December 29, 2006

Round two is on the horizon

Departure time is slated for mid-to-late February. I have already waterproofed my boots, but I still need to get new stripes sewn on my shirts. With the lessons learned during the last trip (and the hindsight gained), I can say for certain that this deployment will prove to be a more pleasant experience. Maybe.

January 12, 2006


I have finally posted my pictures of Iraq:

June 20, 2005


today i saw some graffiti on a desk: a charming line drawing, in permanent marker, of elmo (from sesame street, of course) saying "elmo thinks balad stinks." i have a thing for mindless non sequitur...
i've received many comments on my last few posts, and i'd be remiss not to thank you all for reading. it means a lot to me to know that there are peope who care about what i'm going through, even if they are 6,000 miles away.
i write this in order to take you with me. i have a hard time verbalizing my experiences in the past tense. actually, i have trouble motivating myself to verbalize them. i'm more apt to stay silent than try to relate a beautiful sunset or funny movie, because i just get frustrated when the other person doesn't completely 'get it' or empathize. it feels like doing a mediocre job of relating my experiences serves to cheapen them, and i've never been able to acheive more than a mediocre translation (those who know me well know that my sense of humor skirts transliteration and story-telling in favor of puns and double-entendre; i've never had much luck with the old 'so a guy walks into a bar' jokes).
but for this deployment, i knew that i would need the support of peope close to me. and, as the value of your condolences at a funeral wax according to the intimacy of your relationship with the deceased, i wanted to intimate my friends with iraq in order to bring them closer to me in this stressful time. it may be a selfish thing to do- to innoculate myself against pain by spreading it, in a way- but the feeling of support i've received has been enriched ten-fold by the knowledge that it comes from hearts that are the wiser of the situation because of my words. and for dealing with me doing this, i thank you.
also, there aren't many troops here who would be willing to talk about iraq quite this openly, or have the time to write. i think that in lieu of a bona fide journalist, my accounts will have to serve as the story of dozens of airmen and soldiers who live this life, and who will have to keep living it long after i've gone home. i feel kind of spoiled for only staying here for a month and a half.
my arrival date in duluth remains unchanged by the uncertainties of my departure. i'll see you all soon.

June 19, 2005

camel spiders

hi there. not much going on today... it's my day off. yesterday, chad found a huge camel spider in his shirt sleeve after he'd put it on (five minutes after he put it on). we were in the van and he just jumped up and started slapping himself and trying to get his shirt off. when he shook it out, a camel spider with an abdomen bigger than a golf ball fell out. it was pretty funny, but i guess you had to be there. it was a female, so we joked about it laying eggs in his shirt. now you don't see him wearing it as often. i've still got a few days before i leave, but it's getting closer. i guess that attack the other day was worse than i knew ( i feel terrible for the families of these soldiers. all these deaths are senseless, especially because they were probably just hanging out and trying to relax between missions. you just don't feel safe anywhere here. well, my time is up on this computer, so i'll talk to you all later.

June 18, 2005

Ultima Ratio Regum

'the last argument of kings'
this was inscribed on all of the cannons of louis XIV. the insurgents here are 'Ultima Ratio Regum' in one way, and i am 'Ultima Ratio Regum' in another way.
i wasn't going to publish this post, but i changed my mind. some things are too big to hold on to for long.

