Sunday, December 26, 2004
Christmas was truly dreadful. It rained all day and we're in a heightened uniform posture. Which means slogging around in ankle-deep mud in about thirty pounds of gear. We were ordered not to even go to the bathroom at night without full camo (no sleeping in sweats, I suppose) uniform, all the gear, and about five pounds of mud on the boots. Tough to feel any kind of holiday cheer under the circumstances. Could it be worse? Of course, things can always be worse. At least we have great comraderie in the ranks--I don't know what any of us would do if we didn't get along so well.
We're past the halfway mark, six months to go. I keep having dreams about riding my Harley, about how it will feel to have all the garbage I've accumulated this year lifted away. And I have to make my decision about whether to stay in the Army or leave. Once I decline my continued commission, I cannot take it back. I don't have solid confirmation a job will be waiting for me out there, and the worst case scenario is that I don't find something challenging that pays well and end up financially falling flat on my face. Been there, done that, not interested.
So I have big ugliness on my mind right now. The job's getting more managable, I'm much more in control than I was a month ago, but I can't write some cheery little blog entry until I'm on more solid ground in all the other aspects of my life.
Wednesday, December 08, 2004
So now I'm driving everyone nuts with this damn thing. I set it on LTC O'Connor's desk and he reached for his knife. The Staff Sergeant who sits next to me in the office will stare at his laptop in barely concealed fury every time I trip the switch, "Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle awl de way..." It is truly obnoxious.
Someone broke it at one point. Then last night, Ron, a civilian who works with us and is also obnoxious, fixed it. "Oh look, it works!" He beamed and held up the kitty, the tinny little jingle squeaking from its belly.
CPT Spears walked over, snatched the kitty from Ron, and smashed it on my desk several times in quick succession until the mewling stopped.
"Not anymore." He walked back over to his desk and sat down.
Thursday, December 02, 2004
Holidays in my household were always fraught with tension--my father had an explosive temper, and we were always waiting for the sleeping dragon to awaken. My brothers and I always hung around as long as it took to satisfy my mother, who loved holidays and always ended up in tears when The Ogre got ugly. Then Robert, my younger brother, died suddenly when he was fourteen and I was fifteen, and holidays became a true ordeal, something to be gotten through, populated with painfully uncomfortable silences because Robert became The Subject You Did NOT Mention. Ever.
Surprisingly, though, I'm enjoying this early phase of the Christmas season. I like the people around me here (unlike LAST year, see Blog Entries Past), all my friends and family have sent these amazingly thoughtful packages, and I'm enjoying it just fine. It's horribly cold in New York. I have much to look forward to when it's all over.
The time passes more quickly and a little more easily all the time.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
I've settled into my new job and I like it much better. The detainee saga provides great entertainment--and NO, we do not put chemlights up their butts or stack them naked or any such bullshit. What a bunch of morons those MP's were.
Yesterday my team interrogated a guy with a frontal lobotomy. What was he accused of? Masterminding an IED cell. Right. Another one, had zero use of his left arm, and he allegedly fired RPG's at a convoy. Sure.
It's Thanksgiving and we have no special plans. I'm taking a half-day off tomorrow, my first in weeks. I'm getting used to it somehow, I don't wake up with that feeling of dread any longer.
Our civilian contractor wears this leather jacket that is straight out of 1987 and has earned him the nickname, McGuyver. We tease him relentlessly. Hey, Ace, what's shakin'? He has never worn it before here, and brought it because he knew it wouldn't bother him if it gets destroyed. He takes the teasing very well.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Too busy to write more. Packages have started arriving since I mobilized my Rear Detachment Logistics Node, otherwise known as friends and family...I was dry as a bone for awhile there. Packages are like gold around here and to everyone that sent stuff, THANK YOU.
A guy I barely know in New York wrote me a note about the fact that it's Veteran's Day weekend--a four day holiday for us military types. I hate to miss all the time off that starts in November and goes clear into January. Hell, I'd settle for one day off right now--it's been over six weeks. I took yesterday morning until noon, and it felt great. But a whole day is what I need.
This place is great at making us all feel sorry for ourselves. *Sigh*
Sunday, October 31, 2004
I stood outside the medical screening room while they brought in one character who'd been fingered by his piso as an IED-emplacer. This one in particular fell into the "filthy street thug" contingent--he evidently hadn't washed in many moons, maybe since the last Ramadan. He removed his shirt to reveal a full, greasy chest and back of matted, black, unspeakably thick hair. I don't even wish to speculate what parasites and stench-producing bacteria resided there. Out in the hall, several of us exchanged "holy-crap-did-you-see-that" faces.
