop in her own right, and the perfect complement and balance to Steve's inimitable personality.
I was thinking of Steve this evening while preparing to board the helicopter for the flight back to home base...how much Steve would enjoy the chance to fly around Iraq...and when I thanked the flight ops coordinator as we walked toward the chopper, he responded, "Just keep your head down and your powder dry..." which was Steve's favorite way to end our conversations. At the time I smiled at the coincidence...but now I think it might have been Steve creatively figuring out a way to say, "Goodbye."
Happy Landings, my friend...

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How Now, Brown Chow?

"Brown Chow" pretty much describes most of the entrees served in our FOB's Dining Facility (DFAC for short). The new Army doesn't refer to these places as "mess halls" anymore, but that's what I still call it, which is yet another sign that I'm just an unreconstructed geezer. (Boy, if that last paragraph didn't sound like something Andy Rooney would say...yikes!)

On to tonight's topic...When my colleagues and I arrived here 30 days ago, the mess hall seemed like an upscale Old Country Buffet, full of interesting international choices and a varied menu. The team we were replacing chuckled at our initial reactions and told us we'd be bored inside of two weeks. Well, it took a little longer for me, but I have to admit they spoke the truth. Now don't get me wrong, there are still lots of different choices offered at lunch and dinner, but the problem is that most of those interesting choices are really, really bad nutritionally. Almost everything is fried, covered with cheese, or high carb...and quite a few items are all three. For those of us trying not to become like the Michelin Man, we pretty much are limited to a couple of items. Even the veggies are drenched in butter, cheese sauce, or curried camel lard.
The troops who came over in 2003-2006 would no doubt respond to my commentary with a resounding, "What, are you nuts, or just stupid? We ate really crappy food for 15 months and we were being shot at...so quit your bitching, and have some damned cheesecake or Baskin-Robbins ice cream while you're at it!"
Okay, message received...except for the dessert part, anyway. I still have my pride.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Welcome to FOB Ennui

Everyone here seems to be walking around like zombies lately. I'm also feeling the "it's five o'clock somewhere" effect. Might be that the initial buzz of being in a new situation has worn off, replaced by the realization that it's gonna be pretty much like this everyday for close to a year.

While our SAC has been very creative in coming up with projects (at which ironically, all of my recent bosses have excelled!), there is no adrenaline likely to result from getting 'em done.

Now before anyone responds that "...boredom in a war zone is a good thing!", there is a lot of space between mind-numbing repetition and having mortar rounds, rockets, and bullets flying about like those dang monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Add in the fact that when we CID folks are busy, it usually means that there are victims, and I'd just as soon not have any of those produced either, thank you very much.

All of this ultimately means that I've run out of excuses, and will have to commence serious work on writing my novel, which has been in suspended animation for quite a few years. Okay, now that I've committed myself publicly to the task, I'll have to either produce something during my tour of duty, or face embarrassing questions upon my return next year. (Not that there won't be a few of those anyway, such as, "How come you didn't offer to review any local jurisdiction CEMPs, if you were so freakin' bored?" and "Is it common to GAIN weight while in a combat zone?")
Well, as the French infantry used to say, "Audace, Audace, Toujours Audace!", which I believe roughly translates to, "What idiot decided for us to charge toward the enemy machine guns?"
Wish me luck, friends...'cause a lot of you will appear in my novel in one form or another...Bwah Hah Hah!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

RIP, CAPT "Scott" Speicher

I've worn a POW/MIA bracelet with U.S. Navy CAPT Speicher's name on it pretty much continuously since 1995. His FA-18 fighter was shot down during the first Gulf War, and it was thought that he survived and was captured by Saddam's thugs. His remains were recently discovered near the crash site, and he will finally be going home.
While I took off his bracelet today when the news came out, I certainly won't forget CAPT Speicher's sacrifice...or that of the thousands of soldiers, Marines, sailors, and Coasties who have met their fate here.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Rime of the Ancient Leprechaun

"Water, water, everywhere (not), especially in the showers!" For the second day in a row, the generator which powers the FOB laundry and the water supply to the latrines and showers is on the fritz. Yesterday one of the intell unit NCOs shared her work-around strategy...take a case of liter-size water bottles into the shower trailer, and since the water is already hot, (it's stored in conex containers outside), there's your shower! I tried it, only required 3 bottles for a "Navy Shower", and it worked great. That'll be the plan for this morning as well. Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome, Baby! (or as we loggies always say, "Semper Effing Mobilis!")

A-1 First Class Care Package Acknowledgement

A big "Shukran!" ("Thank You" in Arabic) to my friend and colleague Tony, who as a veteran of a tour in Afghanistan knew just what kind of neat stuff to send...things I didn't even know existed, like very tasty low calorie Crystal Light drink mix with caffeine!!!! How cool is that? Even more timely was the generous supply of "Wet Ones" moist towelettes, which came in very handy today as the water supply to our showers was interrupted by a generator failure, and our little PX has been out of those things for the past week. No stinky Leprechauns on this FOB, for which my co-workers also extend their deep appreciation. Thanks, Bro...


