Sunday, August 1, 2010

Epilogue (Epiblog?)

I've been back home for two months, readjusting to simple things like indoor plumbing, fresh seafood, and a very nice absence of indirect fire. The month-long "Transition Leave" followed by a return to my civilian job has been spent in part processing the lessons I learned about myself, family, fellow soldiers, and all other aspects of a combat zone deployment. When I began this blog in April, 2009, I knew there would be a lot of new experiences, mixed with familiar situations from both military and law enforcement prior service. The biggest question in my mind was whether or not I would perform satisfactorily during a war. It's a question most military folks ask themselves.  I think, upon reflection, that I did okay. I managed for the most part to keep up with my younger colleagues, I never shirked from "outside the wire" missions, nor did I wet my pants during rocket attacks. My teammates provided me positive feedback, and made me feel like a contributing member of our detachment, rather than an old geezer has-been soldier. Their approval and acceptance has meant the most to me, far more than any medal or promotion, and I suspect I will be friends with some of them for a long time to come.

My perspective about most things has changed somewhat. Stuff that used to get me kind of wound up no longer has that effect. While I considered myself fairly laid back before deployment, now I'm even more so. That doesn't mean I am apathetic, I just don't sweat the small stuff...and a lot more things qualify as "small stuff" these days.  When I hear people who go ballistic over inconsequential matters, such as how our local Major League Baseball team is performing, I just shake my head sadly, and wish that they would apply such anger and emotional energy to something that really matters like finding a cure for cancer, ending child abuse and domestic violence, combating illiteracy, homelessness, or crappy TV sitcoms. My sense of humor is still very much intact, though occasionally I have come close to offering comments which would definitely fail the "Not Downrange Political Correctness Test". I found the frank, often crude humor exhibited by almost everyone over there to be very 1970's in flavor. Some of it made me uncomfortable, or just surprised, but for the most part it was refreshing to be able to joke without every comment risking punishment.  We still had clear standards and boundaries...racism and sexual harassment were never tolerated...but most everything else was fair game.  I especially enjoyed the proliferation of practical jokes, which also served to keep us sane. It was also a measure of social standing...if you were the target of the occasional prank, it meant that you were part of the clan. Those colleagues who overreacted to being the butt of a practical joke soon found themselves excluded altogether, although it usually required much more egregious behavior to rate complete shunning. Liars, slackers, and gross incompetents qualified on the first ballot.  In a war zone, being quietly bounced from the "Band of Brothers/Sisters" is a lonely fate. Of course, the ostracized soon formed their own clique, so nobody was ever truly alone for long.

While there were a lot of positive, or at least interesting aspects to being deployed to Iraq for almost a year, two situations really sucked for me. The first, and most negative aspect of 14 months away from home, was being away from my wife. While a number of my teammates relished the absence from their spouses for a variety of reasons, I definitely missed my wife every day. I am extremely lucky to have found such an amazing spousal unit, and definitely do not take her presence in my life for granted. At our ages, each day is a gift, so I keenly felt the loss of leaving over 300 of those days "unopened". One upside is that the process of getting to know each other all over again is a lot like dating, but without the uncertainty and angst.
The second most unhappy part of being gone for so long was the deaths of a number of close friends, former colleagues, and family members which occurred in what seemed like rapid succession.  Though it helped to blog about their passing, I deeply regret not being able to attend their funerals/memorial services. In some ways, I still don't have closure, and that hurts. I was very thankful that my mother, whose health had seriously declined after I left, hung in there long enough for me to visit her the week I returned. She passed away the following week, but this time there was nothing left unsaid between us, and we had a chance to say goodbye to each other on our terms. (One thing that the Army and the American Red Cross still do exceptionally well is arrange for emergency leave, for which I will be eternally grateful.)

There is one other major lesson that requires mention. Although there were a few frightening moments during my tour in Iraq, and I am now entitled to wear a "Combat Patch" on my right sleeve of my uniform, I don't compare myself for one second to those true combat soldiers who endured daily patrols, firefights, IEDs, or suicide bombers, for a year or more, and for many, up to five deployments in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Many of those soldiers display the same ribbons I now do, but our experiences don't really compare. To those of you who fought in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, or Somalia/Panama/Grenada/Desert Storm, I am honored to be allowed to walk through the same door you are, but I certainly don't feel entitled to stand in the front ranks...

Finally, I need to acknowledge the darkest side of my job during this deployment: Investigating soldier suicides. There has been a lot of commentary and discussion in the media, as well as throughout the ranks about this terrible epidemic. There is absolutely nothing heroic, and no benefit served when a Soldier, Marine, Sailor, or Airman decides to end his or her life. Although I had been exposed to a lot of violent death during my civilian law enforcement career, I was still not fully-prepared for the sheer numbers of young lives terminated for some apparently-trivial reason. Long after I have stopped getting a bit twitchy at the unexpected clap of thunder, and my burn-pit induced chronic cough has gone away, I will likely be haunted by the scenes of those deaths, simply because they made no sense at all.

As I wrap up this blog's final post, I must thank all of you who faithfully read it since April, 2009. Your comments, both on and off-line, have encouraged me, and kept me writing. While I intend to transition from blogger to novelist (but doesn't everyone?), The Fighting Leprechaun will serve as fodder for at least one novel, as well as my wartime journal. While I can safely say that this will be my one and only combat deployment (I've checked the regulation to make absolutely sure, and have duly promised my wife!), I remain privileged to have served in these circumstances, alongside some of the finest soldiers in the United States Army, and returned home safely with only the aforementioned cough, and a persistent case of "Saddam's Revenge"... In short, I am one lucky leprechaun!

Very Respectfully,


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Back in CONUS

And the operative acronym is still BOHICA. I've been on emergency leave since last Sunday, but will return to the cornucopia of cluelessness tomorrow. Can't say any more...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Another Great Story I Can't Tell You About

I attended our battalion awards ceremony last evening. I'll recount it in detail once I've signed my release from active duty paperwork...never saw anything like it in my military career. It reminded me of the old joke: "What's the difference between the US Army and the Boy Scouts? The Boy Scouts have adult leadership!"

