Sunday, May 31, 2009

I'm with the band.

So, last week I decided it was time, again, to get out of the office and see "outside the wire". As the commander of this fine detachment I don't get to venture out on missions like my journalists. It's their job to get out and get stories, photos, and videos of units around Baghdad doing their missions. It's my job to organize, attend meetings, and make sure everything runs smoothly.
But it was time to put on my "battle rattle" and climb into a large, armored vehicle and see Baghdad. I went up north to Camp Istaqaal with the 1st Cavalry Division rock band. I served no purpose, just a straphanger. I was, in essence, a groupie.
Not a roadie. Nope...they're the ones that set up and tear down. They do work. I was just along for the ride, enjoy the music, and take some photographs.
The 1st Cav has a large band and it goes with them where ever they go, even to Baghdad. Rarely does the band travel as one large group. Instead, they have different ensembles that go out to the outlying camps and play for the troops. There is a brass quintet, a salsa band, a Dixie band, and probably a few others that I'm not familiar with. And, of course, the rock band.
The started smoothly enough...we didn't depart until 1 p.m. so I had time to do my morning reports and eat lunch. It took me awhile to get ready...I had to make sure my body armor was ready, get my rifle out of the weapons locker (I carry a 9mm pistol around the camp but you have to have a long rifle on convoys), and pack my small backpack. I put some stuff in my pack in case we didn't get back...socks, T-shirt, travel soap and toothbrush. Just in case, you know?
We departed on time. Again, I was in one of those large up-armored vehicles that look like a school bus. It was hot. Really hot. Even though the vehicle has a/c there's a big hole in the top of the vehicle for the gunner. My face wasn't sweating...if you were to look at me you wouldn't think I was hot. But where my body armor fits I was dripping. :( Between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. I drank about 4 liters of water but didn't need to use the bathroom until later that evening.
The 7 band members that were on the mission are multi-purpose...they unload and set up their own gear and do everything necessary to put the show on. They set up their instruments, speakers, microphones, etc. and then took a quick break. We were outside but thankfully under a sunshade, so it was tolerable. After dinner we all went back and waited for showtime.
The show was amazing...I'd never heard this ensemble before. We had the brass quintet and Dixie ensemble in our studio a few weeks ago for the Zack and Jim show. They are very very good and I enjoyed listening to them play. They played Bon Jovi, Beastie Boys, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others I didn't recognize. The crowd came and went as they played for about 90 minutes, with a quick 10-minute break in between.
We returned around 11 p.m. and I fell into bed, exhausted, just before 1 a.m. It was rough getting up the next morning.
Going outside the wire and to another camp once in awhile is a great thing for us "fobbits"...those that don't go out on missions. It really made me appreciate what we have here at Camp Liberty like our large dining facility with a good choice of food. The one at the camp was about the size of our salad bar and you got chicken, potato, and a vegetable. It also made me just sore enough to appreciate what those who do go outside the wire on a regular basis go through...the heat, the heavy equipment, and the long hours.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Happy Anniversary, baby...

My, how time flies when you're, ahem, having fun. Makes me think of a framed piece of craftwork that my friend Suz sent me when I was in...Bosnia? Kosovo? I don't remember. It's a drawing of a frog sitting on a lilypad with one of those grins on it's face. Around the top are the words "Time's Fun When You're Having Flies". The frame is green. And I think there are other flies around the frog.
I forget exactly what the thing looks like. Why? Because this week is my 1-year anniversary. If I'm going to spend my time in Baghdad marking off time, I'm starting a year ago. I started this overseas deployment odyssey this time last year. I had mentally started preparing myself for this as early as December 2007, when I looked around at my Christmas tree and other decorations and told myself that I wouldn't see them again until December...2010? Although I spent a better part of March and April planning things, it was the end of May that really set things off. On the 19th of May the nice guys with the moving company came to my house and packed up all my household goods. For a night I was surrounded by dozens of cardboard boxes, which I remember made my house smell like...cardboard boxes. The next day even nicer people came and loaded up my entire life, save what would fit into my car, and took it away.
I cried when the moving van pulled up because I knew it would be at least 2 years before I would see my stuff again. I had been sitting in my big red chair all morning, quietly contemplating what was happening in my life. When the knock on the door came I finally gave in to the tears. It took a minute and a yell of "I'm coming" before I greeted Those Who Would Take My Stuff Away. It was hard. All afternoon I watched another box of my clothes, shoes, china, DVDs, knick-knacks, go out the door and onto the truck.
When the truck finally pulled away at about 2 in the afternoon I saw on my front porch and watched it until I could no longer see it. My 4-poster bed was in that truck. So were the three ceramic animals (elephant, caterpillar, lamb) that I made when I was only 5 years old. Everything I owned, except for a few items, was gone.
That was a year ago. A year ago last Tuesday. Wow, time flies when you're having fun.
It was a year ago today that I finished cleaning up my townhouse, turned off the heat (I was in Minnesota, after all), laid my house/mailbox keys on the kitchen counter, got into my car, and drove away.
I drove all the way to Chicago (only 6 hours...short day) to visit some friends who lived there. I left the next morning and drove to Anniston, Alabama and spent the night in a Hampton Inn. (Strange the things we remember, huh?) Arrived the next day in Elba, Alabama and spent the next several days with my sister and mom and assorted friends. Then I drove to New Orleans (stopping once to replace my burnt-out headlight) and spent the night there, enjoying ice cold beer and some kick-ass jazz and blues.
On 1 June, 2008 I arrived in Bryan, Texas.
From there it's been an odyssey of training, meetings, planning, traveling, packing, unpacking, until I am now here, in my office, at my 1-year anniversary of leaving Minneapolis.
Time flies when you're having fun. :)
I do know what's in store for me once I leave Baghdad. I will be at Ft. Lee, Virginia, from May through August of next year, attending my next Officer Education Class. That is also an anniversary...I went to Ft. Lee in 1993-94 for my Officer's Basic Course. Seriously, now I know for sure that time really does fly when you're having fun.
But it also means that I probably won't see my treasured possessions until I finish the course and move onto my next assignment. September? October? I only hope that I can be somewhere in time to put up and decorate my Christmas tree. It will, after all, be December, 2010.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Poem