I was momentarily startled this evening by the sight of orange flames leaping above the brigade headquarters compound. I exclaimed something intelligent, like "Holy S--t!" which prompted a passing soldier to remind me that the brigade commander likes to ignite big bonfires to commemorate various special occasions. I've no idea what spawned this particular conflagration, but it was pretty impressive all the same, in fact it seemed kind of "Lord of the Flies", pagan ritual cool. (I refrained from walking over there, just in case the Colonel and his staff were dancing around the fire clad in loincloths and bodypaint, and brandishing pig's heads on spears...)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Shaquille O'Neal Must've Visited Iraq

Because the KBR contractors who built our latrines surely used Shaq as their template for deciding the height to place every urinal! Yep, and that insures most of us who are of "normal height" have to stand on our tip-toes in order to safely and effectively use the facilities. On the other hand, it also precludes almost everyone from using the now-infamous "wide stance" defense.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It's Sand-tastic!

Well, not so much...but we are experiencing a heck of a sandstorm which began this morning, and it still looks like one of those California Central Valley fogs, where you can't see more than 10 yards in any direction. It's very tough to breathe, even indoors with a dust mask. At noon today, the sky was a deep orange, which was beautiful and eerie at the same time...as we left the office to walk to the mess hall, one of us remarked that it was like being beamed down to a hostile planet in an old Star Trek episode. I replied that I hoped that I wasn't going to be one of those anonymous "Away Team" members that invariably got eaten by the latest latex space-monster! Heading back to my CHU tonight, I was surprised to see the entire FOB appeared deserted, with none of the usual foot traffic that goes on at all hours. Guess everyone else was just smarter than me, which has often been the story of my life...
Anyway, if the place is still Zero/Zero tomorrow, it'll be a great excuse to skip going to the gym. Yep, making lemonade out of lemons, that's my style...when it supports being lazy, that is.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

By the Rivers of Babylon...

Where we sat down...in a UH-60 Blackhawk, on the way back from an investigative mission, and coincidentally provided me with a decent photo op (finally!) This is a snapshot as we prepared to land at the U.S. Embassy annex at Al-Hillah, better known as the location of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World). No, the building depicted here isn't it, though if you look closely you can see potted plants in macrame' hangers, which I'm certain everyone "wonders" why those things continue to exist...
It was a moderately successful mission, and the folks at the camp were very hospitable. My partner and I were the first CID types anyone had seen there in a long time, so we got stared at a lot, but aside from the usual jokes ("Oh oh, guess you found out about the commander's porn collection!") we were treated very well. A special thanks to "Doc", who graciously and efficiently served as our guide and chauffeur...
I'll post more "OPSEC-friendly" photos in coming days, bandwidth permitting!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Blogs of War!

Sorry, Mr. Shakespeare...I just couldn't resist. Well, the helo-jockies decided to take off an hour earlier than scheduled, so am back in my nice comfy CHU until tomorrow. No complaints from me, as I'm not really looking forward to this mission anyway. (I've gotten used to not having to wear my helmet, heavy body armor and carry my rifle...yeah, dang it, I know I'm a Fobbit.)
By the way, I've learned a few phrases of Swahili to greet the African guard force on the FOB. "Jambo, Bwana!" Next mission is to figure out what language most of the Third Country Nationals (predominently from India) speak, so that I can pick up a few bits of that for use in the DFAC and Laundry Facility. I really enjoy the Bollywood musicals, so it's cool to hear that kind of music playing in most of the support facilities on the FOBs over here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bloggus Interruptus

The Fighting Leprechaun (Yep, that's me!) will actually be doing some Army-related missions for the next couple of days, so won't be posting. (And no, Mom, the Commanding General is not summoning me to Baghdad for consultation on the war strategy...)

Feel free to read the old posts, kind of like summer re-runs (which here on AFN-TV, are referred to as "New Programming".), or better still get out and enjoy the nice weather.
(If any of you want to pretend you are in Iraq, just park your car in direct sunshine, turn off the engine, leave all of the windows closed, and hang out for 4 hours...but be sure to bring plenty of water and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!)

Semper Mobilis!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

It Happened One Night

Yeah, I did steal the title of one of my favorite movies...Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walls of Jericho...but I want to describe an interesting visual that was kind of cool, which indeed "happened one night".
The other evening, I was on my way back from the latrine, standing outside of my office, staring up at the brilliant stars when I heard the sound of a helicopter throttling up. I looked toward the airfield, and saw a ghostly Blackhawk, completely blacked out, zip over my head low and very fast. In its wake, a huge cloud of dust followed which resembled a giant wave off Waimea...I stood there in complete awe as the dust wave closed over me...it was so hot I could barely breathe...until I ran inside, happily gulping the fresh air.
The whole scene had an "Apocalypse Now" surreal feel to it...I think it will be one of those images that'll be part of my long term memories of Iraq. (I also suspect that a good portion of that dust will remain in my lungs long after I re-deploy...)

