Monday, August 31, 2009

More Brits

Tomorrow I ride with the British contractors assuming they don't have a mission. A few nights ago sat with a couple of contractors near my age. They were from the United Kingdom. One from England, the other from Northern Ireland. The Irish guy was from out in the country, but near Belfast. He has been a contractor since 2004 and doing consulting work he could not talk about.

What he could talk about was the work arrangements. He has been flying back and forth from home every six to eight weeks withe six weeks off in between work stints. He said they "work our asses right into the ground every day we are here, then give us time to recover at home. So we have a real family life." The English guy echoed his comments saying the American contractor system means a lot of guys fatten up their wallets and ruin their marriages. American contractors tend to work six months or more then take a few weeks off and come back again. If it is just a year, it's OK. But these guys had been here since 2004 and felt very connected with their families.

They said their companies don't allow the perpetual working that Americans do because they don't want their workers distracted by deteriorating families and everything that goes with it. Made sense to me.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

My 500th Post--Meet Arab Singles??

On August 22 last year I logged onto a site called geekadelphia that has a very favorable article about a new museum at the place where I work. It also has big ads next to the actual content of the site. The first time I logged onto geekadelphia.com the ad headline said, "Meet Arab Singles." Which lead to a site called Arab Lounge.
The woman in the ad was definitely not wearing a burqa--actually not much of anything but a leopard bikini top and a smile. But my first reaction was "I really don't want to meet Arab singles!!" Who decides what ads go on these sites?
So I was going back through the 506 posts and my sites and cleaning out the ones I started and never finished.

Except this one. I have wondered once in a while how Google decides what ads to put on a site. I logged onto Geekadelphia just now and got an ad for geek t-shirts. So why do I get an ad for American t-shirts in southern Iraq and "Meet Arab Singles!" in Philadelphia? I would expect the reverse. I am not responding to either ad. My wife is very frugal and would be horrified at paying retail for t-shirts when yard sales are full of them. And I am sure she does not want me meeting Arab singles.

So with other posts cleaned out, this musing on web ads is officially number 500. In related numerical updates, my blog has had more than 31,000 visits since last June. And since today is August 30, I should be a civilian in 153 days (January 30) or less if things go well with the demobilization process. That means I should have 650 blog posts before the site takes a sabbatical--I post every day I am on duty so hopefully my post rate will drop to twice a month plus 15 days in the summer.

Actually, I do plan to keep blogging about my return to being a real civilian. It's really going to happen. I can smell the bakery bread and the lattes already.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bike Dudes

This morning my bike buddy and I went out for the morning loop around the perimeter and saw two civilians riding past on the main east-west road on the north side. I chased and towed my riding buddy up to what turned out to be two Brits. They are part of a team that flies outside the wire and no one knows what they do--at least none of us mechanics. Anyway, one of the guys is really strong. They were both riding 24-speed mountain bikes with front suspensions and disc brakes.

As we catch up to them we are just passing the last motor pool on the north side and turning south toward the mostly nothing area. It is the smoothest, fastest pavement of the whole perimeter. The big guy and I took turns at the front. At the end of the 1.5 mile straight saection we looked back and our buddies were riding together 150 meters behind. We slowed up for the dirt stretch and rode 18 the rest of the way around post. It turns out they ride 30 to 40 km every morning at 6am when they don't have a mission. Thy run in gym if the dust is too bad, but said they usually get out five days a week.

They said they most likely have a mission tomorrow, but I am going to ride at 6am anyway, just in case they are on the road. I can only ride at 0600 three days at the most. Otherwise I have to be in the motor pool at 0600. It's great to have more people to ride with.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Sergeant Hamster


By tomorrow evening I will have ridden around the 10-mile perimeter of Tallil Ali Air Base more than 130 times.
With a varied ten-mile loop, some traffic, the wind, the dust and the other difficulties of my repetitive ride, I hardly think of it as a hamster wheel when I am riding, but when I think about circling the same loop every day and adding up how many times I have ridden this circle--then I start to feel like a rodent way down the food chain. Or a man imitating the rodent.
On the north side of the base where I live and work there are buildings, huge generators, sometimes heavy traffic, pedestrians on sidewalks and the road, and flags snapping in the breeze.
On the east, west and south side of the base, there is mostly nothing. Here are a few views of my daily ride across the south and turning north on the east end of post:




Thursday, August 27, 2009

Issue 3, Dark Horse Post Newsletter

I finally figured out how to post the newsletter on the blog. Here it is. If you actually want to read it, send me an email and I will forward a copy.










Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thank You to Several (actually 22) People

To Sarah Reisert for Propel Packets and razors (not to be used together) and for sending me a weird web site every Thursday.

To 2LT West's Dad for sending copies of Inferno, we just finished reading it in the Tallil Dead Poet's Society.

To Brigitte Van Tiggelen for sending copies of Aeneid which we are starting next Tuesday as well as for the copies of The Weight of Glory we are reading now in the CS Lewis book group.

To Larry Wise for putting hand grips on the 29er bike so I won't burn my hands on the 130+ degree days and the other bike repairs.

To my Uncle Jack for connecting Viet Nam to the current war and reminding me how much I would have loved to tell my Dad about all of this over a cup of coffee.

To my sister who was upset when I enlisted in 1972 and no happier this time but is very brave.

To Matt Clark who spent the worst hour of this year with me--he drove me to the airport for the return trip to Iraq.

To my roommate for putting up with "livin' in a friggin' library."

To Kristine Chin for editing all three issues of the Dark Horse Post. The current issue will go out tomorrow.

To Amy Albert who wrote me a few days ago asking if she could help by sending us stuff and will be sending some of the future books for the book group.

To Meredith Gould for various reality checks she has given me about life, the universe and posting.

To Robin Abrahams for the Clerihew contest and for sending the her book Mind Over Manners (available on amazon.com!) and to Marc Abrahams for asking (bemused) questions no one else asks.

To Jan Felice and Scott Haverstick for laughing at me as well as with me about this whole Iraq thing.

To Abel Lopez and Brother Timotheus who have been my friends so long they take this whole Iraq thing in stride.

To Lauren, Lisa, Iolanthe and Nigel for being proud of me even though having their Dad gone for a year was not in their plans.

To Annalisa for dealing with everything back home, taking care of Nigel and letting me know when the blog posts go too far.

And now the bad joke. . .

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Envy Again

So I went to the guy I wrote about a few days ago and told him I envied his job--he has no responsibilities except public affairs for a unit of 600 soldiers, which is one of my jobs. He also has the use of an SUV which would be nice to have in the middle of a day or to go to meetings without being drenched in sweat from a bike ride. But having told him, my envy is more properly jealousy. I wish I had what he has but I do not want to take what he has. Envy has that dimension of wanting to take from its object.

Anyway, he said he negotiated his deal before the deployment started--somehting that would be difficult for me at this point.

And speaking of sin, I was up larte last night writing a post about two soldiers who are in different ways unable to do their jobs, but are covered up by the Army system that wants the numbers to look good on paper. I took the post down again because looking at it in the morning it was uncharitable and it violated my OPSEC rule about identifying soldiers. There were enough specifics to identify people and that is not what I should be doing.