i got off of work at noon.
it was around 120 degrees, with no clouds in sight. i changed into my shorts as quickly as i could. i went to the gym, which is about a block away from my dorm. inside the gym, it was 90 degrees. i drank some water. i ran 4 miles. i did some sit-ups. i turned in my towel, and walked back to the dorm. the power went out. no air conditioning, no lights, no running water. my t-shirt was almost dry already. i took my book and went down the hall to the day room. i had to open the blinds to have enough light to read. i read a few pages.
in the distance, i heard an explosion. i thought it might be the explosive ordnance disposal guys setting off some old bombs. i looked down to my book. i heard another explosion. this explosion was close, maybe a quarter of a mile away. EOD explosions always go off in the same place. i closed my book- an attack meant i had to call in to my shop so they knew i was ok. what a pain in the neck. i reached the door of the day room. the floor rose under my feet- this explosion was close, way too close. i was running down the hall to my room in the dark. the alarm started wailing. people were shouting. i ran into my room. "get your gear on get your gear on get your gear on" i said. for half a second, i couldn't decide whether to put on my helmet or my vest first. i got my helmet out of my backpack, set it on my head. i ripped my vest out of my locker. the velcro wouldn't work. my hands wouldn't work. i couldn't breath. my room mate was frantic. i saw him put his vest on. the floor jumped under my feet. i couldn't hear over my heart beating. i got on the floor. i stood up. i sat on my bed. that sounded too close. they never come this close. the floor jumped again. the walls moved. i heard hard things hitting the roof. my knees were weak. i could hear myself breathing. i don't remember what people were saying. i sat on the floor. i was sweating. it was dim. the room smelled like sweat. my kidneys starting to hurt like i've never felt before. it felt like someone was taking a hammer to my back. i bent over, i straightened up, but it was persistent. i couldn't speak. in a few minutes it went away. i don't know if it was a muscle spasm or if it was all that adrenaline hitting my kidneys at once. i was worried that it was a kidney stone. that was not a good time for a kidney stone. it had been several minutes, and there had been no more explosions. i stood up unsteadily and went out into the hall to see if anyone was hurt. everyone else was in the hall, too. i stepped into the doorway and looked outside. everything looked normal. i talked with some people. i don't remember what we said. someone thought that the attack was over, and stepped outside our barricade into the road. "GET BACK INSIDE WE'RE STILL IN ALARM RED WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING OUT HERE" and we ran back to our rooms. we sat and waited. i was pretty much scared out of my mind. i thought i heard something on the giant voice outside, so i went to the front door. i heard another explosion, distant. "that's outgoing fire," someone said. another explosion, and another, getting closer. "i don't think our outgoing fire would get closer like that," i said. i went back to my room. a soldier came in and asked if there were any casualties. we were all ok. eventually we heard the alarm yellow- ok to go outside and look for unexploded bombs. behind my dorm was a group of soldiers looking at the ground. i could see chunks missing from the concrete barriers. they yelled at me to stay away. i went to the front of the dorm. a few dorms down, there was a crowd of people. i walked over. they were standing around a hole in the ground. the tail section of a large mortar was on the ground. the hole in the ground was 5 feet away from the barrier; it was 8 feet from the dorm itself. i took a few pictures. i walked back to my dorm. the soldiers were gone now; i walked to the hole, looking for pieces of the mortar. the hole in the ground was around 30 feet from my room. all up and down the cement barricades, chunks were missing. the crater was encircled by a tan bull's eye where the gravel was gone. i told the story of the attack over and over to people who were just arriving. i heard the stories about where the other mortars hit.
one landed in the community center by the gym, rec center, barber shop, and B/X. several injuries, one death. when it hit, aaron was getting his hair cut. he hit the floor as quickly as he could, in a pile of hair. kyle was leaning against a concrete barricade, talking to someone. when the round hit, he was pelted with gravel. he got down on the ground. chad and steve were outside the rec tent. when the round hit, steve looked back and chad was nowhere to be seen. it looks like we've got a new contender for the 100-meter dash.
at the third explosion, i could hear helicopters and f-16s taking off. when a mortar hits, it leaves a crater that can tell a trained eye a lot about where it came from. i have a lot of respect for the soldiers who were outside during the attack looking at the craters. they radio that info to their control center, and then it goes to our pilots. i don't know if we got the people who attacked us that day. they are getting too good at this for my comfort. with any luck, i'll be home in a few days. every explosion i hear sets my heart racing. i avoid open spaces. EOD sets off controlled detonations most days, without warning, a few hundred yards from my dorm. it's powerful enough to make my bed jump like a truck on a gravel road. a few days ago, the explosions didn't bother me- i had finally become accustomed to them. now i feel terror. there's no glory to be had in staying here a minute longer than i absolutely have to. all i want in the world is to be home again.
other than that, i'm fine. only a few more days to go before i'm on that plane home. i hope this isn't upsetting to anyone... although i can see how it might be. i just needed to tell someone. i can't expect anyone to understand how it feels to be here, but i intend to try. by the way, after the 25th or so, you'll need to write to my email at the 148th- because qatar blocks my operamail website. at least, i think it does. better play it safe. i'll still get the email, just not until i get home. as always, i appreciate all the support you've shown during this difficult time. it does make a difference in my life. take care and keep in touch.

June 16, 2005

life during wartime

on a scale from 'chilly' to 'oh my god it's hot out', yesterday was right at 'holy crap is it hot out'. 120 degrees in the shade, or in my room when the power went out from noon to 7pm. yeah, i work at midnight, so... not a lot of sleep last night. on the positive side, i made it through an 'ohgodohgodohgod'-scale mortar attack. plus i got pieces of one of the mortars as a souvenir. i can't talk about the attack, but everyone from duluth is ok, i think. expect me to be jumpy when i get home, and don't take it personally. i guess i'll be leaving here the 22nd, but that might change. i'll still arrive home at the same time. you know, it's been a long time since i've been able to drink out of a glass (everything's bottled here). i've got some anxiety concerning my ability to eat and drink in front of people without making an ass of myself. i've been eating my food out of pouches and plastic plates for a month now... sometimes i get indigestion, and no matter what i ate it feels like i had canned chili. all of the commercials on armed forces network about depression are depressing. "do you ever feel like the world is out to get you? do you ever feel like the sun will never come out again? do you ever feel like you're stuck in a hot, dusty hell with frequent attacks?" why, yes bob, i believe i do. well, i should go. see you.