Stoopid Kompewters, Again!

I wasted a total of 5 hours today at various times trying to get my dumb work computer to function. My boss "fixed" something on my email account that now prevents me from accessing my work email from my CHU, so even that option is gone. (He has really tried hard to get our stuff repaired, so I know the bad result of his efforts wasn't intentional...just bad computer Karma in our office.)
And the final score: Army 1, Leprechaun 0. (Too bad Navy isn't laptops...)

To heck with it...I'm gonna watch a Clint Eastwood movie, then hit the sack. Maybe a mortar round will land on my computer tonight while the office is empty, and I can start fresh in a couple of months when the replacement computer is delivered. Where's the insurgency when you really need them, eh?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


I rarely get an opportunity to use that word, but tonight's weather conditions could be used to define "fetid". Add in an inversion layer, and the stink of incinerating poop and PVC and lord knows what else has settled over the FOB like the carpet from an old lady's house which has had 75 cats and 52 dogs cooped up inside all day...for the past 20 years. Yep, it's truly that bad. My sympathies go out to any troops who have to be outside all night. As for yours truly, I'll soon be racked out, sleeping with my head nestled in my just-arrived from home Tempur-pedic pillow.

My adrenaline got worked up a bit just now...heard a couple of bursts of automatic weapons fire to the south...turned out to be a unit armorer test firing a newly-repaired machine gun...

Final commentary: In yesterday's Stars and Stripes newspaper, some Iraqi colonel was quoted as saying something to the effect of, "Don't worry, we now have all the U.S. Troops safely under house arrest on their bases." Hmmm...guess I finally now have something in common with Martha Stewart, which may explain the overwhelming urge I just got to start crocheting a tea cozy for my canteen. "It's a good thing!"

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's A Wonderful Day in the FOBerhood

Why? Because I actually accomplished something related to a case today. Our team is sharing the two working computers, and so tonight I stayed (very) late and worked on a final investigation report. It may not sound like a big deal, but after over a week of frustration, it was nice to finally be a little productive.

By the way, the number "19" is very special today...Let's just say that it's an Irish lucky number, at least for this particular Leprechaun!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Even Leprechauns Have Sisters

And my sister is having a birthday tomorrow. I definitely won't reveal her age, or allude to the fact that where she and her spouse currently are, the U.S. Forest Service prohibits birthday cakes with that many candles due to the increased risk of igniting forest fires.

Happy birthday, sis, and keep your feet off the seats...

Go Tom Go!!!

Geezers around the world (like me, for instance) are rooting for Tom Watson to win the British Open. While it's kind of frustrating that the DFAC TVs are showing UFC fights instead of golf, at least I can follow the action via the Internets... Go get 'em, Mr. Watson!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Incoming! Incoming!

One of my fellow agents was hit by indirect fire today...but fortunately, it was launched by a pigeon (no doubt an Al Qaida sympathizer), and merely splattered my colleague's hat and ballpoint pen with bird poop. None of us returned fire, as such an occurance isn't covered by the Multi-National Force-Iraq Rules of Engagement.

"War is Hell"...General William Tecumseh Sherman

"G-Damned Pigeon!"...Un-named US Army CID Special Agent

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"...Everyone else watching the pigeon vs. agent encounter

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Naw, I'm not declaring "Mission Accomplished" here...just happily relating that I have achieved a minor victory over the incredibly dorked-up official computer network here. As I mentioned in a previous post, between the glacially-slow internet and computer issues, we've been hampered in completing the many official requirements that require on-line work. The latest challenge arose when we were required to complete 3 online courses (teaching us to recognize and combat Human Trafficking, which apparently has been a big problem over here) as soon as possible. After many fruitless attempts to accomplish this at the office, I got permission to try it from my CHU's internet connection. Sure enough, it was a relative snap to knock out all 3 courses in the space of two hours. Also, I discovered how to log on to my official CENTCOM email account from here, so I'm about 85% more effective when in my CHU, as opposed to being in the office...which is 100% Awesome. If only there were some way for me to do everything from back home...
Oh well, a "W" is a "W" (which stands for "Win", not the most recent former prez!), and I'll take that any day.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Dust...It's What's For Dinner!