(Updated entry: 22 Sep 10) Okay, I promised to do a Paul Harvey and provide you with The rest of the here it is. During our deployment, there had been rumblings about the process of selecting end of tour awards (as in medals) for the folks in the battalion headquarters, and the agents out doing the actual work of investigations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait. Rumors flew around from almost Day One, as the battalion commander had decreed all award recommendations must be submitted around the second month of our deployment. (I wrote a blog post at the time, though I disguised the fact it was our unit which was ordering this rather absurd timing. Since nobody had actually done anything in-country at that point, how could anyone write a credible recommendation?) Aside from this silliness, the other rumor was that there were quotas assigned to each detachment...Only X number of soldiers could be awarded a Bronze Star, or Meritorious Service Medal. It didn't matter if the detachment had five super performers, only one or two could receive these more prestigious medals, and everyone else would receive an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM). Out in the field offices, our leaders ignored this edict, and based their award recommendations on performance. Well, as you can predict, these recommendations were "re-done" by the battalion staff folks to conform to the quota numbers. So, when we arrived in Kuwait and assembled in a big multi-purpose room, it became clear that the rumors were indeed true. Folks who had done a superb job, many under dangerous and/or spartan conditions received ARCOMs, and so did all of the under-performing, lackadaisical, no talent fuck-ups. Morale, which was pretty much at sea level for the entire deployment, plummeted to Death Valley depths. Some folks demonstrated their utter disgust by flinging their ARCOMs across the room into a metal garbage can, which was soon ringing like one of Quasimodo's bells. Others left their medal and the accompanying certificate on the folding tables, and walked away without a backward glance. Of course the new battalion commander, who had taken over a couple of months ago and seemed like a decent sort, was utterly embarrassed by this overt display of disgruntlement. It had the same feeling to it as the scene in the WWII movie Mr. Roberts, when the ship's executive officer, finally fed up with the skipper's heavy-handed treatment of the crew, heaved the captain's potted palm over the rail into the sea.
While my own performance didn't rate a Bronze Star, and I didn't really care about what I got, I was (and still am) indeed steamed that those agents who deserved higher awards were treated so shabbily. On a personal note, a couple of us also received an Army Achievement Medal (one level below an ARCOM), thanks to a recommendation from our Team Chief, in recognition of our investigative work. That particular medal means ten times more to me than the "Everybody gets a trophy" ARCOM ever will.

Still in Kuwait. Here at Camp Arifjan, the food is pretty good...Had a Hardee's burger yesterday, and it was easily the best burger I've had on this deployment. The downtime is okay, though it is just giving some unnamed staff REMFs more time to mess with us. Our flight arrangements are made, and naturally it entails starting at 0200 (that's 2:00 a.m. for you civilians) for a departure time of 2230 (10:30 p.m.). Remember that the next time you are tempted to complain about having to get to the airport 2 hours before your flight time. We will be returning to Camp Virginia, Kuwait, where we will be held in the prison compound (not really, but it sure resembles one, and we can't leave.) until our flight departs. The photo shows what there is to do there...nap, and eat Pizza Hut pizza. Yep, pretty special last memory of CENTCOM.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Kuwaiting for Godot?

Got the heck out of Baghdad yesterday morning on a very long and hot C-130 flight. We were jammed in the aircraft like armored sardines. Had to make a detour to Tikrit, where the sky was opaque with sand. Fortunately the flight conditions were just above minimums, so we bounced our way south to Ali Asalem Air Base. Four hours of intense heat, blowing sand coating everything, and a break at the the way, the "Big n' Tasty" burger is only half-accurately named. It was indeed "Big", but far from "Tasty". A big bus arrived, and we sat in air conditioned comfort until it was time for the two hour trek south to Camp Arifjan. This was the first time I had been out on the highway in Kuwait, and I was struck by the contrast with Iraq. Kuwait is thriving, the buildings are beautiful and well-maintained, and commerce appears to be thriving. Even in the best parts of Baghdad, it still resembles a desert version of 1945 Berlin. I kept looking in vain for camels out the bus window, but did see small clusters of black burka-clad women sitting out in vacant lots in the terrific heat. I doubt that these were local meetings of Oprah's Book Club, but don't have any clue what they were doing.
Camp Arifjan is as close to a resort as I've seen over here. Though we are quartered in 10-person tents, the bunks have actual mattresses, the air conditioners are more than up to the task of cooling us down, and they are right by the showers and latrines. The shower trailers are deluxe. We are about 5 minutes from a huge Starbuck's, which could be in suburban Seattle instead of Kuwait...and there's WI-FI!!!!!!!

We've been commenting on the fact that our colleagues who have been stationed here the entire deployment drew the same combat pay as those of us in Iraq and Afghanistan...without experiencing any of the hostile artillery/rocket/small arms fire we did. Guess that policy is due to change soon, though...
We could definitely tell this is a rear area garrison environment this morning, as we were awakened at 0600 by loudspeakers blaring the bugle call "Reveille", followed by the theme from the movie, "Patton". Jeez...

Anyway, we've had a couple of battalion formations, and spend the rest of the day in our PT uniform, reading, catching up on email, and taking naps. Our flight homeward departs at the end of the week, though we learned this morning there will be a stop in Qatar to pick up a bunch of USAF types, a stop in the states to drop them off, and finally we'll be arriving home...well, the work release facility, anyway. Ten more days in uniform, then it'll be "Fighting Leprechaun on Leave". I can't wait.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Law Enforcement Memorial Candlelight Vigil in Baghdad

Today was 15 May, which is Peace Officers Memorial Day stateside. My former Honor Guard colleagues, along with survivors from Lakewood PD, Pierce County Sheriff's Office, and Seattle PD, were standing tall at the main ceremony in Washington DC. I have attended three of those ceremonies in years past, and they are especially moving when a friend /partner is being honored.
My unit received a short-notice invitation to a local memorial tonight here at Camp Victory. It was held at sunset at a general's residence on one of the lakes, and was well-attended. Although only the 22 names of Military Police Regiment soldiers who had died over here were read out loud, I was honoring in my heart those from Washington State. At the same moment our ceremony began, the Muslim prayers began echoing from the many mosques surrounding the base, and seemed to me like a sympathetic chorus. Our somber faces lit by candles, we listened to very short comments from the commanding general, prayers from a chaplain, followed by "Amazing Grace" played not expertly, but with feeling by an amateur piper. The ceremony concluded with sounding "Taps" as we all saluted until the last note rolled across the lake. I was grateful to have an opportunity to pay my respects to my fellow soldiers who laid down their lives this past year, and even more so to be able to belatedly honor Ronnie, Tina, Greg, Mark, and Kent...and of course, Johnny B.
Though I have helped coordinate and/or been to many Law Enforcement memorials over the past 20 years, this evening's ceremony was special and unique; the memory will stay with me always.