June 14, 2005

silly me

please disregard the previous post. since i wrote that, the plan has changed 3 or 4 times. now they say that we won't be leaving before the 21st. i'd better not write any more, since all of my information is unreliable.

qatar again

well, plans have changed. i'll be leaving here on the 17th (of june) to qatar. i'll wait there for the rest of the 148th, and then we'll leave as one group to the states. what does a guy do for 10 days alone in the middle of the desert? i'll probably sleep, read, and... sleep and read. no more MRE's, mortars, night shift... i'm so happy to leave this place that i can hardly sit still. i need to go start outprocessing and packing- talk to you later.

June 12, 2005


hey everyone. not much going on here tonight- it's my day off, so i thought i'd write a little bit. i just got done working at the aeromedical clinic; it was a busy night. more legs than feet. at least they are receiving outstanding treatment. balad leads the world in cutting-edge combat medicine- many hospitals are researching the progress our surgeons are making here. in a few hours, the patients i loaded will be in germany.
we've had several attacks lately, so we're in a hightened defense posture; helmet and body armor 24/7, except when you're sleeping or something. hopefully this doesn't last long. i heard that we were going to stay like this until saddam's trial is over, but i didn't think that started for a month or two. it's pretty uncomfortable, but i guess if they say i need to wear it, i probably should.
the word on the street is that we'll be leaving here from the 24th to the 26th, and arrive at duluth sometime the 28th. of course, that might mean anything from 1am the 28th to 8pm the 29th, so please don't plan around that schedule. i might get to spend a day or two in qatar waiting for a flight, or i might not even get to put my bags down before i fly out of there.
i feel like i've been here for months. i know it hasn't been that long, but i'm pretty sick of iraq and everything involved with being here. the boredom is eating away at my brain, and i'm running out of books. i have trouble forming clear sentences. when the most exciting thing that has happened for a month is that you found a really big spider, life starts to look different. i should stop complaining.
my sickness keeps changing track- first it was the throat, then the lungs, then the fever, then the sinuses, then the gastrointestinal area.... it's easy to understand how entire armies have been lost to cholera and dysentery. living with 100 guys in a building with no air circulation and a lot of door knobs leads to this sort of thing. i'm feeling a little better, though. with any luck i'll be healthy when i return.
there's not much else to say, i guess. i'll talk to you later.

June 10, 2005

keep away from heat and dust

well, i haven't been writing much lately, but i have a good reason: nothing has happened. it's been really hot here, and after that dust storm my 'cold' intensified. right now my sinuses feel like they're full of concrete and sand. other than that, things are just fine. no attacks for a few days. i've become addicted to tiger woods golf on the xbox, which is eating into my spare time- but that's a good thing, because there's naught else to do except sit around and complain. and read, i guess. i played some combat mini golf the other day, and that made it clear that no matter how well i play on an xbox, my real game needs work (what? you didn't know that we had mini-golf? of course we do! get it? ha!).
um..... let's see. i found a big moth tonight. ah.... i got a haircut yesterday....
it's safe to say that i'm sick of iraq now. not in a fearful, frantic way, but in a really really bad vacation way. if i had work to do here, i might feel more enthusiastic, but so far my time here has been a waste of your money. sorry 'bout that. (now when was the last time the gov't apologized to you?)
i can't wait to get home. i'll admit that it will take a few days before i readjust completely, but i'll come around. on a happy note (for me), i start outprocessing on monday. i know i still have a few weeks to go, but it's a step in the right direction.
i can't think of anything else to write about, so i'll get back to work (right). take it easy.