And then another friend pointed out last night that my year in the desert is hardly the spiritual experience I hoped for. She is right. When I return to America, I will be deliriously happy to resume whatever I can of my life as it was--family, friends, work, racing, pub night. My spiritual life will need as much cleaning up as my dust filled lungs after my year here in the desert.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Inspired to Ride, and NOT to Ride

In the last couple of weeks, my main riding buddy has pushed me to go faster in a couple of ways. He has his own bike here, a mountain bike with 21 speeds. He has full off-road tires, so the advantage of having gears is balanced by the rolling resistance of his tires. Last week he wanted to do sprints. We did several hundred-meter sprints on the back side of the ten-mile loop. I have a mild dust-induced throat infection, but had a great time. Yesterday he rode in the morning and was having trouble maintaining speed, so he suggested I take the half-mile-longer road near the IED training area and he would go straight past the air strip. The idea was I would catch up to him just before main post. Well he was feeling bad and I was feeling good so I caught him sooner, but that two miles gave me the exhilaration of the chase. He is going to be here toll April, so I should have someone to ride with three days a week for the rest of the tour.

Before the other story, a milestones update:
As of today I have ridden almost 4000 miles this year including 2100 miles here in Iraq.
I don't have an exact number here, but I am now over 150,000 miles since I started riding seriously in 1986, the year I quit smoking. Of those miles, 75,000 are since January 1, 2000. If I go back to racing there is a good chance I will increase my total miles to 200,000 miles within the next 7 years.

In our brigade is a young medical officer who rides an exercise bike incessantly. I asked her if she ever thought about riding on the road. She said she did, but that it is dangerous. I suggested riding here because bases are so much better than civilian life. She said she had thought about it, but then one day she was riding the bus and the bus pulled out in front of a bike and almost hit the bike.

At least that was the view from inside the bus. I was the rider on the bike. From my perspective, about half the bus drivers are South Asians who come from cultures with no tradition of chivalry. The traffic laws follow Darwin's rules. The bigger vehicle has the right of way. Bikes yield to everything. I dealt with this all over Asia. Here on base the bus drivers know if they hit a guy with ARMY across his chest they are gone and lose their job. But their instinct is to pull out in from of the little vehicle. So when they do it, I just keep pedaling. They back off, cursing me in whatever language they speak. But the more I do it, the less I have to do it. They get the idea that this is not Mumbai or Bangkok and buses do not have absolute right of way over bikes.

But from inside the bus looking down on the guy who is getting closer to the bus every second until the driver backs off, it looks scary. I did not try to explain anything to her or admit I was the guy. I just said that an exercise bike is fine for aerobic fitness.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A No-Wind Situation

For the last few days the wind died out almost completely here at Tallil Ali Air Base. The good news is I can ride the perimeter of the base faster than usual because I can ride a fairly steady speed slowing only for the across-the-road ditches, missing stretches of pavement and stop signs. Here as on every base it is AWESOME to ride where people can lose their jobs over their driving. But it means I have to obey the law also (Jan and Scott: No kidding. I stop for stop signs!!) So I circled the 10.2-mile perimeter road in 33:52 on the 29er and 31:40 on the Trek. I also did the 15k (9.3-mile) route in 29:11. These are as fast as I have ever gone around post. At first I was thinking 'Not even 20mph, I must be falling apart!' But with bad roads and single speed bikes I do have a disadvantage.

The bad news is that no wind causes two odd effects that have left me with a nasty sore throat and hacking cough. The first is that when there is no wind the dust rises from the ground near dust. It's weird. I was half-way around and going fast so I did not quit but sucked a lot of dust into my lungs. Now I am paying for it. The second problem is the burn pit. When the wind is out of the west, the toxic fumes from burning all of our throw-away utensils drifts away to the East on the usual West wind. Yesterday as I finished the lap a light breeze form the East blew the smoke from the raging fire in the burn pit across the base--and a across the road I ride on. Nothing like ending the day with polyethylene smoke!!

Even though the wind makes me struggle to ride 7mph when it howls out of the west at 30mph, I suppose it will be better to have the wind. It will also help with the temp. Today at lunch time it was 133 degrees (56 Celcius). And with no wind at night it is almost 90 degrees before dawn.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New Camera -- My Photos On Line


One of the benefits of the Public Affairs work I do for the battalion and brigade is they gave me a very cool camera. It's a Nikon D200 DSLR with a NIKKOR 18-200mm zoom lens. With this camera, I am shooting pictures of soldiers at work and writing 1-3 paragraph extended captions to go with the photos. The story/photo is then published on an armed forces web site so local newspapers can download photos/stories of soldiers in their area. It is a public access site, just click here. You will see a dozen photos with captions posted yesterday. There should be many more in the coming months.

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Job and Envy

CS Lewis wrote in many places that the trouble with writing about the Devil, in his book the Screwtape Letters, was that thinking too much about the Devil hurt his own spiritual life. So I have been writing about envy a lot lately concerning the on-line article about our brigade and have been seeing how much envy is in my own life.

First, let me make clear that all the fuss I made about my job here had no real outcome. I thought one of the good things about a year on active duty would be I would lead some kind of Simple Life. I would have a job. I would do that job and leave it when I was done. As it turns out, I have a primary job as a squad leader and as Sergeant Tool Bitch in the motor pool, but when they are done, I am also the battalion public affairs sergeant, the PA sergeant for our company, I put together the newsletter, and have a couple of other additional duties. Beginning recently, I do the newsletter and some of my other work during motor pool hours. No Simple Life for me.

Which brings me to Envy. Our brigade is primarily two battalions. The guy who does the PA work for the other battalion does not have another job. He just writes and takes pictures. And every time I have seen him lately he is driving an SUV. So he only goes to the motor pool when his air-conditioned vehicle needs service. I am seriously envious of him.

And I am also the subject of envy. Since I became militant about doing my PA work at least partially during duty hours, I have been in air conditioning working on the newsletter or battalion PA work when my fellow motor pool soldiers are out in the sun. And this week has been particularly hot because the wind has died down. So they think I am doing nothing because I am working partially inside.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life, Bladders and Scheduling

As the father of three girls, all of you who have kids, or have been a kid, or known a kid, know I had one kid who had the bladder capacity of a squirrel. That child was my youngest daughter. When she was potty trained, I was sad--at least at the prospect of driving places more than three miles away. Because she would inevitably need a pit stop. Trips to see grandmothers in Massachusetts and upstate New York meant at least three bathroom stops. Actually, I didn't mind because I like to drink coffee when I drive a long distance, and so I had an excuse to stop.

Now that I am in my mid-50s I have to go to bed late and wake up early to avoid stumbling across 200 yards of gravel in the middle of the night to the latrine. Lately, I have been staying up till almost midnight and getting up at 0445, so even at my age I can sleep through the night. Even so, when I wake up, I do a fast stretch for the bone spur in my heel then limp quickly across the gravel to the latrine.

My roommate, on the other hand, is the opposite of my youngest daughter and I. He can wake up, get dressed, brush his teeth outside our CHU, walk to the bus stop 1/3 of a mile away, ride two miles to the motor pool, step off the bus and then use the latrine at the motor pool. Amazing. By that time, I would be in tears or in a puddle, or both.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Newsletter, One More Comment on the Patriot-News Article

For the last few days I have been working in earnest on the company newsletter. This will be the third issue of five, maybe six, we will send to the soldiers and (hopefully) the families of soldiers in this unit. If you want a copy of either of the previous newsletters or the one I am working on now, email me at ngussman@gmail.com. This issue is mostly about the half of Echo Company that does refueling--the company I am in is about half refuelers for helicopters, half vehicle maintenance, plus a few cooks, supply and administrative soldiers.