Friday, May 14, 2010

All We Are is Dust in the Wind...

Sandstorms have hit the Baghdad area, and the timing couldn't be worse. Most helicopter flights have been grounded, as have military and commercial aircraft. One of my colleagues took this photo as we drove back to base yesterday around noon...Couldn't even see the sun because of the dust and sand in the air. We've been expecting unit members from outlying FOBs to arrive over the last couple of days, so that we can all fly out from Sather Air Base to Kuwait next week...but so far, that just ain't happening.

By the way, the Humvees in this photo are Iraqi Army vehicles. Note their gunner's tendency to stand up in the turret, ala General Patton, which is not very tactically-sound...but it looks cool.

Boredom, Ice Cream, and Farewell Grafitti

While we all looked forward to the day when the new folks were in place, and we no longer had to work investigations, it has turned out to be terrifically BORING! We still go in to the office to check email, but when our replacements show up to work at around 0900, they barely disguise their impatience with us occupying THEIR desks. They've made it pretty clear that we are all superfluous at this point, so there's not much for us to do but hang out, watch videos, and eat. We all resisted the temptation to eat a lot of desserts during the past year, but now that the daily temperature averages 105 degrees, we seem to be casting aside our previous caution, and have a bowl of ice cream after lunch.  This morning, some of us returned to the "Victory Over America Palace" for some final photos, and to add the traditional farewell grafitti to the already-covered walls. I made a few additions to the Peace Sign I had drawn in honor of my cousin's birthday, and couldn't resist leaving this bit of shameless self-promotion as well. Once we turn all of this real estate back over to the Iraqi Government in a few months, no doubt they will paint over all of our "Kilroy Was Here" sentiments posthaste, but for the time being my mark remains. (Thanks to the miracle of digital photography, my tagging efforts will live on for much longer than the real grafitti!)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Leprechaun's Final Week in Iraq

I admit lacking the motivation to do anything except prepare to get the heck out of here and return home. (Well, I did make one exception, when a couple of friends from a transportation unit invited me to drive golf balls into one of the lakes surrounding Saddam Hussein's palaces. That was the most fun I'd had for a while!)This lackadaisical attitude applies to keeping up this blog. I’m also a bit cautious about commenting about some of the stuff going on, as I don’t want to offend the Army while they still have their hooks in me. Anyway, here’s a brief recap of the last month:

We had a case which required us to set up a surveillance of one of the camps. We expected to see some prostitution activity, based on a tip from a GI, but instead of Happy Hookers, we just observed people doing stupid stuff. It’s amazing how some folks assume that because it is kind of dark outside, no one can see them. One rocket scientist was apparently trying to convince a female soldier to become his “deployment diva”, but completely lost any headway he might have made with her by picking his nose for 92 seconds…yep, we timed it. She quickly walked off in a different direction without Nostril Man.

A few minutes later, a couple of the Ugandan security guards strolled over to the row of porta-johns. One went inside, and when he emerged a few minutes later, he was without his AK-47 rifle. Both guards wandered off into the darkness. Five minutes later, the unarmed guard raced back to the outhouses, and yanked open the doors of each until he found the errant rifle. (In our surveillance vehicle, we briefly debated grabbing the AK so some potential evildoer didn’t make off with it, but we settled for keeping our eyes on it.) In the meantime, three TCNs (Third Country Nationals) zipped by, riding bicycles without any kind of lights, and all three of the Lance Armstrong wannabes collided with a cable strung across the parking lot perimeter…they did a nice flying roll, retrieved their bikes, and pedaled furiously off into the night. By their lack of loud cursing, this kind of thing must happen to them on a regular basis.

Finally, we saw what looked to be evidence of a number of “Third-Rate Romance, Low-Rent Rendezvous” hook-ups. We’d see couples emerge from the dark recesses of the T-Walls, smooch, and then head off in different directions. Good to know love conquers sand fleas, camel spiders, and pit vipers. All in all, the surveillance was a voyeuristic waste of time.

We had to complete a long form called the “Post Deployment Health Assessment” (PDHA) on the computer, which is intended to document any illnesses or injuries resulting from our time spent in this hospitable country. One of the questions asked if I had seen any dead bodies while deployed…I thought at the time it would be a mistake to answer honestly, but I went ahead and marked “Yes”. A few days later, we all assembled at the Troop Medical Clinic to be interviewed by a doctor to complete the last part of the assessment. After waiting an hour outside the clinic in the rising heat, and then another 30 minutes standing in the hallway outside the doctor’s door, I was finally called inside. The Doc was a wizened gnome who might well have done General Eisenhower’s PDHA in 1945. He was also hard of hearing, having to ask me my social security number four times before getting it entered correctly. When we got to the “dead body” question, the Doc asked me whether I preferred to be treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the VA or a private therapist. I told him that I didn’t think I suffered from PTSD, and wasn’t planning to seek treatment unless I developed symptoms later. “So, it’s the VA then for your therapy,” the Gnome replied. “I don’t need it,” I responded. “They’ll schedule your appointment at the demobilization site,” said the Doc. “Uh, Doctor, what part of “NO THANKS” don’t you understand?” I retorted, becoming visibly frustrated. “I can see that your combat experience has affected you,” the Gnome said… Sheesh, this was just like a scene from Catch 22!