June 05, 2005

dust storm

it's 0200am here, around 90 degrees. i went to the medical staging facility earlier to help load patients, but at midnight a dust storm rolled in. the visibility was so bad that we had to unload the patients back off the bus into the clinic. it looks like we won't be able to fly out until at least 0630am.
after being outside in this storm for an hour, my entire uniform is dusty and tan. my googles are tan, and my skin is tan, and my reflective belt is now tan. you can't see more than 10 feet in front of you. the dust is finer than talcum powder, and it smells like dirt. the wind gusts up to 40mph. the dust sticks to your sweat, so your face, hands, and lower back look like clay. i wear dust goggles (works great) and a t-shirt wrapped around my face and ears (doesn't work so great). i'm glad i didn't take a shower yet today. this isn't helping my head cold one bit.
it's my day off, and it looks like it's going to be more boring than usual- i don't know if i feel like walking anywhere i don't have to. right now i'm in the rec center in tent city. the "dj" is playing old will smith songs, and there are a bunch of australians here. it's all kind of surreal. no attacks today.

excitement, for once

well, i was out back looking for bugs and stuff, and i found a live 23mm cannon round. it was half-buried and rusty, so i didn't touch it. i kept on walking around the area looking for more, and then i went and told my boss about it. 10 minutes later, half the squadron was out there looking at it. people were standing right over it, for some reason... when explosive ordnance disposal showed up, we all had to evacuate 300 feet away and wait. i was hoping that they'd explode it right there on the ground, but they just threw it in their truck and drove off. i'm sure there are literally tons of unexploded ammo and mines out behind our shop. i'll keep my eyes open.
another day saved.

June 04, 2005

other people's secrets

i found this

more secrets:

as you would expect, nothing new to report here.

i'm still here

i know i haven't been posting very often, but there's honestly not much going on.
i'm still sick, but i seem to be getting a little better- just a head cold, sore throat, fever.
it's about 1am here, and it's still 90 degrees. things are heating up.
no attacks yet today. the insurgents have been pretty active in the last few days, and we've taken quite a few hits this week. it seems like they always attack right when i want to go to bed. i have to get dressed and walk all the way to the rec center to call my shop for accountability after the 'all clear'. one of our guys got wounded the other day, but he was out of the hospital in a few hours. he was in a vehicle, and someone was standing behind him to help him back out. a mortar hit on the left side of the vehicle and wounded the driver, so the spotter ran to the right side of the vehicle. another mortar then hit near the right side of the vehicle. man, sometimes it just isn't your day. both guys are alright now.
when i was in qatar, a scottish guy named bill told me that life in balad was just like the movie 'groundhog day' (you know, with bill murray). boy was he right.

June 02, 2005

little things

i've been collecting a list of the little differences i've noticed about life in iraq.
-the 'don't litter' symbol on iraqi soda cans features a person in a robe throwing something away, instead of the little figure with pants on.
-due to the 10MPH speed limit, there are no dead bugs on any windshields or mirrors. the bugs just move out of the way.
-no kids anywhere. not one.
-armed forces network, the only tv and radio broadcaster here, doesn't use commercial advertisements. all the commercials are public service things, like 'don't gamble' and 'encourage brain development in your infant'. in a way it's nice, but sometimes i get sick of being treated like a 6-year-old.
-no one comes in to work hung over.
-oh yeah, the mortar attacks.

May 30, 2005

patriot detail

today i participated in a patriot detail. patriot detail is a final send-off formation for fallen soldiers and airmen. we marched out to the aircraft and saluted the caskets as pall bearers loaded them inside. there was also a simple funeral onboard, and then the jet took off. tonight i will load our less unlucky soldiers onto a different airplane. other than that, nothing interesting to report.


not much going on around here... the weather is cooling off, with highs in the mid-90's. i worked at the Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility (CASF)(like an emergency room for people flying out of country because of wounds) last night. helping carry and care for my injured brothers-in-arms was a powerful experience, and i'll be going back there again to help out. the people who work at the clinic are just about the nicest people on base. in other news, i signed up for the 150 mile run at the gym; so far i've got a little over 20 miles done. i guess when i finish i'll get a rad t-shirt. no attacks today.

May 27, 2005


i just got back from the predator hangar (read about them here: the predator is a remotely-piloted aircraft with advanced cameras and two missiles. i got to inspect the aircraft close up, and then i sat and watched the pilots fly around the balad area. the cameras can zoom in close enough to see people walking around on the ground.
we heard five mortars hit the base, and the pilots immediately scanned the countryside, searching for the mortar tubes (which would be hot, and visible in infrared). we found where the insurgents had parked a truck from the warm spot on the ground and we followed the warm tire tracks down the road. we never did find the people who attacked us, but now we know where they shoot from. as far as i know, no one was killed in the attack, so rest easy.
from attack, to interdiction, to writing about it online: 20 minutes. this war boggles the mind. from a technical perspective, tonight was the highlight of my trip so far. talk to you later.