The comments have stopped on the Pennlive article, but I was emailing a friend and it reminded of on big difference between training for the Cold War in the 1970s and our current situation in Iraq: We are six months into this deployment and have not lost ONE soldier. Back in the 70s we had a joint NATO exercise called REFORGER. About 150,000 NATO troops would manouver on the East-West German border. My recollection is 30-50 soldiers died during each REFORGER. A lot of it was jeep rollovers. No seatbelts back then in tactical vehicle. Two infantrymen attached to our unit in 77 crawled under an M-88 tank recovery vehicle to sleep and keep warm. They were crushed in their sleeping bags when the 57-ton vehicle moved on an alert order.

We'll most likely all go home alive and those guys are worried about who has longer work hours or better chow. Dante puts Envy deep in Hell.
That's why.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Response to Army Morality


B52 BOMBER TAKING OFF

I received this email from a Viet Nam vet writing the moral dimension of his war. I thought you would like it as much as I did:

We deployed as a unit in the Summer of 1968: A B-52 Bomb Squadron, a KC-135 Air Refueling Squadron and various maintenance and support units and personnel. The B-52's were based in Guam with a detachment in Thailand. The KC-135's were based in Okinawa with detachments in Thailand and Taiwan. Both Guam and Okinawa had large populations of resident US citizens (round eyes), AKA "American League," and open access via commercial airlines for more. Thailand and Taiwan were vibrant economic cultures with lots of ways and places to spend money and meet members of the indigenous opposite sex, AKA "National League." The atmosphere in all these places was Fly and Party. You were doing either one or the other. A phenomenon developed in which guys were writing home, saying in effect, "I'm being good, but guess what Joe did!" It's no surprise that Joe's wife soon got a full briefing.

As it turned out, the same sort of thing was happening back home. The wives left behind were partying too, encouraged by flocks of party animals flying in on weekend cross-country "training" flights to bases where the cats were away and the mice were ready to play. I personally began receiving anonymous letters keeping me up to date on my wife's activities and upon whose couch my 4 year-old daughter had spent the night.

When we returned home after six months the divorces began. In all, among just the flight crews and the flight line maintenance troops there were 40 divorces. For some of these guys it was a second divorce, the first having occurred at a different base after a similar deployment. My marriage began to disintegrate during the interim before the next deployment.

In the Summer of 1969, we did it again. This time before we departed the Chaplain included in his "God be with You" briefing,remarks to the effect that we were not our brothers' keepers; it was not up to us to write home and chronicle the misbehaviors of our friends. When we returned from this second deployment the unit was taken out of the line for upgrade to a new aircraft, the FB-111, AKA MacNamara's Folly. The effect of the second deployment on crew force matrimony was diffused by hundreds of personnel reassignments.

There is one funny story worth relating. In 1968, a major typhoon (hurricane) blasted through the western Pacific. The island of Guam, home for dozens or even hundreds of B-52's was threatened. A sanctuary had to be found for them all. International negotiations were conducted at the State Department level to assure governments, such as China and North Korea, that this was strictly a matter of safety, not aggression. So, in due time a flock of B-52's arrived at our KC-135 base in Taiwan and the crews were billeted at the largest hotel in the nearby city of Taichung. Whoever made the arrangements was unaware that the hotel was a notorious brothel. I'll leave the rest of the story to your imagination. Such is the fog of war.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Winter is Almost Here!!!

Last Wednesday I woke up at 0530 and checked the temp on the bike. It was 79 degrees. The first time I had seen a temp below 80 since I have been in this country. By 0700 it was already 91 degrees, but at least it was below 80 for a few minutes.

This morning it was 79 degrees at 0630. I didn't check at 0530, it could have been 77!! And the high temps are lower also. Today, I rode to the south side of the base at 0930 and it was only 112--I was carrying a 20-pound pack and my weapon and wearing my uniform with long sleeves so you needn't worry. I stayed warm. In the afternoon around 2pm I rode back. It was 122. Two weeks ago it would have been 129. By 5pm is was down to 117 and by 6pm it was 112. Right now it is below 100. I have heard it gets cold here in January. I'll wait and see.

In other drama, a friend of mine wrote last night to say that there were two openings for door gunners and I should apply immediately before the openings were public. In the morning I talked to another well-informed member of that company and heard the slots were actually filled but the names weren't public. Oh well. It would be a lot of fun to fly, but it really is too late now. So I will continue to work in the motor pool and my various additional duties. This week I will be working to write the company newsletter by Monday. The commander wants it to be distributed by the end of the month and my stateside production editor says I have to send it early next week to get it done by the end of the month.

For this week we are reporting to work at 0600 instead of 0700 so I should get to sleep soon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Comments on the Comments

My last several meals in the DFAC, the topic of conversation has been
the article on Pennlive.com about our brigade and all the negative
comments on it. I got an email from a friend who has never been in
the military that sums up the feelings of many people here:

"Those people are bitter and have absolutely no shame about
airing dirty laundry. Those are some seriously detailed comments and a
lot of insubordination. I think the whiners are the "kids" in their
20s who have grown up with Facebook and Twitter, where you just post
before you think. I couldn't get past reading five posts, because all
of it basically said the same thing. It's like the snowball effect for
complaining. Once someone starts, it becomes an avalanche of 'I have
it worse than you do'."


A friend from Europe said, "Apparently they are Americans first and soldiers second. Individual freedom is some kind of demi-god in America and an excuse for a lot of bad behavior."

On the good side, the comments are starting to swing back toward, "Shut up."

And life goes on here. I was in a maintenance hangar a few nights ago after a very proud platoon sergeant left a note saying her soldiers would be removing and servicing the drive train of a Blackhawk helicopter and also removing and inspecting the engines from a Chinook helicopter. She was right. Soldiers were over, under and around those helicopter power trains. I got some good pictures despite the weird lighting in the maintenance hangar.

Despite the impression those comments give, there are a lot of soldiers working their butts off here in Tallil and at the other sites where our brigade is stationed. And even the people who have it relatively good are still here wearing long sleeves and carrying a weapon when the temp climbs near or over 130 F at Noon.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Artist's Revenge

All the years I worked at Godfrey Advertising in Lancaster I saw how frustrated artists would get when their clear, coherent designs came back from clients. Sometimes modified, sometimes all but ruined, almost always worse. Because it takes good taste to evaluate art, but clients usually just had money.

We must wear either ACU fatigues or PT uniforms. The one caveat is that we are allowed to wear a unit PT shirt. So one of the three members of our unit with artistic ability volunteered to design the t-shirt. He clearly drew the short straw. A woman in my squad designed the coin that our commander and first sergeant present for people who go beyond the norm. She was designing just for the command staff. The t-shirt will be worn by everyone. So when the design was complete, not just a pencil concept, the artist began to get lots of advice from people who outranked him.

The t-shirt falls under my control to some extent because I am the Morale, Welfare and Recreation NCO. So for $800 I got to do something I never could do at an ad agency. I told the specialist who was getting buried with advice that I would front the money for the first order and to go ahead with the design as is. We are only getting enough t-shirts for half the company with the initial order, so I am sure I will get my money back--hopefully in time to pay the credit card bill. But if not, I still got to move the process along and leave the artwork the way it was designed rather than let a committee change it. In three weeks or so we will be stylish at PT.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Photos from my Desktop

Today's post is photos that ended up on my desk top that I meant to post at various times.