Now that our replacements have arrived, and made it very clear to us they are ready to take over operations, it is obvious that some of my colleagues are having a hard time letting go. One of my fellow agents has a very hard time not doing everything himself, or at least looking over our shoulders and offering detailed guidance. Now faced with handing over his case files, his computer, assigned vehicle, and his desk, he is just about going nuts. (Good thing he’s also been involuntarily scheduled for PTSD treatment like the rest of us!) As for me, I don’t care because my cases are either closed or just awaiting lab results. If the new folks change my stuff, or don’t think I’m the best investigator that ever lived, I won’t worry about it, because I’LL BE HOME, SUCKERS!!!!!

With “four days and a wake-up” remaining in country before beginning the long journey homeward, the only thing I have on my mind right now is keeping my head down and getting on that aircraft in one piece. I promise to post an Epilogue after I have been handed my DD-214 (Release from Active Duty), which will close out this adventure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And Speaking of Twitchy Short-Timers...

One of my teammates and I were driving to one of the camps to look for prostitutes (wait, that didn't come out the way I meant...), when Ka-WHOOM!!!!!!!, there was a huge explosion 150 meters off to my left, followed by a rising column of black smoke. We looked at each other, said simultaneously, "Oh Crap, ROCKET ATTACK!", and I started to pull over next to a drainage ditch. Another explosion rocked our SUV, but then I noticed there were a handful of people casually standing fairly close to the site of the bursts. After the third concussion knocked the remaining mud from the bumper, the "Big Voice" loudspeaker announced, "Attention! This is the Command Post! There will be a series of controlled detonations in...uh...two minutes ago...Command Post, Out!"
Sheesh...just when I think there will be nothing to write about today, once again the U.S. Armed Forces comes through in the clutch!
(Special thanks to SGT Homer "Command Post Announcer Guy" Simpson...I could have sworn I heard a muffled, "Doh!" after the announcement...)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The G.A.S. gauge is on "E"...

The team is looking toward the finish line, closing cases, and getting ready to hand off responsibility for investigating "Bad Things in Baghdad" to a fresh crew. With our replacements due to arrive in a couple of weeks, everyone, and I do mean everyone, has their G.A.S. gauge pegged on "Empty". We do have a couple of moderately interesting cases going on, but for the most part our focus is elsewhere. There are post-deployment leaves to plan, new duty assignments on the near horizon, and for us reservists, a return to the comfortable and familiar routines we left behind a year ago.
Close as we are to doing the "Beat it outta Baghdad Boogie", loud explosions have some folks looking a bit twitchy...even if it's something as routine as the daily pre-announced controlled detonations or test firing of our 20mm Gatling Gun Guardians, otherwise known as the Phalanx System. Conversely, goofy decisions from various levels of bureaucracy are now met with a resigned shrug and sad shake of the head. When it is time to get on the aircraft and head for home, even the most outspoken among us will likely be as docile as a sheep...albeit an armed and armored sheep. There is life after deployment, and right now, that is what really matters.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Quick Update from Bloghdad

Sorry, y'all, for not posting anything for the past two weeks. It has been crazy busy between getting ready to GTFOB, and the flood of new investigations, which don't seem to be letting up one darn bit. While I'd love to share some of the weirder details of a couple of these cases, which are "Quentin Tarantino- Wes Craven Bizarre", I'd end up with my wrinkled old butt in a sling if I did so. Sorry!
I AM taking notes so that I can modify the details sufficiently enough to use this stuff in my eventual novel(s). Some of this stuff is just too strange, and yet perfectly illustrative of my little piece of the war, so it's gotta be there in some form.

One of the major distractors we are dealing with has nothing to do with case work. While preparing to re-deploy and in the case of us reservists, demobilize from Active status, it is clearly evident that despite the "One Team, One Fight" slogan, we are to be treated like second-class citizen-soldiers upon our return stateside. Normally, when our active component counterparts return from a combat deployment, they have 3 half-days of post-deployment processing, and can live at home, drive their own cars, and even consume alcoholic beverages...all while returning every evening to the bosom of their families. Sounds pretty routine, doesn't it? Well, for us reservists, our return is more akin to being released to a half-way house after finishing a prison term. We will be essentially "confined" to the limits of Fort Lewis, prohibited from operating, or even riding as a passenger in a POV (Privately-Owned Vehicle), or commercial taxi/limo/bus. Even though a lot of us reside mere minutes away from base, we will be spending six or seven nights living in a WWII-era open bay wooden barracks, and worst of all, kept apart from our families and friends. Meanwhile, the active duty soldiers we served alongside who are stationed at the base will be spending THEIR nights in their civilian beds, next to THEIR significant others, drinking whatever adult beverage they wish, driving up to Seattle for sushi, or Bremerton for BBQ... (By the way, our active duty brothers and sisters who were pulled from units all over the U.S. to staff all the offices in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan are also going to be jammed into those barracks and confined to base with the same restrictions, albeit for only 3 days...but you can imagine what these Regular Army officers and NCOs think about that!)

The message seems pretty clear: Army Reservists are acceptable enough soldiers to serve a year in a war zone, but back home, where most of us will be returning to very responsible civilian careers, we are regarded in the same league as Basic Trainees, despite a lot of us having 20 or more years of military service under our belts. In my humble opinion, it's a pretty stupid message, which speaks louder than all the "Army Strong, Hooah!" crap posted everywhere we look. I think we've earned better...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Surprise! Water Shortage in the Desert!

Seriously? That's news? Yeah, I guess it must be, as we've gotten dire warnings from the base administration folks over the past week. One of the threats which has gotten the most laughs is that the toilet trailers will be closed, and porta-potties will be placed at the end of each row of CHUs. Heck, for most of us, that'll represent an improvement! (In my case, it'll shorten my walking distance from 250 meters to 5 meters...I vote, "Heck Yeah!")

The old joke about "Save Water, Shower With a Friend!" has been resurrected by a new generation...there is even a rumor floating around that some wiseguy has distributed flyers around the base, offering himself to females as a combination "Shower Security/Water Conservation Partner". His nickname? "Clean But Creepy Dude". If this is more than an urban legend, I'm sure he's gonna get punk'd a bunch of times.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's Raining Lead...

