Saturday, March 28, 2009

1SG Martinez performing the traditional dance of appreciation to the T-Wall fairies. This ensures that the T-Walls stay strong for us and don't fail us when we need them the most.

A row of T-Walls around our CHUs.

Even action figures get a T-Wall!

Ode to a "T"

What a great letter, T. It adds so much to our language.

It has given us a great beverage to drink...cold to drive away the heat in summer and hot to warm our tummies in winter. It gives us comfortable shirts to wear...I have several packed away from various Army units and missions, vacation spots, and goofy restaurants. It holds up our golf balls and allows us to make great shots (into the water).

But for us here in Iraq, the letter T has given us one more thing: protection from bad guys. Surrounding us at all times are T-walls...concrete barriers that are placed strategically around buildings to protect other buildings from blasts. They surround the DFAC, the laundry, all of our CHU living trailers, the exchange...everything.

It's weird to walk around Camp Liberty and see nothing but T-walls. They block the line-of-site across camp and hide buildings. Unless someone actually puts a sign outside of the T-Wall it's difficult to tell what building is inside the line of T-walls.
They are also a blank canvas for units to leave their mark for others to see. Units take a blank T-wall outside of their buildingand paint their logo on it...I've seen some that were works of art. They were everywhere at Camp Buehring, Kuwait and some of the command posts around Liberty have their T-wall painted next to the T-walls of units who have since departed.
What a great letter, T!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Photos from a fun day

The Universal Language

Everyone has their own idea of a universal language. You know, that language that everyone understands, no matter what their native tongue. Some say music, others say math (although some will argue that music and math are one and the same).
I say that the universal language is...laughter.
Not just any laughter, though. Not the laughter of adults watching a funny movie or enjoying company at a cocktail party. Or the laughter of groups watching a comedian.
It's the laughter of children and, more specifically, children at play. No matter if a child speaks English, Arabic, German, Portuguese, Swahili, or Tagalog, they all know how to laugh. Unlike learning a language, there is no grammar, no syntax, no rolling the tongue or pursing the lips to learn to form sounds. Even at a young age, children know how to laugh at something fun or even something funny.
Yesterday I took a break from the office and went with two of my Soldier/journalists over to the other side of Victory Base Complex where US Soldiers host Iraqi Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. I'm not sure of the particulars, but the program is gaining strength and gets more and more popular with each passing week...with both the Iraqi children and US Soldiers.
There were about 35 or so kids present, ranging in age from 2 to older teens. I expected there to be more boys than girls but I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were more girls than boys! And very stylish young girls, with earrings and rhinestone-studded headbands and jeans that looked like they came straight from The Gap.
We spent hours playing with these, volleyball, and good, old-fashioned water-balloon fights. We did crafts of painting and drawing, some classes on first aid and fire safety. Even the smallest little girl, about 2 years old, put on the full-blown fireman's outfit of heavy boots, suspenders, and silver fire suit. Well, she came up to the knees of the fire suit, but she did wear the helmet! Most of the kids got to put out an actual fire with a fire extinguisher. Sometimes they aimed at the people standing around the fire..! Medics showed the children how they put bandages and wraps on wounds. Half of the pictures that I took have children in them with wraps on their wrists or ankles. Not because they were wounded but because it was cool...and fun. The medics put a stethoscope into the ears of some of the children and then put the other end on their chests. The kids has looks of amazement and wonder when they realized they were listening to their own heartbeat.
But the best part was hearing the sounds of the children's laughter. Laughter from just having a good time, from running and jumping and kicking balls and hitting a US Soldier in the head with a water balloon.
As I watched these children play I realized that, like children in the US, they are the future of this country. They are the ones that in 20 years our government will be in diplomatic relations with.
I wish them, and their families, all the peace and blessings of a bright and happy future. And many more days filled with laughter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Breakfast and a movie