This is the big cliff near our barracks back at For Sill OK. I still can't believe people wanted to be here instead of there.

Ahh the good old days when I could walk up to that cliff and talk on my cell phone.

A very good view of our tent in Kuwait--77 of us lived here. I was in the far corner to the right.

A photo of me before pacing the weekly 5k run at 0600 on Wednesdays. I still can't run, but I finish first in the running race!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Army Morality

The Army, like every socialist government, needs a moral consensus for its citizens. In the same way that the American government reflects the morals of its citizens, the Army can only be as moral as its leaders. I have mentioned in earlier posts that we are strictly forbidden from committing adultery and from having any sort of sexual relationship within our own chain of command. For the rest there are various restrictions, but, like the ban on pornography, the main result (for which I am very thankful) is that soldiers who watch porn or have a relationship with another soldier must be discrete about it. (Almost) no one is looking for those who violate the rules, but if it becomes public. . .

Its not like I expect the Army to adopt the moral code of any major religion, but for those of us who know the standards of Christianity and Judaism, the lectures we get seem very strange. We have received the "don't screw fellow soldiers, don't commit adultery lecture" from officers who have talked in the DFAC about fraternity exploits that involve many couples having sex in the same room "But not group sex." Glad he clarified that.

And although there are signs on public computers to remind us that General Order #1 forbids viewing pornography, the some of the No Sex lecturers encouraged soldiers to use the DVD and right (or left) hand method to relieve the frustration of lack of sex.

Those who are charged with enforcing the rules know their task is hopeless and mostly hope they will not be forced to enforce penalties on someone dumb enough to get caught. So the moral restrictions are not morally based. They are practical. Without restrictions on porn and sex among soldiers, those who don't participate will be battered by those who do. We live close together, work close together, and need more civility than many soldiers actually have in order to get along together.

But sometimes the lines of what is permitted get blurred--and really weird. Today I was in a meeting in which someone brought up their perception that the Department of Defense had conflicting standards--saying on the one hand they have zero tolerance for sexual assault and on the other hand selling magazines with nearly naked women in them in the PX.

For this person, the fact that nearly every DVD player is used for things a lot more explicit than Maxim magazine was not the same thing. That was a matter of privacy. The PX doesn't sell porn, so the DOD is not endorsing it, like selling Maxim.

Really? We are in Army barracks. Our computers could all be confiscated if a high-enough ranking officer decided that confiscation was necessary for good order and discipline. That means DOD allows us to have computers.

It can be very strange trying to figure these things out.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

War is Hell--but Dinner is Good

If you say the Sunday Patriot-News article on the brigade I serve with, you might want to go back again and look at the comments with the article: 42 and counting. The writers of these anonymous comments are quite upset about the article, which portrays us as living in a Five-Star resort, in a very hot climate. One guy wrote 500 ALL CAPS WORDS complaining about, well, everything. Others complained that the article was not about them, their job, their difficulties.

Those who have asked me what they could send that would be useful could send me disposable razors because our seemingly endless supply has run out. Also packets of Propel or G2 for one drink bottle--they come in boxes of 10 or 20 packets. (Serious request)

And you could also send cases of Kleenex for the commenters on the article. (Just kidding) Wow. I don't remember hearing about a resumption of the draft. We all volunteered. This is a war.

I was discussing the comments on this article with a half-dozen sergeants, all in their 30s. They most described the comments as crying, but thought some of them were good. While we were discussing the comments we had the following for dinner:

Steak; boiled, split lobster tail; fried shrimp
Corn on the cob, green beans, corn bread, mashed potatoes
Salad, fruit salad, fresh-cut watermelon

Although we all had surf and turf, one could also get
Hamburgers, fried chicken, grilled chicken
fries, onion rings
wings bar, potato bar
Chinese bar--Lo Mein, sweet and sour chicken, fried rice

A dozen different pies and cakes
banana splits
yogurt
fruit juices, coffee, milk, soda, Gatorade

Right--a soup and sandwich bar. The sandwiches are made to order on a half-doen different breads and rolls and grilled if you want.
A Nacho bar
A fresh fruit bar

War is Hell--but Dinner is Good

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Dimensions. . .

In the past couple of days, I have had the chance to speak with two women who are sergeants and in their 30s. One is in a close combat support job, the other in an administrative job in a support battalion. I have known the first sergeant for almost two years, never speaking for more than five minutes at a time. She is, to go with initial impressions, a tough woman who keeps up with guys out on the flight line and partying. She has an acid wit. She and some of her sergeant buddies sometimes sit in the DFAC and rate people in the serving line--and speculate about their lives.

Then I talked with sergeant tough guy about her plans after deployment. It turns out they are all set up. She moved back home with her ailing parents and is planning to care for them. She never talked about work, but will have a steady job that allows her to care for Mom and Dad, whom she clearly loves and admires very much. I don't know when or if I will see that side of her again, but it was interesting to see her as a loving and devoted daughter.

Moving in the other direction, the woman in the support battalion is tall, intense single Mom who is carefully planning completing a bachelor's degree, Officer's Candidate School, and then completing her career as an officer. Unlike sergeant tough guy who always sits in a group in the DFAC, sergeant soon-to-be-an-officer eats alone and reads. The brief conversations we have had have been about books, raising daughters, etc.

Until a couple of days ago. We got on the subject of Afghanistan and she said, "We need to take some people out." I thought she would continue in her support-unit role as an officer, but she seems quite ready to get as close as women are allowed to the front lines.

A week ago, if someone asked me, I would have said sergeant tough guy would be back in Afghanistan within a year and the other sergeant would be locked into a five-year stateside assignment. The reverse is closer to the truth. Tough guy will most likely be caring for Mom and Dad in 2011, and the new lieutenant will be in Afghanistan--and I would not want to be one of our nation's enemies downrange of her weapon.

Monday, August 10, 2009

These Kids Today. . .

Last night I was reading in the Coffee Shop and when a national guard master sergeant walked over and talked to me. He is 57. He could see I am his age/generation and decided to be friendly by talking about "these kids today. . ." The subject on his mind was physical training. He said when his unit got activated they had a 31% pass rate on the fitness test (APFT). Right away I felt better. My unit had a 63% pass rate at the beginning of training--twice as good the Wisconson company. Right now we are at almost 90% overall and all but one soldier in the motor pool (Sergeant Rumpled if you remember him) has passed. I think his boys and girls haven't yet gotten to the level where we started.

I could quickly see we were not going to be friends. He did not think anyone should be doing PT in Iraq, especially running, and he, himself, thought PT was unnecessary at our age. He then told me he flunked his last PT test because he had to run at 4000 feet of altitude. (He needed to run two miles in 19:54!!!) Since the conversation was the standard old-guy lecture format of "I have an idea in my head just now and I am going to get it all out before I forget it" I mentioned that I do PT every day before he went any further.

He took a breath then said how he works very hard as a mechanic and then works at home and in his yard after his eight hours.

I told him I had to go to a meeting.