But no one was saying, "Hallelujah"...!
Last night the Iraqis announced that Mr. Allawi's party had outpolled Mr. Maliki's party in the recent elections, which sent Allawi's supporters outside to the streets, shouting, singing, and firing thousands of rounds of AK-47 ammo up toward the heavens...and then back earthward, which the Iraqis seem to conveniently forget every time they whoop it up.
I was reading in my CHU when the heavy gunfire erupted. I grabbed my helmet, body armor and weapon and bounced outside, ready to defend the base. Peering out from behind the closest concrete T-wall, I quickly sized up the tactical situation. Recalling the basics of gunfire analysis from my days as a cavalryman, I noticed a whole lot of red and green tracers emanating from outside the wire...but all heading in a more or less vertical direction. That meant no attack, just your basic Baghdad celebration. The tracers triggered the base warning alarms, and the loudspeakers blared, "Attention, this is the command post, take cover immediately due to Iraqi celebratory fire!" Since I no longer had to emulate the great Sam Elliott in his role as CSM Basil Plumley, ("Gentlemen, prepare to defend yourselves!"), I retired back inside my CHU and took up a position on my bunkbed. I knew I'd be shielded from falling projectiles by the combination of the thin aluminum CHU roof, ultra-hard and lumpy upper mattress, and the plywood base.
I grabbed my laptop and TV remote and chilled out, listening to the rattle of gunfire which was soon joined by the pounding of a gigunda thunderstorm. Is it possible all that lead seeded the clouds, provoking the deluge? At any rate, nobody on base was hit, and aside from another darn mudfield, we survived the Iraqi celebrations in one piece.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Phalanx Phollies

Here's another slice of life here that illustrates how fast things can turn from scary to hilarious:
It was lunchtime, and an SUV-load of us was traveling the gravel road toward the mess hall, windows down, enjoying the spring sunshine. I was driving, and as we neared the main PX, I heard the indirect fire alarm go off. I quickly pulled over at a handy roadside bunker, and we all piled out of the SUV...I managed to bonk my noggin on the door frame as I bailed out, and landed flat on the ground in a big poof of dust. When my head cleared, I looked up toward "Strawberry Hill" just as the Phalanx 20mm gatling gun blasted a long stream of bright red tracers skyward. I wasn't the only person entranced by this awesome vision of firepower...a young soldier pedaling a mountain bike, rifle slung across his back, and wearing his kevlar helmet jerked his head up at the Phalanx's distinctive sound (think of Godzilla breaking wind), and managed to run head on into a cement T-Wall. We all laughed when it became clear only the soldier's pride was injured, and also at relief when no mortar rounds or rockets came spiraling in on top of us.
I still have a small bump on my forehead, and a couple of my teammates got skinned forearms from hitting the gravel, but these minor wounds were just the price of admission to a brief moment of combat zone comedy. We were all definitely glad that the comedy wasn't followed by tragedy...unless of course you count the bent bicycle wheel.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!!!!!

Tis the Fighting Leprechaun's second most favorite day, (ranked only behind me wedding anniversary), so what will I be doin'? Sure now, I'd like to be chasin' out the insurgents with me trusty shilelagh, but I doubt I'd be gettin' permission for that bit of fun...

Looks like I'll have to be content with gettin' everyone to go for the wearing of the green...and it looks like I'll be havin' a great deal of success...

Never underestimate the powers of a Leprechaun!

Monday, March 15, 2010

My Battle Buddy Moves Up!

One of the newer concepts in the military is the "Battle Buddy"...this is the person who has your back, watches your rifle while you are in the porta-potty, shares their Tabasco when you get a crappy a best friend , but with hand grenades. Well, back in my civilian job, I was fortunate to have a Battle Buddy as well. I'll just use her initials, LDSG, in keeping with my blog's policy of anonymity. LDSG was a Signal Corps officer in the Army, and still wears combat boots to work. She's one of the most talented instructors I know, can captivate an audience even while discussing some esoteric trivia about disaster logistics...yep, the girl can make SANDBAGS sound interesting! LDSG is a steadfast friend, a schizophrenic BamaTex cowgirl, practical joker, hater of bureacratic stupidity, and will sell her soul for either a Taco Cabana burrito or down home BBQ.
Well, I got good news and bad news last month...My Battle Buddy won't be occupying her cubicle down the corridor when I return to work in 90 days, because she has been snagged by FEMA to be their regional logistics guru. LDSG will be able to preach the gospel of high-speed emergency supply systems to a much greater (and possibly more appreciative) audience. I'll definitely miss having a partner in mischief, who coincidentally does the best Eric Cartman impression (South Park) I've ever heard.
So, congratulations, Battle Buddy! I know you'll kick butt at FEMA, just like you did at Building 20. Semper Mobilis!!!!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Baghdad Birthday

One of the guys in the detachment celebrated his 39th birthday today, which coincided with our "personal maintenance day", so a party of sorts was in order. We've had a few birthdays among our crew, but either work interfered or the birthday person was reluctant to celebrate. Actually, the dude today didn't want a party, but we ignored his wishes because we wanted to eat cake.

I volunteered to procure said cake, having seen them in the freezer at our Post Exchange. Our mess hall also is supposed to make cakes for unit celebrations, but they require 30 days notice, so that option was a big no-go. I stopped by the PX after work last night, grabbed the only pre-decorated cake available, and headed for the cashier. Mind you, this was not a big spectacular cake, it was only about the dimensions of my laptop computer, just a couple of inches thicker. Back home, this quarter-sheet cake costs about nine bucks, and there was no price tag on either the cake or the shelf. When Muhjibar from Mumbai (I'm not making that up) scanned the bar code on the package, he gasped and pointed to the display. "Sir, this appears to be a $40 you still wish to purchase?" I thought Muhjibar was messing with me, so I responded, "Gee, at that price I'll take five!", but then I took a closer look at the cash register and uttered my favorite German phrase..."Heilige Scheisse!" I don't believe Muhjibar speaks German, but my shocked tone was multilingual,, causing Muhjibar to shake his head and growl, "Bloody rip-off wallahs!" Once we ascertained there was no mistake, I decided to complete my purchase, as there was no reasonable alternative. (Everyone chipped in, so I didn't lose my shirt on the deal.)
The next day, our party was typical deployment style. We got Iraqi pizzas to go, went back to the office and watched a movie, "Team America, World Police" which is the perfect birthday party flick, ("Durka durka!") and did the traditional "Happy Birthday" song while presenting the cake (sans candles, which are prohibited for some odd reason). So, how did that $40 cake taste? Well, everyone had two pieces, it was that tasty. It was baked in Germany, had whipped cream frosting, and was pretty fresh considering it had been frozen a couple of weeks ago, flown to Kuwait, and then trucked to Baghdad. The Birthday Boy was happy, which is what really counts.