May 26, 2005

coalition forces creative writing 101

a few days ago, i went the this base's scrap yard. we needed some metal and a few other things; on tuesdays you are allowed to dig through everything and take whatever you want (for official use, that is). balad air base has been here for a long time, so if there's one thing in the scrap yard, then there will be a huge pile of it. the first thing you see is a broad expanse of generators. they are all here because they are broken, but i suppose they have some useful parts. then there is the pile of air conditioners, followed by at least a few thousand folding cots. rope, barbed wire, cables, small engines, scrap metal: then the military vehicles. row after rusted row of bombed-out, shot-up, burned, crashed, and crushed humvees, tanks, and armored personnel carriers (APCs). each one of the vehicles has a tragic story behind it, and someone probably died within each one; each skeletal cab like a fruit rind around a dark seed- a fruit that beckons its seeds within and uncreates them- a perfectly symmetrical end to life.
the seats aren't comfortable. the air conditioning can't keep up with this climate. the side windows are eight-inch squares of 3-inch-thick bulletproof glass. a humvee is not a pleasant place to be in a battle. most of the body is made of fiberglass. the area around the cab is a combination of steel and kevlar sheets. they may look intimidating, but that all changes when you've seen one close up that has failed to protect its owners. shredded and pockmarked steel. frayed skeins of kevlar, faded from the sun (a known and pervasive weakness of kevlar). bullet-proof glass with bullet-holes in it. most of them are only burnt husks. many seats are missing. the military is fastidious about human remains.
tanks with armor 5 inches thick that looks like melted wax: imagine sitting inside a sweltering steel box while 10 to 20-pound shells impact your armor with enough force to form a craters the size of a basketball. i picked through the debris; boxes crumbled to reveal blackened and melted MREs. thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition laying about like fossilized poppies- the heat from the fires caused the powder to explode, leaving burst cylinders everywhere. signs of daily life- maps, water bottles, hand-written labels on levers and buttons. a hefty piece of bulletproof glass that melted into a huge yellow raindrop. sandbags that melted and slid off the turret, leaving green trails of plastic like flaming slugs.
the experience was a sobering one, at once both poignant and mysterious, and more moving than any sanitized memorial wall or tower could ever be. and no, i'm not allowed to bring any of that stuff home with me.
at one point, i stepped off the top of a tank onto an ammo box, but the ammo box gave way and i fell onto the lowered loading ramp; i did kind of a somersault on the way down and put a nice gash in my hand, but i'm all right.
i was wondering if when a soldier is killed his gear gets placed back into the supply system for reuse.
life is getting more serious as the days go by- i think that as the officers and chiefs get acquainted with the base and get briefed, they take into account more and more the gravity of our duties. (which i can't discuss :-) me, i already had a pretty good handle on where i am, so it's a nuisance to have constant eruptions of leadership in areas that i have already figured out.
before we left, i made up a number of decals for the airplanes here. all i can say about them is that they are on all of our jets, somewhere (secrets are lies! secrets are lies!). last night i was dispatched to the flight line to apply one of these decals to a jet; it was the last jet to get the sticker because it was in the air on a mission when i put on the others. i got there early and watched the plane land and taxi towards me. something you may not know is that, with a few exceptions, jets are louder from the front than from the rear. the exceptions are when it first starts up and when the afterburner is on. most of what you hear when they fly by is the sound of the air passing over the first-stage vanes at hypersonic speed.
the jet shrieked furiously as it turned towards me and stopped. the engine quieted abruptly and the canopy opened; as the pilot crawled out, i set up my ladder and climbed up onto the rear of the aircraft. the engine, shuddering to a slow halt as the turbine spun down, sent tremors through the fuselage into my boots. for a few seconds, my body and the jet were vibrating- moving- in perfect unison. part of the 26,000 pounds of thrust in that machine was transferred to me, and from me to the sere night air, in the form of motion and tiny amounts of heat- giving away energy the way a charging lion might run you down and continue after its prey without ever even acknowledging your existence. something mighty and terrible; something powerful and aware, but choosing not to beware of you; leaving you smaller. i rubbed some dust off of a skin panel and it was warm, trembling, tensed... a sharp, crouching beast under my feet. the jet had come back with fewer bombs than it had left with- somewhere, at that moment, there were craters and devastation- leaving the strange round tracks of a war machine along a wild but calculated hunting-trail. as i finished my job, the jet got refueled and inspected. i pulled away in the van, and it was preparing to take off again for another mission.
i understand why i am a symbol of death to some people. i understand the hate, fear, and awe of standing powerless beneath the subjugative whim of a faceless power. once you finally understand the jet as a machine, you can control it. but when you have experienced the jet as a bestial agent of secret and ancient principles, you can understand what it's really doing- you can understand what is really filling up that airplane-shaped piece of space.
conscience is actually two words: con, and science. con you know from contradict, condemn, conflagrate, and contest. it means 'against'. science comes from an older root, meaning 'to cut' or 'to separate'. when parts of your life contradict other parts, there is conflict. condemning your bad parts will get you nowhere. when your mind cuts itself into two opposing realities, that is conscience. this is where the old cartoon gag of an angel on one shoulder and the devil (also an angel, interestingly) on the other comes from. it goes as far back in history as early religion, when people tried to reconcile their often mutually exclusive internal desires with two opposing internal beings- a physical one and a spiritual, otherworldly one.
i was thinking that when i get home, instead of a 1,000 yard stare like real vets get, i might have like a 10 or 15 yard stare. "i try to talk to him, but his eyes just burn half-way through me...."
well, goodnight everyone. i'm spending way too much valuable sleep-time writing. i cleaned the filter on my a/c today and it's just perfect in here now.