The Master Sergeant had no idea he is the problem. I listen to the old-school guys every day talking about how undisciplined the new generation is. But like master sergeant "world-revolves-around-me," the ones who see the younger generation as full of excuses are themselves shining example of excuse-makers. "These kids won't listen."
Are you kidding me? We are in Iraq. Where are they going to go? The trouble is that putting a soldier on extra duty means someone has to supervise it. Which is a huge pain in the butt for the NCO involved. But there is no problem doing it. People have extra duty for various infractions in our company because we have NCOs who are there to supervise it. Extra duty also has the great advantage of correcting conduct before the soldier screws up enough to get busted and have a permanent blot on their record. Extra duty is just that.

By the way, it's the 30-year-old NCOs in our unit--backed up by the first sergeant and commander--who keep discipline in the company as much as possible. In my world, the younger leaders are the clear about their duty. Some of the older ones, not so much.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Another Stateside Article

The front page of today's Harrisburg Patriot News has an article abut my unit and I am in it. Yes, Meredith, what a surprise!! The online version is here. If I get the print version with pictures I will try to post them.

When you follow the link, check out the comments. Two soldiers in among the 1100 in our brigade are really upset because the article is not about them. One goes on for several hundred words in ALL CAPS. It reminded of the copywriter in the Dorothy Sayers novel Murder Must Advertise who "From long habit of writing headlines could only think in capital letters."

Today I got some more good shots of mechanics doing a major service on a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. The ride to the maintenance hanger also made me think carefully about what constitutes good weather here. when I went to lunch it was 129 at 1230, but thankfully no wind. Three hours later I was riding to the maintenance hangar and the thermometer was a steady 124 the whole way. It was just 3.5 miles, but I drank a liter of water as soon as I arrived and another one while I was there. It was so nice to have just a 10mph wind that I enjoyed the ride, even with my hands cooking as I rode.

At 6pm I rode with around the perimeter with my Sunday night riding buddy. He runs 7 miles in the morning then rides 10 miles with me at night on Sundays. He's a tough guy. But he's still young. He's only 46.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Desert Cat Daily Distro

The on-line news and events source for those of us who have access to a military computer is Subject: Desert Cat Daily Distro. I am pasting in the issue from two days ago and removing all names and links. Just so you'll see the range of stuff happening on the base.

A lot of messages have the signature lines from the soldier's emails on them.





*****************

Please enjoy your Daily Distro filled with loads of intriguing information and gripping events going on around COB Adder.
[until two weeks ago it said "titillating events"--I have no idea what motivated the change to gripping]


***NOTE: I CAN NOT REMOVE YOU FROM THE DISTRO LIST.***



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COB ADDER ATTACK WARNING SIGNALS:

PLEASE follow link below in reference to the COB ADDER ATTACK WARNING SIGNALS




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Garrison Conference Room:

Open to all units who need to utilize the conference room.

You will have to go through the Garrison Helpdesk at ...to make an appointment.
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Air Force Daily Link:

Events are open to all DOD personnel.

Also located on the Cob Adder Portal under Tallil Activities and Events.


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Jeopardy

Subject: Movies

Question: Who is Truman Capote?

Answer: Philip Seymour Hoffman won a Best Actor Oscar in 2006 for portraying
this In Cold Blood author.

Winners: *****************************************************************************
Special Meal Request and Room Reservations:

Send all Special Meal Request and room reservations to ...


Together we can accomplish the mission.
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167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion Transfer of Authority Ceremony:

The Officers and Soldiers of the 167th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the
2-162nd Infantry Battalion cordially invite you to attend their Transfer of Authority Ceremony

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This Camp Adder band is looking for a lead singer. They specialize in Punk and Rock music. Their performance includes cover and original songs.


It's easy to find reasons not to get involved "True compassion puts love into action"
-Unknown-
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6 Man Team Soccer League:

I am starting a 6 man team soccer league that will play 12 weeks, 1 game a week, on Saturday nights at Camp terandak field on hammer rd. One of the attachments in a brief description of the league and the second is the team roster. I would like to start the league next weekend so I need the team rosters by COB Saturday.

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BEYOND NARNIA--A Discussion of books by CS Lewis

Where: MWR Library opposite House of Pain Gym
When: 2000 hours every Monday
1st Book: "The Weight of Glory"

We are reading one essay per week and discussing it. For Monday, August 10, the essay is "Learning in War Time."
I still have copies of the book.

For more information contact Neil Gussman neil.g.gussman@iraq.centcom.mil or ngussman@gmail.com 833-5171
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Women of Professional Concept (WPC) Group:

The meeting time for WPC is 0800-0900 on Thursdays in RAC Room A7, next to "God's Grounds" Coffee shop across from the Coalition DFAC. FREE COFFEE!

This Week's Topics (6 AUG 09):See Situational Questions

Q: Two people in our small office consistently come in late, leave early and take two hours for lunch. As the human resources manager, I've told my boss that we need to put a stop to this, because other employees are starting to complain about unfair treatment. My boss gripes about this tardiness, but if I ask him to confront the employees, he always says "It won't do any good" or "Maybe we should just get rid of them." His refusal to deal with performance issues is driving me crazy. What can I do?

Q: How do I get my co-worker to stop annoying me? She is very self-centered, whiny and needy. I have told her this and given her the cold shoulder, but she can't take a hint. I just want her to leave me alone. How can I make that happen without creating tension in the office?

"People are your most precious asset; neglect them and you'll fail."
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"30 Life Principles" Tallil Women's Bible Study!

"30 Life Principles" Women's Bible Study! A study for growing in the knowledge and understanding of God. Every Monday at 1900 in the Tallil Main Chapel. The weekly study is led by CPT Musheerah Kolen of 121st BSB, 4th BCT.

For more information contact . . .
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10th Combat Support Hospital Physical Therapy Service:

Running Form - Who Taught You How to Run?


Educational Materials Provided by your Army Physical Therapist Army Medical Specialist Corps

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REDEPLOYMENT/DoDAAC Question and Answer Session:

Just bring any question you have about HI-PRI's, DoDAAC's, Exchange Pricing, and Redeployment procedures.

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Education Center Services:

ATTENTION COB ADDER:

The COB Adder Forces Command Education Center is not fully operational at this time. Our capabilities include GT Improvement study hall and Testing AFCT (GT), AFAST, DLAB, and Proctoring of College Exams. Soon we will have computers available for Soldiers to do their College work.

Due to the limitations of the Ed Center, I am referring everyone to either email or call the Victory Base Education Center (Baghdad) at victory.edcenter@us.army.mil or by phone at 318-485-2935 or 318-485-2648 if I am unable to assist.

Thank you for your patience.

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ABS / CORE training Class - Change 3.2

Previously on Tuesday's and Thursday's at the Sprung Center and or House of Pain Gym will now be on Monday's and Thursday's from 1930-2000 at the House of Pain Gym in the stretching room.

This class emphasizes on strengthening all dimensions of the core muscles with many variations of crunches as well as push-ups. Music is generally provided however, all are welcome to wear their own personal MP3 player. This class is for beginners as well and everyone is welcome to join.

Mats, Towels, Water and Motivation provided- Just show up.

See ya there!

"The Mean Abs Lady"
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July Legal Assistance Newsletter:

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DEFERMENT OF PERIODIC DENTAL EXAMS:

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CALLING ALL DIVINE 9 ON COB ADDER

If you are a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. and Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc.