Now if we were on the front lines, I suppose we could have taken an MRE pound cake, mixed up peanut butter and cocoa powder frosting, and lit a piece of C-4 for a candle, but since we are on a civilized base, acting like infantrymen in a foxhole would have been kind of poser-like. (Credit for the combat cake recipe goes to Chris and Ted...Thanks, guys!)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hitting "The Wall".

Long ago, when I could call myself a long-distance runner, I experienced that runner's phenomenon called "hitting the wall." A lot of runners hit that notional wall after two-thirds of the race is complete, and it literally hurts when you run into it. Well, sportsfans, I've been getting the feeling lately that this wall-hitting stuff happens to soldiers on deployment too.

You'd think that getting ready to go home in a couple of months would be uplifting and spark raised morale, wouldn't you? Apparently that ain't the case so much. With the finish line almost in sight there is a pervasive gloominess stuck to folks like Baghdad Mud. I don't really get it, being the persistent optimist, but sometimes I find myself being affected by the "bummertude" around me. For some of my Regular Army colleagues, new assignments or school selections promise to turn their lives upside down. There have been a few disappointments too, as the capriciousness of the Army personnel system punches some really great troops in the solar plexus...or lower. We've seen a couple of examples of crappy agents getting selected for promotion over much better qualified folks, which is like pissing on soldier's heads and calling it a hot shower.
Some fellow reservists have also been gobsmacked while deployed. I personally know four soldiers whose civilian jobs were eliminated while they have been serving over here. Talk about effectively reducing the "joy of homecoming"...
I know for sure that I have got it good when I get off that Freedom Bird. I've got the best spousal unit anyone could ask for, a comfortable home, great friends and family, a meaningful job and superb colleagues...and essentially a stress-free life...once I'm out of range of those darn rockets! So I'll do my best to be sympathetic to my grumpy battle buddies, but I plan to avoid joining 'em up in the Bummer Bleachers for these last few remaining miles...

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Good Fences Make Good Neighbors...

And a 30 TDY (Temporary Duty) of the guy next door makes for a GREAT neighbor! This dude, who I'll call "Godfrey", is an okay person, but he's got a few quirks which have made sharing a thin dividing wall a real challenge. Let's start with his alarm clock. Godfrey owns one of those 300 decibel model electric clocks...the indirect fire warning klaxon is quieter...which by itself is relatively harmless. In Godfrey's hands, however, it is hell with a "snooze" button. Godfrey is a sound sleeper, which means neither rocket attacks nor his alarm clock usually awaken him. Unfortunately for me, I am a fairly light sleeper (thanks to over 30 years of being "on-call" either for the Army or law enforcement), so while Godfrey slumbers peacefully on, I wake up immediately...and since he doesn't turn off the alarm, I have to get up and pound for several minutes on the wall or his door until he gets up. Godfrey regularly sets his alarm for 10:30 p.m. most nights, so he can call his wife. If I go to sleep before then, I can be sure of experiencing "Sleepus Interruptus". Once the nightly phone call starts, Godfrey's foghorn of a voice makes sure that I hear everything...and I do mean EVERYTHING...he says to his wife. Unlike Godfrey, I'll spare YOU the need to thank me...but there are some verbal images seared into my brain which it may take therapy to erase. An hour or so later, the phone call has reached its climax, so to speak, and it is relatively quiet until 0500...Yep, you guessed it, that's when Godfrey's alarm goes off again, with the same non-result on his side of the wall, and my same choice...try to ignore the beep Beep BEEP BEEP!, or get out of my snug bed and hammer on the vinyl paneling. Some choice, eh?
It gets better. Godfrey is a 3 pack a day smoker. Seconds after his feet hit the floor, he's standing just outside his open door, lighting up the first butt of the new day. Godfrey apparently believes the laws of physics don't apply to his carbon-monoxide laced clouds, but believe me, they are sucked into his room...and then thru the seams in the shared wall in to my abode. If I open my own front door to throw something heavy at him, the smoke senses new territory to befoul, and now my room is "Ashtray Fresh". Who needs Agent Orange, when I have Agent Godfrey?
Yesterday, our battalion HQ called down with orders to send Godfrey up north for a month to backfill an office. I definitely owe whoever came up with that mission a steak dinner when we return.
Now, if you'll excuse me...I have some serious sleep deprivation to rectify...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.....

Sunday, February 21, 2010

More Military Terminology "From the War Zone"

Every war produces words, acronyms and phrases which become embedded in soldiers' vocabulary. WWII had "Kilroy Was Here", Vietnam spawned "Sorry About That," "FTA" (Fun, Travel & Adventure), and "REMF" ("Rear Echelon Management Facilitator"). Here in Baghdad, the one-word description which uniquely belongs to this conflict is..."Iraq-able", as in, "She's Iraq-able" or "I wouldn't want to marry the guy, but he is definitely Iraq-able!" I haven't heard if there is a similar phrase in use by our brothers and sisters in Afghanistan.  The equivalent to the Vietnam-era RMF is known as the "FOBBIT", describing someone who never leaves the FOB, much like a Hobbit prefers to remain in the Shire. (See photo)

The term used to describe soldiers over here has its roots in WWII and also the still-popular Hasbro doll. Both male and female soldiers are usually called, "Joes", short for "G.I. Joe"...It seems to connote an equality between genders. I like it for its simplicity. Every so often you'll hear soldiers referred to as "Grunts" (usually by us Vietnam-era types), or "Troopers" (We have a lot of Cavalry units here), and the 3rd Infantry Division Song still pays tribute to the "Dogface Soldier" of WWII vintage...but the only time you'll hear a soldier called a "Doughboy" is during the monthly weigh-in!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Almost Live Update from Baghdad