A podium is an innocuous thing in our lives.
A rectangular thing made out of wood, plastic or metal.
A podium can be a friend, something used when good things happen.
Chaplains give words of praise, joy, and love from a podium.
Educators cheer on graduates.
Podiums give us support (literally) when we need it the most:
Talking in public. We lean on them, put our notes and water on them.
It’s easier to speak when the audience can only see half of you.
But a podium can also be an enemy.
Often when a podium is the focal point of an event
It means something bad has happened.
Press conferences are given from a podium. A plane crash
A fire, a child kidnapped.
Chaplains also start funerals from a podium.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…”
I never met Specialist Barton. He was nameless and faceless to me.
Our paths only crossed because on May 11th, 2009,
He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But we shared a common bond.
Our units share the same stateside command so
We have the same patch on our left sleeves.
That makes him a brother.
His commander is at a podium.
He is a friend and someone else I share a common bond with.
We are both commanders.
We shared mobilization and paperwork.
We shared building units from a random group of people.
Our difference is that he is at a podium.
It is in the shape of a castle, the symbol
Of the US Army Engineers.
He is telling the people stories about a young Soldier.
I don’t want that experience. I don’t want a podium.
Every morning I will say a quick prayer
Not to have to stand behind a podium,
In particular,
The one in the Division Chapel.
But I am a leader and I have duties.
As a commander I am responsible for everything
Concerning my soldiers…their health and welfare,
Their safety, their lives.
And, if necessary,
A trip to a podium.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Of Fish and Men (and turtles, too)

Three times a day we make the long trek to the dining facility (DFAC) for our meals. It's not too bad right now, but I can imagine in a few weeks when the heat is unbearable that 3/4 mile walk one way won't be so pleasant. At least there's Gatorade in the DFAC.

Near the front door of the facility is a footbridge that crosses a canal. These canals run all through Camp Liberty and are the main source of green that we see: green reeds that grow on the edge and are almost as tall as we are; and water that is a shade of green that has yet to be assigned a color by Crayola. We even have one of these canals right in front of our building (seriously...I keep waiting for someone to drive our truck into it).

A favorite pasttime of Soldiers (and civilians) is to stand on the bridge and throw bread, Cheerios, even fruit, to the fish and turtles that live in the canal. I've done this a few times myself.

There are a lot of fish that live at this spot in the canal...well over 100, and some of them are at least 2 feet long. There were only a few turtles up until a few weeks ago and now there are about 10 or so, most of them babies just a few inches across. When people start throwing food into the water is becomes a race to get a piece...turtles swimming over little fish, big fish swimming over little fish, and birds on the edge of the canal trying to get the stray crumbs that fall their way. It is quite amusing.

It's just a nice, peaceful way to start or finish the day...seeing "wildlife", even if it's just some strange gray and black fish and some cute little turtles.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Too Much Fun!

We've been experiencing a horrible dust storm the past few days and it's not going anywhere until at least the weekend. The good thing is that the helicopters aren't flying so it's quiet above our building. The bad thing is that we stay dirty, we're sucking in dust by the lungful and our eyes hurt. I head out to the office in the morning all fresh and clean...but by the time I get to the office I am gritty and dirty. Yuck.

We've also been experiencing a different type of! For the past three days and for the next two days we have to radio hosts, Zack and Jim, from WACO 100 in, well, Waco, Texas, that have been broadcasting their morning show live right here in my studio. Well, the first day they didn't because we experienced technical difficulties and they had to move to another office. But Tuesday we had the problems sorted out (for the most part) and the fun has just snowballed from there. We've lined up Soldiers and had them sit down for interviews, both funny and serious (mostly funny). We had the "Stinky Feet Band" i.e. 1SG Martinez, 1LT Sarratt playing harmonicas and SGT Risner playing guitar and giving us the latest rendition of the Baghdad Blues. It was a great song. Would have been nicer if they'd all been playing the same song. :)

Today we had the lawyers, Soldiers from the Texas National Guard, and the Brass Quintet (plus drums) from the 1st Cavalry Division. It's been a lot of fun and a nice break from the daily monotony of the Media Operations Center.