May 22, 2005

sorry i took so long

it's been a while since i've had anything to write about. i think i've already mentioned how little actually happens around here. it's a little weird; all i see are jets and humvees and machine guns, but nothing actually interesting or new happens. i suppose that's a good thing. our tools and benchstock have finally arrived, so that when we are (not) busy (not) fixing things, we'll have everything we (don't) need to (not) do the job. bitter sarcasm? how unpatriotic!

i sleep as much as i can. the time is just flying by. this place feels like my home now. it sounds weird, but after about a week, my mind just starts treating wherever i am as all it knows. i have a lot of company here, and i've actually been happier/busier than i was at home. my days are like watching a boring war movie; a lot of sitting around watching AFN and you never actually see the explosions, and no one dies. think "apocalypse now: administrative offices" and you'll get an idea. or m.a.s.h. filmed with the actors' stand-ins instead of alan alda.

look: i have a lot of time on my hands. if there's anything anyone wants a picture of, or a picture of me next to, or maybe even ironic messages scrawled on a bomb for you, please ask.

i just tried to do a google search, and the military's websense censoring program blocked it because it fell into the category "tasteless". tasteless like their food! ha! ha! bad joke. sand has this effect on my sense of humor. my jokes are like, "yeah, well if was that ugly, then, um..... never mind." i don't even try any more.

i think i had my first run-in with sand flies tonight; they are like tiny little mosquitoes, but they hurt when they bite.

oh yeah, today was my first day off. i spent most of it reading and sorting out my pictures. then i'm going to go get a haircut, and then go running. sound like fun? it is.

May 18, 2005

it's all sunshine and skittles

i've been eating a lot of MREs lately (meals ready to eat) (MRE overview). some of the meals come with candy in them, like skittles or m&ms or charms (which have been in rations since world war 2). some of them don't; today i had pasta that came with a 400 calorie powdered milkshake instead. personally, i kind of like them. it's like fast food that's clean, nutritious, and filling.
an interesting sight in iraq is the sky. during the day it fades from white near the sun, to blue above 40 degrees up, to brown between the ground and the blue. it's kind of hard to explain; i'll show you pictures when i get back. at night, the moon is brown. you can't see many stars, and the ones you can see are yellow. it's a very strange place to be.
after i got home from work today, i was sitting on my bed, talking to my roommate. suddenly there was a ground-shaking thump (i'd call them explosions, but that word has a lot of hollywood implications, like flames and slow-motion). it was closer than i've ever felt; i hit the floor so fast i bruised my knees. it was all a blur. two more blasts went off by the time i got my helmet on; i got my flak vest on and croushed on the floor, waiting. nothing happened for a few minutes, so i sat down, trying to catch my breath. my roommate had his helmet on and was muttering obscenities. the explosions felt like they had gone off a hundred yards or fewer from our dorm. a few minutes later, there was still no warning siren- it must have been a controlled detonation (blowing up old bombs and ammo) that no one told us about. the experience taught me a valuable lesson, though: keep your flak vest near and your helmet nearer. it probably took me 10 seconds to get dressed; if i hadn't put my helmet in my backpack, it would only have taken 5.
imagine that you're having a nightmare. you're standing near some railroad tracks out in the country. you see a train coming. it's a long train, going very fast. all of a sudden, the engine jumps the tracks. all the cars behind it leapfrog over it, coming straight at you. a million tons of steel are out of control; they could land on your side of the tracks and kill you, or they could land on the other side harmlessly. running won't do any good because they're coming too fast. there's nothing you can do. you stand there for a few endless seconds, helpless and terribly fascinated, paralyzed. that feeling is how i felt.
actually, scratch that. imagine you're in a small room and there are bombs falling out of the sky at random targets. one of those targets might be you. that's how it feels. i know how people in dresden felt. and people in baghdad, tokyo, london, berlin, and paris. americans have no idea, absolutely no idea, how lucky they are, on a really emotional level.