I can hear actor Sam Elliot's deep voice intoning the tag line from those beef commercials, except talking instead about the layer of fine, brown dust that gets into everything here. There is absolutely nothing on this FOB that doesn't have a bit of Iraq on its surface. Doesn't matter if it's indoors or outside, the faint sepia tone gives the dust's presence away to the trained observer. Toilet paper has a layer of dust on it, which sort of acts like talcum powder I suppose, but the intriguing part is that even when you unroll it, there is dust 30 sheets under the surface. I bought a packet of M&Ms this evening, and when I opened it, there was dust on those multi-colored morsels. Thankfully, the dust also melted in my mouth, but not in my hand. The taste is subtle, with a hint of cinnamon and camel dung...it would really be complemented by a nice dry Riesling, if we were allowed to consume wine here.
We had another sandstorm today, and by 3:00 p.m. the sun was a dim orange bulb. I've noticed that my exposure to all of this dust and sand has given me a constant minor cough...probably giving me all of the benefits of smoking without the expense of actually buying cigarettes. Add in the constant smoke from the burn pit on the north edge of the FOB, and I'll sound like Sam Elliott myself by the end of my tour here.

Boom Goes The Dynamite!

Here's a sample of what passes for humor on a FOB:
A soldier is working at the computer with iPod earphones in place, and volume cranked way up. Announcement comes over the FOB's loudspeakers (and they are indeed LOUDspeakers) warning of a controlled detonation in 5 minutes. Soldier with iPod remains oblivious. Five minutes later, a huge blast rattles our building, knocks stuff off shelves. Soldier with iPod gets excited, heads for bunker, yells, "Shit, what was that?!" Other soldier turns and says calmly, "What was what?"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It Was Bound To Happen...

WARNING: Anyone bothered by a frank discussion of bodily functions should NOT read any further...

It was a day that started out like all the others before it...Awake at 0500, hit the gym for some "geezer PT" (treadmill set at 4 mph for 30 minutes), shower & shave, toss on the uniform and sidearm, and head for breakfast (after a thoroughly enjoyable phone call to my wife). Upon reaching the DFAC this morning, I made a fateful decision to change my routine, and then everything went horribly wrong...
Up until today, I had escaped the fate that had befallen most of my comrades in arms, which is known locally as "Saddam's Revenge". (I doubt that Moctezuma's heirs will be suing for copyright infringement.) In fact, I was feeling pretty superior to everyone else, not to mention a lot more comfortable during the workday. While here at the FOB, on a normal day we just wear ACUs and carry a pistol, but before arriving here we often were burdened with body armor, helmet, and both a rifle and pistol, which combined to slow preparation for pooping by up to five vital minutes, which if you happen to have the trots can seem like an eternity.

Anyway, while on my way through the food line I felt kind of dehydrated from my rigorous (ha!) workout. My usual routine is to grab a bottle of water or Gatorade from the cooler by our usual table, but I was so parched that I instead filled up a glass from the water dispenser, and chugged it. It was cold and refreshing, so I had another...and then I realized that I had just violated Rule #1 of Surviving Your Iraq Tour, which is: "Never Drink Anything That Isn't Bottled or Canned!" Well, it was too late to undo that move, so I ate my breakfast and hoped for the best.

Two hours later, I broke my age group record for the 50 Meter Porta-Pottie Dash (I estimate that it was 5.2 seconds...though it was a "wind-aided" time, if you get my drift.) and even so, just barely avoided turning my green and tan uniform into a brown camouflage pattern. I was very thankful to have efficiently dropped trou, and also glad that I hadn't dropped my pistol into the holding tank while rushing to disrobe. Fifteen minutes later, I was reminded of what Winston Churchill said about the Battle of Britain: "This is not the end, nor the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning!" As I made my way back to the office, I passed a small group of Iraqi workers who eyed me with either sympathy or amusement, making clucking noises and shaking their heads.
Ten minutes later, I shot out the door and resumed my position of Porta-Pottie defilade. In a bit of ironic timing, the outdoor loudspeakers blared, "Attention in the FOB! There will be a controlled detonation in two minutes!" At that very moment, I unleashed my own uncontrolled detonation, which was very possibly both louder and more prolonged than the announced one. Some wiseass walking by my refuge yelled, "Hey, I thought "Chemical Ali" was in prison, but he's here on our FOB!" Very funny, jerk....

Now this being my first combat zone deployment, I learned that the nature and quality of our bowel movements are an acceptable topic of conversation, same as discussing who's left on "American Idol" or the sports scores. I've been a bit more reserved than some of my fellow agents to share detailed after-action reviews, but today I threw caution to the winds and explained my dilemma, in case I had to disappear from unit meetings or suddenly drop the phone in the middle of a call and schlepp outside with a grimace on my normally happy face.

I skipped dinner in favor of the old one-two punch for the two-step: Pepto Bismol and Immodium. Three hours later, I'm sadder, wiser, and about 5 lbs lighter...and I'll never make that mistake again...at least until the next time I'm due to be checked for staying within the Army weight standard! Now if you all will excuse me, I need to head outside for a bit...