Please email or call . . .
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Education Center Testing:

Testing for the AFAST, AFCT (GT) and DLAB will be held at the Education Center located near the Body Shop Gym (off of 4th and Longknife, between LA5 and LA6 in the former HEAT training building.) Study hall is Tuesdays and Thursdays 1800-2000..

See flyer for test dates and times.

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167 CSSB 25 July Newsletter:

Please enjoy the final issue of the 167th CSSB's Granite Times at COB Adder. Publication will restart once the Granite Battalion moves to its new location.

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Ali series of Texas Hold Em:

Please help spread the word.

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Power Yoga

If you have any questions, please contact me.

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MRAP Training:

Do you know the services provided at the MRAP Support Site ?
"We support the War Fighter"

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Final edition of the Chain Link:

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Step Aerobics at Muscle Beach:

Starting this week, Muscle Beach (AF Gym) will be offering Step Aerobics with weights on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday evenings at 1800. Class will be immediately followed by the ongoing "Abs and Core" class. Great music, great workout!

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SPIN CLASS New Location:

HOUSE OF PAIN

GOOD MUSIC & GOOD WORKOUT

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Tallil Dead Poets Society:

The Tallil Dead Poets Society meets in the MWR Library opposite the House of Pain Gym every Tuesday at 2000. For the next seven weeks we will be reading Inferno by Dante--a guided tour of Hell written about 1300 AD. I have several copies of the book I can give to participants on a 1st come, 1st served basis.

For more info, contact Neil Gussman:
ngussman@gmail.com or neil.g.gussman@iraq.centcom.mil
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"Your thoughts determine your feelings, and your feelings influence your actions"
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Points of Contact Tallil/Balad ARA Office:

In preparation of our move to Balad on 3 July. Starting 1 July the Army Reserve Affairs office Tallil will be unavailable via NIPRNET, SIPRNET computers and phones with the exception of the below number. If any assistance is needed please call or come by BLDG 311 or call the Balad office @ We thank you for your patience during our transition.

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MNC-I Army Reserve Affairs News letter

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ATTENTION ALL ADDER!!!!

When submitting for a Special Meal Request you need to have your O5 or higher sign and then bring to Bldg. 311 room 14 for processing. The DFACs cannot issue out any food without the Special Meal Request having all four signatures.

Those having any questions you can call me at . . .

Together we can accomplish the mission.
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Focus 5/6 Movie Night:


Focus 5/6 will host a movie every Sunday @ The Big Top.

Please see the attached flier and help spread the great news!

Thank you,

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COB Adder Water Conservation Program

As we enter summer, help save our most precious natural resource. Water.

Tips to reduce water usage:
- If you take a water bottle be sure to use all of it.
- Turn off water when brushing teeth or shaving.
- Do not run water on full blast.
- Contact the work order desk if broken/leaky, shower heads, water facets or toilets are found

As we continue through the summer water providing adequate water supplies will be a constant struggle.
Be part of the solution. Conserve water usage.
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"Please review the attached Finance Flash Eagle Cash tips use. This will assist you in the future when US Currency is reduced or removed from the Tallil Finance Office."

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ATTENTION ALL ADDER WARRANT OFFICERS!

We are updating the Adder Warrant distribution list.

The list is used for notification of WOPD times (which are laid back and cool to attend), warrant related news, or general questions to the group.

Please email me if you would like to be added.

Thanx & have a great Warrant day!

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Post Chapel:

Come to a new Praise & Worship Service on Wednesdays at the ADDER Post Chapel at 19:00, everyone welcome.

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COB Adder:

Want to make a positive change in your life? Stop smoking? Stop dipping? Better manage your stress or anger? Take advantage of the Combat Stress Classes offered and sign up for a class today.

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HAZCOM TRAINING: Incident Response Team (IRT) will offer Hazard Communication (HAZCOM) training. This course will provide training related to Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), identification of possible hazards in the work place and procedures to notification of hazards and necessary precautions. It also provides training related to proper handling, storage and safe disposal of Hazardous Material (HM) and Hazardous Waste (HW) including used Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL), batteries, acids and pesticides. Target audience for this training are soldiers involved in managing motor pool and anybody handling HM/HW. Please contact Benjamin Smith of COB Adder IRT at (318) 833-5977 (DSN) or Benjamin.d.smith@iraq.centcom.mil to reserve a seat in the class. Please provide trainee's last name, first name, rank or position (civilian), unit, telephone and e-mail address.


Place: Post Chapel

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612 MCT SOP:

612th Movement Control Detachment (MCT) is the new MCT on COB ADDER. All customers please ensure that all TMRs, AMRs, JMRs, and all other requests are filled out correctly prior to submission. When submitting Transportation Movement Requests (TMRs); all customers should verify prior to TMR submission to the MCT that all POCs information is correct and valid. Incorrect POCs or if the MCT cannot contact/validate POCs will result in rejected TMRs.

"We Never Stop"
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Every Man's Battle:

Are you suffering from addiction or temptation? There's a Bible Study for men on every Tuesday now at 1900. The Study will come from Stephen Artburn, "Every Man's Battle". Study materials will be provided. You may come by the Chapel and receive the book at anytime. Come join us for this ministry to help those in need. Please see the attached flyer. I want to thank everyone that has made it to this study and helping one another. Chaplain Wright will be the POC for more information. I will miss everyone. Take care and keep the faith.

"WhY sO sErIoUs? LeTs PuT a SmIle On ThAt FaCe!"
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"New - Bedrock Sunday Gospel Service" at the BIG TOP 1300

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Please come to our Sunday Worship Services at BLDG 713, everyone welcome. Take the South Route bus to the Warrior's DFAC stop. Building 713 is behind the DFAC. Please see the attached flier and help spread the great news!

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Country Night

Thursday Night Country at Memorial Hall is still going on. As we say farewell to DJ Hop-Long we are bringing in DJ House up to the stage. She will be kicking off the tunes at 1930 all the way up to 2300. So if you are looking for a good time and a great bunch of people to hang around with, then come on by and see what it's all about. Lessons will still be given just at a different time. Thank you to everyone for their continual support that keeps Country Night going. Thank you again for all your support and I will miss each and every one of you.

http://tallil-home/Garrison/Tallil%20Activities%20and%20Events/NEW%20COUNTRY%20WESTERN%20FLYER.ppt

DJ Hop-Long
SGT LOGAN, JOSHUA
"WhY sO sErIoUs? LeTs PuT a SmIle On ThAt FaCe!"
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"SOUTH SIDE SALSA"

Learn to Salsa, Bachata and Merengue. We had another great turnout Saturday. The beginner's class focused on basic Salsa and Bachata steps. The advanced class focused on Salsa turns and locks. Thanks to Jose and David, more Soldiers and Airmen have improved their dancing skills. The change in lesson hours worked better for Soldiers this week. Thanks to all the Soldiers and Airmen who joined us last week the event was fun for all. Come join us for lessons every Saturday 20:00 to 21:00. Music begins at 19:30 and dancing continues until 23:30. Take the South Route bus to the Warrior's DEFAC stop. Building 713 is behind the DEFAC.

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Coalition Café South :

Do to the increase during the lunch time, the Coalition Café South will not take any room reservations for the Abrams Room (Large Room) during lunch. We would greatly appreciate if you could schedule your room reservations for times other than the lunch hour to allow for seating for all who eat.