May 16, 2005

operation iraqi boredom

hello everyone-
things have settled down a little bit in the last few day since we all started working shifts. i work from midnight to noon, so my workdays are nice and cool (70 degrees).
only 2 attacks today; i didn't even hear them. i'm not really worried about it.
i hear that it's pretty cold back home. i still like the heat more than cold.

i don't have much to say today. my day looks like this: 2330-1200: work, 1400-2230: sleep.
there aren't a lot of repairs to do these days, so we spend most of our time looking for spiders and scorpions; i would have enjoyed it here as a kid. i'll try to find something exciting to write about tomorrow.
talk to you later,

May 15, 2005

this is where i stand

these are posted in the order that i wrote them, so things will seem kind of mixed up. i don't always have the time to post every day. here's an overview of the last few days. i apologize if my writing is stilted or incoherent, but my mind is on about a thousand other things.

just left hahn, germany. it was about 50 degrees there. i didn't see much of germany except the gift shop and the runway. notable overheard comments from the flightcrew:

"please remain certain that your lap belt is sincerely fastened."

" shh.... sleeeep.... you're getting sleeeeepy..... you want to go to sleep...... you don't want any peanuts..... no pretzels..... hell no you don't want no coffee..... sleeeeeeeeppppp...... shhhhhhhhh......"

we arrived at al udied air base in qatar this morning at 4. i didn't really get any sleep on the flight here, but i don't feel tired anymore. the plane landed and we were greeted by a few officers handing out bottles of water. traveling in the military is not that bad; you get treated almost like a dignitary everywhere you go, plus you have almost no responsibilities except for being at the right place at the right time with your bags. there are no airport terminals or security checks- just walk up to the plane and get in.
once we got in-processed at al udied, we were left to figure out how to get lodging and food. i waved down a major in a pickup and he drove us to the other side of the base where the tents where. the base itself is huge- i never actually saw it all, and i could just barely make out gigantic construction projects to the east and the west. the air here is different. besides the unholy heat (110 degrees last time i checked), the air is pinkish-brown with dust so fine that it's hardly there. everything that's been out in the air for more than a day has a fine scum of dust like dried sweat.
after we arranged a tent and found the chow hall, all there was to do was wait. and wait. and wait... this is the military. you are an asset, and they are happy to leave you in the desert somewhere waiting for something to do like a boxcar on a railroad siding. in the center of the base housing area there is a huge white twin-peaked tent with chairs and benches underneath. the entire first day we sat there, sweating. just sitting there without moving still worked up a sweat. plus, i was in my uniform, which didn't help. but that's life. the second day in qatar i managed to get some sleep and food and reading done. it already felt like i'd been there a week. that night at around midnight we boarded a c-17 bound for balad air base in iraq.

all of our bags were put on pallets. i got on the plane with a rucksack containing my helmet and flak vest and sat in a jump seat near the wing. our baggage pallets were loaded in the rear of the aircraft, and we took off briskly into the sweltering dust. the c-17 doesn't have any windows; the only concession to sight-seeing is a 3 inch porthole high up the wall of the fuselage to check for engine fires. for those not used to military air transport, the c-17 may be quite a shock. sudden, prolonged dives, swerves, and bumps are the norm. think of sitting on a bed with two jumping 6-year-olds. we were told when we crossed into iraqi airspace, and we donned our helmets and vests. when we were about 30 minutes out, the pilot started evasive maneuvering. this included the same dives and swerves as before, but more pronounced. like, your feet floating off the floor pronounced. as there were no windows, the actual landing- unannounced and unexpected- came as quite a surprise, and we were all pretty relieved when we came to a halt at the edge of the runway.

a short walk from the runway brought us to the in-processing station, a ramshackle pre-fab with plywood floors. this is a pretty good description of balad itself. everything is dirty, broken, mismatched. there are diesel generators outside almost every building powering truck-sized air conditioners. everything that was here when balad was an iraqi air base is still here, but mangled and bombed and decrepit. you can't actually see very many buildings here, because they are surrounded by trapezoidal concrete barriers. the whole place looks like a filthy gravel parking lot. everything is brown. there is a reason that military equipment here is all the same mustard color; when you wipe the dust off with your finger, the paint is the exact same color as the dirt.
in-processing took about an hour and a half. as we waited for the buses to take us to the other side of the base, we heard a loud THUMP that we could also feel in our chests. across the airfield near the hangars i saw a cloud of black smoke. i whipped out my camera and took a picture before the sirens began howling that single note and we ran back into the prefab. some people had been standing outside without their helmets or vests on- that changed rapidly.

