Thursday, July 30, 2009

No Bike Race


One of my big goals, hopes for this deployment was to organize a bike race in Iraq. In case you think this is indicative of severe mental defect or some history of intoxication, a race did not seem crazy to me. Until this month, I thought it was very possible.

First, I was initially supposed to go to a huge air base near Baghdad with paved roads, including a six-mile loop around the air field. At the last minute we were re-assigned to another huge base in the south. Here at Tallil Ali Air Base, there is a 15-kilometer perimeter road which is mostly paved. Some of it is bumpy, but a few miles are very smooth. I can ride the loop on a road bike slowing for the dirt stretches and the worst bumps. It's no problem on a mountain bike.

Speaking of bikes, I estimate there are about 300 to 400 soldiers, airmen and civilian workers with bikes. There could be more. But whenever I ride in the main area of post I see other people riding and bikes chained up at various buildings. Until mid-July there was a group of airmen that would ride together every week. So there were people riding around post and there are a few who ride with me for speed once or twice a week.

So I hoped to have a race/ride. I figured I could find 20 people who would want to race and maybe another 50 to 100 who would ride the perimeter of the post with Military Police at the intersections. I pitched the idea to the garrison MWR (Morale Welfare Recreation) people within a week of my arrival. They thought it was a great idea and encouraged me to get a proposal together, but the new garrison would be taking over while I was home on leave in June, so I would have to propose the idea to them.

After a few delays, I had the meeting two weeks ago. At the meeting I was asked about my strategic plans for perimeter security, about the number of soldiers I could guarantee would participate, and about safety. At one point in the discussion on perimeter security I looked down at the sergeant stripes on my chest and said, "I am a squad leader with five soldiers. What can I do abut perimeter security?" But they wanted food and a party at the end like the 15k running race that happened on July 11. The running race had 400+ participants and, for most people, running 15k is a big deal. Riding 15k is not a big deal. The slowest riders can do it in an hour. the winner of the race would have finished under 30 minutes.

So I was looking at a small, first-time event that would bring out the bicyclists on our big air base and help to form a cycling community. They were looking for an event that is way beyond my resources. There was a follow-up email asking me to provide all the things I could not provide: guaranteed participation, perimeter security strategic plans, etc. I answered the memo then the next day sent another memo withdrawing my offer to organize the race.

When you answer a question and the same person comes back asking again all the questions for which they did not get the answer they want, then the choice is give in to the demands or fight. I chose to walk away. It was awkward, but I have other things going on with MWR that are going well and I don't want to get in pissing contest over a single event. The MWR sergeant who manages most of the programs has given me a room for a Dante book group and a CS Lewis book group (starting Monday) and set me up with the new Education Center (opening soon) to possibly serve as a writing tutor one night per week. They also got lights for the softball field which is what the soldiers in my company cared about more than anything else, and they may let one of our sergeants be the "Commissioner of the Softball League."

So given all that I don't want to fight over the bike race. And I got to do three races while I was home on leave and one in Oklahoma, so I have already done four races despite the deployment. Not such a bad year.

(And for those who know something of my riding history, the garrison also wanted me to guarantee that an event with most of the participants on Wal-Mart-quality, sand-coated Huffys would be safe. All I could do was smile.)

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