My apologies to John Keister for using the name of that great local Seattle comedy show, but the term, "Almost Live" perfectly describes me at this minute. It's 0030 hours, (Half-past Midnight), I just walked in the door to my CHU, after 16 hours in the office. The culprit behind this late night is what's innocently-named, "Team Chief Case Review". Once a week, our supervisors review agent's case files, write copious notes about what needs to be corrected, and return 'em to us. Of course, most of us shoot for "zero defects", but that almost never happens. The amount of documentation required for each case file ranges from a minimum of 50 pages for a basic, no-brainer investigation. A homicide, or even a bus theft case file can easily grow rapidly to the size of a NYC phone book...and yep, I mean the Yellow Pages! In between assembling all this pulp filler, there's some actual detectin' going on, plus plenty of phone calls, emails, and the usual Army dumb stuff, like having to check if we still have our weapons with us...
Finally, my much younger colleagues spend about 20% of each hour playing tricks on each other, or other hi-jinks, such as engaging in hand-sanitizer gel fights, impromptu no holds-barred wrestling matches, or other activities too gross to describe here. The soundtrack to all of this circus behavior is a combination of hip-hop, country-western, and the occasional classic oldies tune. (which to my colleagues means from the early 90's) Believe me when I say that this might not be the optimum environment to support concentration and organization skills. So, rather than be a stick in the mud (and the circus IS usually rather entertaining, at least until somebody gets an eye put out), I just do my best to putt along, until everyone else leaves around 7 p.m. that's when I crank up my own tunes (a mix of Celtic, Bollywood, and rock music, which my mates refer to as "Geezer Eclectic"), and start putting files together.
I can only handle these "surges" once a week, but it is sure nice to have my files stacked in the Team Chief's office, ready for inspection first thing in the morning.
Besides, while he's occupied with my stack o' files, I can grab a nap in the porta-john, which is surprisingly comfortable when the weather is cool.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pathway to Reaching "Seriously Stupid"

Step One: Get your hands on some liquor, even though it's strictly prohibited here.

Step Two: Invite a co-worker of the opposite sex, who you know is gay, over to your quarters to discuss your marital problems.

Step Three: Become intoxicated.

Step Four: Try to rip your co-worker's clothing off and have sex with them.

Step Five: Discover while attempting to perform Step Four that your co-worker has a Black Belt in Tae-Kwon-Do, and REALLY takes offense at your actions.

Step Six: Kiss your $200,000/year contractor's job goodbye, in addition to suffering a broken nose and a possibly-torn knee ligament, which the government health insurance will not cover.

Step Seven: Congratulations! You've just achieved "Seriously Stupid" status. You may now depart Iraq. (Don't worry...your summons to U.S. Federal Court will follow you shortly!)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Leaning Forward in the Foxhole

While we are still going Mach 2 with our hair on fire around here, I've noticed a definite change in focus among my fellow unit members since I returned from R&R. With about 90 days left in-country, planning to get out of here has moved to the top of the discussion list. Office improvement projects which had been deferred until Springtime are now relegated to the "Why should we bother messing with that?" category. The mountain of snack food which once filled the shelves in the break room has been whittled down to eight boxes of frosted Pop Tarts, a half-eaten box of Girl Scout cookies, a can of fat-free refried beans (which my office-mates have told me I am prohibited from consuming by the Geneva Convention.), a package of snowman Peeps left over from a Christmas care package, which should still be just as edible should we ever find ourselves deployed here again in five years, a bottle of BACOS fake bacon bits, which might come in handy should we ever invite the Iraqi Police over for lunch. ("Colonel Nasir, would you care for some delicious BACOS on your refried beans?")
We're also finally receiving some of the hot weather combat gear which was supposed to be issued when we first deployed. When it's 50 degrees and windy, nothing beats wearing a thin mesh Army Combat Shirt to avoid heat stroke! (I'm afraid it doesn't do much to prevent hypothermia...)
But when we are 90 days from leaving this lovely paradise in our virtual rear-view mirrors, we simply DO NOT CARE! It's too late to send us to Afghanistan, the rocket and mortar attacks have tapered off, and in my case, I have enough books, underwear, socks, and serviceable uniforms to get me through any eventuality. In the meantime, crime ain't taking a holiday here, so the time will continue to fly by with long work days and nights for us Two Digit Midgets!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reflections on R&R

I've been back in Iraq for 3 days now, sitting in my CHU, with my mud-caked boots at the doorway, a 50-foot pool of rainwater surrounding my front step, and more mud than a congressional debate beyond that. It's hard to reconcile this dreary scene with the beaches and jungle of Kaua'i, or even the coziness of home, with a dog in my lap and my spousal unit by my side. Even after the rigors of travel from Baghdad to home and back (8 days), I am glad I went. Not every soldier feels the same way after returning from mid-tour leave. Some have tough family situations to deal with, others just hate the travel, or more accurately the pain in the neck that is military travel. Especially when contrasted when flying First or Business Class on a major airline (like when we flew to Kaua'i), long hours on a military transport or a charter aren't very comfortable. Worse than the flights themselves are the deadly dull periods of waiting in metal and cement buildings, or tents, undergoing endless briefings and accountability formations.

One aspect of coming home demands special mention: The folks at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport USO, American Airlines staff, and the people who happened to be in the DFW terminal when our flight arrived were all simply Class Acts. I especially appreciated having access to a private, deluxe shower at the American Airlines Admiral's Club so that I was "de-stinkified" when reunited with my sweetheart a couple of hours later. Thanks to all of you special folks!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Watch This!

Every so often I have an Andy Rooney-like moment. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to replace the batteries in watches? Jewelry stores don't do it anymore. If you try replacing 'em yourself, the watch usually has some kind of short circuit. I have about 6 decent watches here in my dresser drawer with dead batteries, and one dead watch which I apparently fried when replacing the battery. (I keep that one as a reminder not to try and replace any more batteries.) It must be a conspiracy by the watch manufacturers, so that we have to buy a new watch each time, instead of just keeping our old ones. 