the next few hours passed uneventfully. we were issued new body armor, which turned out to be twice as heavy as the stuff we wore on the way in. it has two ceramic plates that provide enhanced protection. it's used, of course, and i think i might have gotten the dirtiest, sweatiest vest on the base. we found our dorms in tent city. some of us were put in green tents, but i got a dorm room. the room is comfortable enough with the 5 of us. showers are just down the hall, which is very nice. no more getting in uniform just to go to the bathroom at 3am. the sheets i was issued are hand me downs from someone who was here in the past- pink and white lacy sheets and a blue pillow with faded blood stains. we got mattresses, but they stick out a foot past our cot so it's hard to sit on the edge of your bed without sliding off.

at around noon we gathered in tent city for a briefing by one of our officers. after some warnings about the heat, we heard another explosion. this one was considerably closer than the blast we saw in the morning, and we rapidly took cover. once we were comfortably hunched in tents, the air raid siren went off and we waited. and waited.... note to self: don't follow a lieutenant colonel to the nearest tent; no one else will, and the two of you will not have anything to talk about for 40 minutes.

i did make it to the dfac (dining facility) eventually and the food turned out to be all right. the half-mile walk probably makes anything taste better. after lunch i took off my uniform and put on the official air force pt gear. i wouldn't care if it was bright pink; anything is better than a uniform in this heat. i spent some time walking around tent city and setting up my room. i met up with the other people from my shop- we had all been split up on different aircraft and tent assignments. i took a shower, and no shower will ever live up to that one. the dorm room is set to 80 degrees, but it really feels colder than that. i needed my blanket to sleep. then at 6pm another mortar fell, another siren, more waiting. but me- i was sleeping, and i only woke up to hear the 'all clear' announcement. a quick aside- the iraqis who are firing on the base don't have any way to aim at anything, nor of knowing what they hit. a typical mortar operation consists of a launcher and a spotter; the launcher shoots the mortars in the general area of the target, and the spotter calculates corrections based on where the first shots actually landed. it usually takes several shots to hit a decent-sized target. the people here don't have spotters, or even proper launching tubes. they fire one shot and run, because we have rapid response teams outside the fence who take care of this type of thing. basically, what they are doing is like throwing water balloons over a really tall fence into a yard you've never seen, and not being able to tell if your aim was correct or not. this is a large base; i'd guess that over 99% of the real estate is just dirt. the odds of the mortars hitting anything or anyone is demonstrably low, and fatalities are very rare.

it looks like i start work in earnest tomorrow morning. my email address that i can access is - feel free to email me any questions or just say hi. and this ends my first day in iraq.

May 10, 2005

six hours left.

"Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it."
~ Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

"Patience often gets the credit that belongs to fatigue."
~ Franklin P. Jones

"Great is the power of habit. It teaches us to bear fatigue and to despise wounds and pain."
~ Cicero

well, the time has come.
tonight i'll be departing duluth IAP on a commercial airliner towards germany. after germany i'll go to iraq via a layover in qatar. the city i'll be in is about 8 hours ahead of us, so it's early morning there.
if you want the weather in iraq, click here. (it's not the exact city i'll be in, but it's close enough.

all of my checked luggage is on a pallet at the base already; all i need to bring with me is my paperwork and my carry-on, which i haven't packed yet. i'll be bringing my ibook and a few books, but since i had trouble sleeping this morning, i'll probably fall asleep as soon as i get on the plane. i have to report at 12:30 a.m. but we don't take off until 3:45 a.m. (i hope this helps illustrate what i mean when i say that getting there is worse than being there... in the military, at least.) this inconvenient timing means that i'll have to say goodbye to everyone before i actually leave, but it will allow me to concentrate on my job. i hope it isn't raining tonight.

rose will be here at the apartment with the phone while i'm gone, so if there's an emergency or something you can call. i still don't know what kind of access to email and phones i'll have over there, so please don't worry if i'm pretty quiet for a while. it sounds like the first few days will be a lot of tent-building and sand-bagging.

i need to finish packing and take my last real shower for a long time. i'll miss you all.

"Both parties deprecated war; but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish. And the war came."
~ Abraham Lincoln

December 12, 2004

hello world.

i guess i don't really have anything to say right now- this is just a test post. have a nice day.
something to do.