We have a system now for meals. Myself, 1SG Martinez, and 1LT Sarratt meet for breakfast at 0730 at the gazebo right outside of our CHU. At the dining facility (DFAC) we greet the guards who check our ID cards, wash our hands and then grab our tray and head to the serving line. We each have our own separate ideas of what constitutes a nutritious breakfast so we go our own ways to get our food. But we always sit in the same the annex. For breakfast we sit in the first row of tables, for lunch and dinner we sit in the last row of tables. That way each of us always knows where the other two are. The three of us have eaten our meals together since we first went to RTC at Ft. Dix in October/November 2008 and since our mob in January 2009. Occasionally we allow other Soldiers to join us. I'm sure that they are surprised to find out that we actually don't talk shop at these meals. We don't spend our time between bites of good Army food planning things for the unit. Instead, we have light-hearted conversations about anything that we can think of and there is usually a lot of laughter involved.
In the DFAC there are multiple TVs, all tuned in to the various channels offered by AFN. Soldiers munching on eggs, bacon, chicken wings, and hamburgers can watch sports, movies, or news, depending on where they are sitting and how close they pay attention the the TVs.
It seems that for breakfast the TV by our table is always set on the AFN movie channel. So, for the 20 minutes or so that we are sitting there we get to watch part of a movie. So far we've watched parts of about 30 different movies. Of course, the sad part is that we only get to watch 20 minutes or so of each movie. More if we dawdle and eat very slowly. We have often wondered aloud if there isn't some way to get AFN to rerun one movie all day so that we can watch a whole movie over a span of 3 or 4 meals.
Recently we've started changing our lunch plans. Instead of walking down to the DFAC for lunch we get a sandwich to go at breakfast and then settle in our own studio to watch a movie or a television show on DVD. Our first movie was Silver old movie starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.
Occasionally the morning TV isn't tuned into the movie channel. It's on the channel that has morning exercise shows. Scantily-clad women (including Denise Austen) do lunges and lift weights and sweat. The guys all watch very intently. I'm sure that they are just taking notes on the correct form for all of these exercise. It is sure nice of AFN to have these women in tight shorts and T-shirts teaching our Soldiers the proper way to maintain health and fitness while deployed to Iraq. :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Photos from a sandstorm

The lake across the street and the Al Faw Palace behind it. Somewhere. By the way, it's about 3 p.m. when I shot these...

Oh Sand-y Baby...

I grew up in the deep South and I still vividly remember the violent thunderstorms that used to roll through our area on a regular basis during the summer. First, the air would grow heavy, the sky a dark gray that got darker with each passing minute. The thunder was loud even though the storm was still miles away. Then there would be a eerie moment or two of stillness that signaled that something ominous was coming. Finally the rain would fall...just a few drops at first...large splats that would lull you into a fall sense of "this storm is passing over". Then the torrential downpour would begin, soaking you to the bones in a matter of minutes if you were silly enough not to have looked for cover. I can still remember sitting on our enclosed porch or in the living room looking out the picture windows and watching the sheets of rain fall. The world outside the windows turned a light gray the rain was so hard.
After a few minutes it would all be over. The ground would be wet and there would be puddles to run around in. But the clouds would clear and the sun would come out, shining down on the puddles and making everything shiny. Off in the distance I could still hear the thunder, making its way noisily across the area and trapping others inside of their homes for a few minutes.
Years later when I moved Chicago and then Minneapolis I experienced the same sort of phenomenon except with snow. We always knew when it was coming. I could track the storm on The Weather Channel as it made its way closer and closer to my house. The sky would turn a light gray color and the world would become still, as if everyone (including the animals) were just sitting...and waiting for that first snowflake to appear. Just like the rain the flakes would fall softly, almost romantically. Unlike the rain, once it started it lasted for hours, sometimes days, until my back porch was a wall of snow.
In Iraq we experience something akin to these events...but with sand. Since our arrival here a month ago we have had several dust storms. There seems to be a's windy for several hours but clear. Then there is a lull in the wind and it's almost calm and peaceful. Then the sand slowly starts creeping into the atmosphere. You don't really notice it at first until you lick your lips and you taste the sand, or you blink your eyes several times to clear them. Then you notice the haze around the lights and that the world outside your window has turned a bright orange. Yesterday was one of the worst sandstorms since our arrival. The Al Faw Palace is visible on clear days but yesterday we couldn't see it. In fact, we couldn't see the lake just across the street from us! I went to bed last night with the dust so thick it was making my sinuses hurt. I turned on the fan in my room to move the heavy air around. (At this point I don't even bother to clean up the sand or keep it out of my's just impossible to do so.) I woke up at 3 a.m. and had to go to the bathroom. I opened my trailer door and it was pouring rain! Not the "summer in the South" rainfall, but a fairly decent rain. It was nice to get up the next morning and see that the air was clear from the rain but my happiness was shot down a while later when I tried to drive my pickup truck to the medical clinic. See, the sand here is fine, not beach sand, more like powdered sugar. With the rainfall that sand turns into a thick slurry that sticks to everything. I drove down one road sideways and I was certain I was going to get stuck! And forget keeping your boots clean. Once you step into the mud you're up to your ankles. And stepping out doesn't help because you bring lots of mud and rocks out as well.
It was a lot like being back in Bosnia! Except we didn't have boot washes at the entrance to every building.