Together we can accomplish the mission.
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HQ, Multi-National Corps - Iraq, Army Reserve Affairs Newsletter, 1st Issue:

The Tallil ARA office will be moving to Balad late next week. We will still be available as the Balad office covers the southern areas. I will send you a slide as the time to relocate draws near.

Thank you for your assistance.

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ALCON,

To save the life of your air conditioner, when you leave your CHU for the day or your office for the night, turn your AC to FAN. What this does, it gives the compressor time to rest and not freeze up. The more we practice this it will help the generators from overloading and will hopefully keep the power from shutting down in the future. Thank you for your support!

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AC Units:

This should help with some of our P1 emergency service calls a large % of them are due to tenants not using the recommended settings.

We are also going to distribute through our Billeting

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Just a reminder.

If soldier's are missing ID tags, personal items, Kevlar's, etc....Garrison Command BLDG 331,
has a Lost & found that is full of belongings!

Please direct your soldiers this way to collect their things!!

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Armor up with positive thought from your Combat Stress Control Team.

~ When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.~

- Anthony Robins
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Jeopardy

Subject: Movies

Answer: In 2007's The Bucket List, Morgan Freeman and this fellow Oscar winner
Escape a cancer ward to fulfill some wishes before they "kick the bucket"
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"Never tell evil of a man, if you do not know it for certainty, and if you know it for a certainty, then ask yourself, 'Why should I
tell it? You can tell more about a person by what he says about others than you can by what others say about him. Rumor travels
faster, but it don't stay put as long as truth." ;)

Friday, August 7, 2009


Remember this picture from the 2004 presidential campaign. The never-very-funny John Kerry stuck his foot way in his mouth and was rightly ridiculed by the soldiers who were serving in Iraq.

But this kind of joke can, in the lovely military metaphor, turn around and bite you in the ass.

That photo was shot in the building right next door to the motor pool where I work. My tool crib is 100 feet to the right of that memorable banner. I have written lately about volunteering at the education center. Except, it is not an education center in the sense that it has a staff or computers or anything like that. It is just a building. We have been hearing since we arrived there would be an education center.

I am one of the volunteers helping people study to retake their Army qualification test. A few medics run the program on their off time, but when two sergeants came in last night at different times asking for things a real education center could do, we had to send them to the Air Force education center to get contact info for an Army Center 200 miles away.

This base, Tallil Ali, which was mentioned in a feature in the current New York Times magazine on solider suicide, has been in American hands since the beginning of the war. As I have said in other posts, we have gyms, shopping, great food, great housing, but. . .

This is the only major base in Iraq with no education center. . .

Kerry supporters should get a smile out of that.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

100 Laps of Tallil Ali Air Base

Sometime between now and Saturday, I will have ridden 100 laps of Tallil Ali Air Base. I rode the perimeter as soon as my bike got here in the beginning of May. Then I rode almost every day since, with a long break while I was home on leave in June. It's a little hard to count exactly from my mileage because I ride the perimeter road every day except when the worst sandstorms prevent me. I think I have missed three or four days at the most. Many days I ride two laps (including today) and some days I have ridden three laps.

The post is rectangular and has a well-guarded perimeter fence which I never get within 100 meters of and sometimes I am hundreds of yards away. I usually ride counter clockwise because the wind, as in Pennsylvania, is usually out of the west and riding counterclockwise gives me a tail wind on the long, deserted stretch on the southside.

I start out riding 1/3-mile on dirt and stones to get out of the housing area and then turn squarely into the wind. In about a mile I turn south and have the wind at my side for another mile and a half. The road then sweeps left and I start going fast. I have to slow down a half-mile later because the road disappears for a quarter mile in sand and rippled pavement: not too bad on the mountain bike but really rough on the road bike. Then I get more almost three miles of tail wind, another side wind then a final two miles of bad headwind.

That loop is 10.2 miles. I add an extra half mile sometimes and ride a little further south near the rifle range. I can also cut a mile off by taking a dirt shortcut--only on the dirt bike.

The short loop with extra dirt would have been the race course.

If I keep riding as I am now by the time we leave I may have circled Tallil Ali almost 300 times!! But I am quite happy riding the same route week after week, so it's almost like home knowing the road this well. At home, my main ride is the "daily ride" with Scott Haverstick and whoever else shows up. The route never changes. I can't wait to be back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Who Fights this Long War

Today I met a maintenance sergeant, a tall, very upbeat guy from the New York City area. He has "sleeve" tattoos: colorful ink all the way from his shoulders to his wrists. He recently turned 26 and is new to helicopter maintenance, but likes his work. He may try to get civilian work in this field after the deployment, but also hopes to get work as a National Guard technician. Or maybe he will find another unit that's deploying.

That would make four deployments.

This current deployment is his third. In 2004-5 he was in Iraq as a medic. Within 12 months he had a tour in Afghanistan as an infantryman, returning in 2007. He could not find steady work in 2008, so he volunteered to deploy again, which included retraining as an aviation mechanic. And you should not feel bad for him. By all indications I could get, he thinks this is a perfectly good way to make a living.

I have talked to many soldiers in their 20s on this deployment who have no ambition to higher education and simply want honest work with their hands. One of the reasons this long war could be fought is the years and years of declining employment opportunities for blue-collar workers.

If President Obama manages to end the two wars he inherited, he will add new pressure to the unemployment bubble. It seems pretty sure if the wars don't end and blue collar jobs with a living wage don't return to America, this young sergeant will turn 30 in Afghanistan on his fifth deployment.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Book Groups and the Education Center

A couple of weeks ago I was worried I was giving a Pollyanna impression of life in Iraq. During the last two weeks you could wonder if chicken shit and job confusion are the sum of my days. That would be just as wrong. Yesterday, after all the job drama was over, I finished my work in the motor pool, then spent a couple of hours before dinner transferring and shrinking photos for the company newsletter.

At dinner I saw a young woman in my squad eating dinner with two older female sergeants. This might be the third time I have seen them as a dinner group in the last week. The young sergeant-to-be is 23 and will be a lot better off with female mentors.

Next was the first meeting of "Beyond Narnia" as CS Lewis reading group I started. There were four soldiers at the first meeting and four more who should be coming next week. Three of the four people were from the Dante group, so the fourth, a chaplain with a unit that arrived recently, introduced himself, then I told the group about CS Lewis's life and work after which they asked questions for about 20 minutes. It was a lot of fun. One asked about Shadowlands (the CSL movie) and about his family. Another asked for more details about CSL's conversion.

We will be reading the book of essays titled The Weight of Glory and out first essay will be "Learning in War Time." Thanks go out again to the father of one of the lieutenants in our unit who sent us most of the books. Three more were sent by Brigitte Van Tiggelen, a historian who regularly visits the library/museum where I work.

Today I worked in the motor pool until 3pm then drove over to the repair hangards on the other side fo the base to shoot pictures of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter going through major maintenance. I got some good shots of a crew removing the rotor hubs from the top of the bird. Tomorrow I will get more shots of the overhaul work.

After the photos, I went to the education center. I helped a couple of soldiers with word problems then spoke to the woman who coordinates the tutoring sessions. Barring schedule changes, I should be able to volunteer an hour on Tuesday and two hours on Thursday.