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gray Eagles

This is a very special film. I dedicate it to SSG Donald E. Hall, USAAC, (B-24 gunner) and to my late friend, TSgt Steve Bisson, USAF.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Does a Redundant Pirate Say?

Arrrrrrrrr and Arrrrrrrrrr! That's right, friends, Your Fighting Leprechaun has finally reached that magic date for some time stateside. Don't expect any blog entries until next month. In the meantime, see if you can find me in the drawing above. Cheers!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

This is My Bunker!

This bunker may look pretty ordinary to the uninitiated, but when it comes to a structure that's the only thing between me and a mortar shell or rocket, there are some key features which make this particular bunker a cut above the rest. Take note of the TRIPLE layers of sandbags on the top and front, which add a substantial enhancement to its protective capability. This bunker also is bigger than the others, so instead of saying we were "cowering in a bunker", now we're just enjoying a "Personal Protective Party" with 15 of our closest Battle Buddies! Finally, many of the other "no frills" bunkers lack the walls at the entrances, but not this beauty! These entrance walls also provide a measure of privacy. (See previous post, "Bunker Boinkery" for why some find that important...but not for me, man!)
I was not expecting an opportunity anytime soon to try this baby out under "real" conditions, but the opposition must've known I was looking forward to a test drive, as they delivered a rather abrupt wake-up call this morning. I definitely didn't require any coffee afterward. By the way, it is possible to sprint at full speed while wearing "Crocs" shower shoes...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cavalry Combat Creativity

As a former cavalryman, I have enjoyed supporting the First Cavalry Division, also known as the Multi-National Division, Baghdad. They just can't help bringing a bit of dash and elan' everywhere they go. One of their chaplains rewrote an old folk tune which the 1st Cav Public Affairs folks turned into a music video...No, it's not "Iraq and Roll" music, but I think it pretty well sums up what life here is like. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Farewell, Aunt Barbara

I've been lucky to have some pretty great aunts...(not meaning Great Aunts who were pretty, though the only Great Aunts I dimly recall meeting as a little kid may or may not have been pretty...but that's all irrelevant.)...and one of them recently left us. Aunt Barbara was one of our "fun relatives", with a perpetual twinkle in her eye, a gravel voice thanks to countless cigarettes, and a great sense of family. Her home was always filled with warmth and love, and a small measure of barely-controlled exuberance at all times. There's laughter in Heaven tonight...

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In Memoriam: Deputy Kent Mundell

Right now in Tacoma, Washington, a brave sheriff's deputy, and by all accounts a very good man, is being honored by his colleagues and his community. Even as far away as I am from the ceremony, there are echoes of October, 1995 in my heart. To my Honor Guard compatriots still serving, I'm rendering the slow salute along with you tonight. R.I.P. Deputy Mundell.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Not Your Typical New Year's Eve

Back home, the usual SOP for celebrating New Year's Eve has been to go out for an early dinner with long-time friends, then crawling into bed no later than one minute after midnight. Yep, my spousal unit and I are pretty much the definition of "Party Animals". So, after a long, full day of work, I was prepared to happily retire to my CHU with a slice of North End pizza and a cold bottle of O' Doul's, and call it an early night. I was running out of gas real fast, and I was finishing up with my Facebook page when WHAMMMMMMM!!!!!!!!, there was a great explosion outside, the concussion toppling the paperback books I had stacked on my desk. Like a startled prairie dog, I popped open my door, seeing everyone else down the row doing the same thing. Then the "Big Giant Voice" loudspeaker broadcast the indirect fire warning (Better late than never, eh?), "BWAH! BWAH! BWAH!...INCOMING! INCOMING! INCOMING!" Knowing that these "Special Holiday Gifts" from our adversaries usually come in multiples, we all sprinted for the nearest bunkers. Once esconced inside, there was the usual joking that comes from being under enemy fire...anything to take our minds off the situation. In my bunker, we had an easy conversation starter...commenting on the variety of pajamas which folks were wearing. There were soldiers wearing Mickey Mouse PJs, Philadelphia Eagles PJs (ironically, worn by a guy named "PJ", who isn't from anywhere near Pennsylvania), "Barbie" PJs...(I didn't ask the dude where he got those, or why he chose to wear 'em, as he was much bigger than me.), and my boss was clad in PJs with one of the 7 Dwarfs, "Grumpy", gamboling about the fabric. You can bet I'm saving up that fact for use later...

There were three more salvos of projectiles before the Giant Voice rasped, "All Clear!" (I believe the Army hired Ernest Borgnine to record these announcements.) We all wandered back to our respective CHUs...I confess in my case it wasn't for a good night's sleep, as the combination of adrenaline and plain old scaredy-cat nerves kept me up until dawn. Fortunately, New Year's Day was pretty quiet, with no investigations requiring me to be anything approaching fully alert.

The good news was two-fold: Nobody on our base got hurt, nothing vital was damaged...and the Other Team was sacked for a big loss of yardage on the play, and will be "out" for the rest of the season. (A football analogy is much more likely to pass the censor's review...but you get my drift!)
One postscript: A few days later, I was leaving my CHU, headed to work, when a giant tractor-trailer rig pulled up just outside our housing block. A sergeant wearing a combat engineer unit patch hopped out of the cab and motioned to me. "Say, d'ya have any idea where this new bunker is s'posed to be located?", he asked. I glanced up at the nice, extra thick preformed reinforced concrete bunker and huge stack of filled sandbags on the trailer, pretended to consult my pocket notebook, then pointed to a vacant spot about 20 feet from my door. "Why, right there, sergeant!" I replied with what I hoped was a straight face. "Thanks, sir!" the sergeant shouted, and I briskly strode away. By the time I got back from the office 14 hours later, there was the Taj Mahal of bunkers...minus a cot and carton of condoms, of course...just a few steps from our unit's billets. I'm still half-expecting to get a call from the MPs, asking us to investigate the theft of the Commanding General's bunker, but so far, so good! Now, all that remains is to see if I can stretch my TV cable all the way out there...just in case we get attacked during the Texas-Alabama game, or even worse, the Super Bowl.