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: 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) 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 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 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 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 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 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.