At the Dante group tonight, the first order of business was voting on the next book. Aeneid won by one vote over Purgatorio. But everyone agreed we would go back to Purgatorio after Aeneid. We should be able to read Inferno, Aeneid, Purgatorio and start Paradiso before I rotate out, and maybe someone else can take over.

We got our first question for the translator tonight. Tony Esolen, who translated the version we are reading, agreed to take questions by email if I can't answer them. Tonight's question: Cleopatra and Dido are suicides, why are they in the higher part of Hell where Lust is punished (easier punishment) not five levels down with the suicides?

Life is mostly good.

Monday, August 3, 2009

My Job, or Jobs

With my squad leader getting knee surgery 6,000 miles away, I am in charge of the nine members of 4th squad. But with additional duties, leaves, and temporary assignments, my squad is usually three or four specialists, one of whom should make sergeant soon and maybe another before the tour is over.

So that is job one. Job two is being sergeant tool bitch which lately mostly means taking care of the operating system of the big tool box--the compressor, generator and such--and making up hand receipts to inventory all the special tools stuffed in Conex containers. But a big part of this job is actually being in the motor pool from 7am to 3pm every day except Thursday and every 4th Sunday.

Job three is where it gets messy. My company commander and first sergeant want me to do various extra duties within the company, first and foremost the next issue of the newsletter and also serve as Morale, Welfare and Recreation sergeant. The battalion commander wants me to do public affairs for the battalion. Although there are no official hours for the battalion job, it ends up conflicting with the motor pool.

I have a chain of command and for those of you who work in a modern multi-tasking office setting, I suppose you would assume I manage my own time and balance the needs of one job against the other and do the best I can at all of them.

I tried that.

The result was a rather loud discussion with the battalion motor officer last week about how much my presence was required in the motor pool.

My platoon sergeant regularly reminds me that my squad comes first.

The first sergeant is emphatic that the company comes first.

I spoke with the sergeant major at the battalion today about where I might be shooting photos for the battalion in the near future, taking for granted I would be working for the battalion.

My company commander told me how important it is for the team to stay together and he said my first priority is my duties as a leader in the motor pool and company welfare activities.

Today I walked into the DFAC at 1pm. The battalion commander was eating lunch with his assistant. The BC said, "Hey Goose, come over here." So he asked my about bicycling--he has a bike here also--then said "How come you don't want to work for me?" He had gotten the idea I did not want to work for the battalion. I told him otherwise but said I was expecting all of the "senior guys" (He's in his early 40s) to work out what I should be doing. I like my work for the battalion, but it is work. I can't do it as an et cetera that does not intrude on the motor pool schedule.

Sometimes it's fun to be popular.

Lately it's not.

Did I mention that everyone in my chain of command is expecting me to be doing all of my assigned work. This is not a civilian job where I try to get the best results with limited resources and get rated as such. I am really expected to obey all of those guys. They all have said what they want. I think they have all been around enough to know what they are telling me is in direct conflict with what five other people are telling me. But each assumes because he said it, I am doing it.

Jobs one and two are a full-time job for the other three squad leaders. The BC asked me today if I was politicking. I could honestly answer I was not. I want someone to decide what I am supposed to be doing and what I am not supposed to be doing. And then I will do whatever they decide for just five and half more months.

Then we go home.

I'll let you know how things turn out.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Eviction Notice

Today my roommate and I returned to the CHU just a few minutes apart around 130pm. I was shooting pictures at the Softball Tournament, he was coming back from being in the motor pool since 7am. I was the first to see an all capital letters paper taped to our door that began:

IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION THAT ONLY ONE SOLDIER IS LIVING IN THIS ROOM. THIS ROOM HAS BEEN DESIGNATED FOR IMMEDIATE OCCUPANCY BY A SECOND AUTHORIZED SOLDIER. IF AN UNAUTHORIZED SOLDIER OR CIVILIAN IS LIVING IN THIS ROOM HIS OR HER BELONGINGS WILL BE REMOVED. . .YOU HAVE 48 HOURS TO REPORT TO THE BILLETING OFFICE AND RESOLVE THIS MATTER.

"IT HAS COME TO OUR ATTENTION. . ." are they kidding? How? Do they have spies? "They" is, of course, the garrison, who you will remember from all my other posts about Chicken Shit are responsible for health and welfare issues and for security.

My roommate and I are each either side of six feet tall, either side of 200 pounds and come in two distinctly different colors. Any idiot who could tape a sign to a door on a Sunday morning could have visited us in the evening, knocked on the door and determined that there are, in fact, two armed maintenance sergeants from Echo Company living in this CHU and have been since May 3.



Why the accusation followed by threats? Well certainly our garrison is to effective communications as Richard Simmons is to masculinity. But the accusation that followed does have a practical advantage. While my roommate and I are clearly right, we both know that even if the garrison won't bother to contact us personally they will have no hesitation to fulfill the vague threat on the door.

Since I have a bike, I rode the half mile to the billeting office as instructed and let my roommate chill out. As it turns out, my roommates hand receipt (the piece of paper which says you are occupying the room) is missing, s he also needs to walk over to billeting within 48 hours or find himself evicted for no reason except that paperwork which is not his responsibility to maintain is missing.

When I asked billeting about the threats on the door, a civilian employee rolled her eyes and said, "Garrison" under her breath. I asked nothing else. She said my paperwork is in order and my roommate will have to walk over and straighten his paperwork out--within 48 hours.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

If You Love Kitties, Don't Read. . .

My wife sent me a lovely email about my son Nigel. He loves animals. My wife found a mouse nest in the garage and let Nigel care for a baby mouse. He spent much of today with the mouse, watching it in its new clear-plastic-container home. Nigel is a sweet kid. Luckily for him, his eyesight and hearing will not allow him to join the military when he gets older. Because animal lovers have a tough time in this crowd.

Now we switch to tonight's dinner. In the usual random way that dinner groups form by whoever recognizes each other siting together, I was sitting with two senior female sergeants: by senior I mean in rank, they are both in their mid-30s. We were joined by our commander and executive officer: two Penn State grads who are 25 and 24 respectively. One of the sergeants brought up our commander's age. I thought I was twice as old as he is, but it turns out I am three years older than twice as old as he is. So then everybody played a game of "What was Sergeant Gussman doing when I was born?" The youngest guy added "What was sergeant Gussman doing when my mother was born? I was four at the time."

With everybody laughing the topic switched to animals in Iraq. The commander had not seen any cats here, only insects and reptiles. One of the sergeants had been assigned to a remote fueling site early in the deployment. The site had a mascot, a small kitten. Fuelers work 24 hours filling helicopters with JP-8 fuel. Their primary vehicle is an 8-wheel-drive, all-terrain HEMMT fuel truck. During one of the night fuel missions the kitten was hiding under one of the HEMMT's six-foot high tires when the truck rolled out.

The next day a very sad sergeant announced with tears "We have lost one of our team." Soldiers started looking around to see who was missing. Then the sergeant said, "Fluffy got run over by a HEMMT last night." According to my witness everyone was relieved at first then started yelling at the sergeant for scaring them and saying, "IT'S ONLY A F#$KING CAT. . ." and other variants on that theme, before they started making jokes about him.

Which led to stories about other fuelers who captured a camel spider (the local scorpion) and how cool it is to watch when these scorpions catch a lizard and how the exactly scorpion eats the lizard.

I am glad my son the animal lover will be a civilian.