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!