And then they removed his shoes.
A funk arose like the spooge from the bottom of a Turkish sewage canal. There was a stunned silence. The medic bolted outside and vomited into the gravel. The handful of soldiers--myself among them--assembled outside the door scattered as if a grenade had been deployed. The guy stood there confused, wondering why the Americans were so offended. The other medic picked the shoes up one at a time between thumb and forefinger as he held his breath and sealed them in a small garbage bag.
And it made a great story later in the Headquarters.
Thursday, October 28, 2004
I only notice men's smells. Women all smell roughly the same to me. Mark smells very clean and masculine, but not in an Old Spice, bullshit way and has nothing to do with when he last showered. I caught a fresh, clean smell from TK, my fellow platoon leader. Several others. Mark swears I smell great, and so do two other women we work with. And he says a couple of the other female soldiers do not smell sweet to him--I swear, I've never smelled any of them, and we work in close quarters.
I suppose that explains why, even when showered and fresh and ostensibly unoffensive, every time my commander comes around, a truly offputting odeur wafts straight up my nose. I have a physical reaction to it--revulsion so strong, my gag reflex kicks in.
There must be something to this scent thing, and all those billions people sink into perfumes and powders and showergel that smells just like white chocolate hazelnut cake, and we're all walking around just smelling like we smell anyway. So I guess I don't necessarily smell like the sandalwood powder I sprinkle on every morning, or Shalimar, which is the ONLY perfume I'll wear. I think the point of the products, the reason I spend sixteen bucks on a bottle of delicious-smelling shower gel, is that I derive great pleasure from the scent. My shower is one of they day's true pleasures, and the lovely smell of baking cake as I'm lathering up in soft, rich bubbles just makes it that much nicer.
I'm getting in on some football betting pool action. I get actively solicited for participation--I'm sure it's because I'm not only female, but I also choose the teams based on what city I like better. Atlanta v. Miami, I'm voting Atlanta. I'll always pick New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco. So they're all convinced my five bucks will just go straight into the kitty with little risk of my ever winning a cent. And I'm teased about it, and then the guys all admit that my picks are actually really good, that I could end up winning at some point. And then I'd be the one laughing, it would be like one of them winning first prize in a flower arranging competition. With all their smells.
Monday, October 18, 2004
And I got my own room back. Moved to a smaller room right next to the latrine. So I can stand in my room and make monkey faces at the rest of the company. Funny how something so small as having a private room can mean so much--I slept like a baby in that blessed silence, woke up at 4:40 to run, smoked a hill workout with Josee and felt great all day.
It's like that wonderful Xiang Jimou movie, To Live: Time passes, and things get better and better each day.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
*Lipton Cup-a-Soup Spicy Thai Chicken flavor
*David brand BBQ sunflower seeds
*Bath and Body Works Lemongrass Facial Scrub (this especially! If you haven't tried it, run right out and get some!)
*Raspberry Ice Crystal Lite
*Southern Living magazine
*Zapp's chips, any flavor but especially vinegar & salt and the Cajun mesquite BBQ
We can buy candy over here and since so many people send it anyway, the break room already looks like a 7-11.
Wednesday, October 13, 2004
My favorite string in the big blues outside our headquarters involves the misadventures of "8-Ball," who evidently fancies himself quite the ladies' man. The first entry went something like this: 8Ball Pumpin' Them Buns 4 Life!! A truly frightening illustration of what looked like a horror movie skull-mask performing oral sex accompanied. Rumor has it the original 8Ball is a Sergeant I've assessed as a walking harrassment complaint, no military bearing with female soldiers whatsoever. He stood in front of my desk last week, executing his best Eminem impersonation: "Sup, LT? When we goin' out? You never smile no mo', LT, 'sup?" And I didn't smile then, either, as I asked him who the hell he thought he was talking to.
The rumors flew for weeks, everyone wondering Who Is 8Ball? It became the headquarters joke. 8 Balls were drawn on dry-erase boards with the initials PTMB4Life. At least three different men claimed to be 8Ball. Then the many talents of a female named PNut were extolled, and the attendant conjecture of her identity.
Someone replied by inserting "Man" before the "Buns"...so, Pumpin' Them Man Buns 4 Life. Then ensued the usual homosexual accusations, more crude sketches of female anatomy, a comment about my good friend Josee (LT R___ski is HOT!!), and the best of them all, the comments surrounding the actual plastic urinal sporting the required solid air-freshener disc upon which I suppose the gents are supposed to pee.
An arrow into the bowl: Our hopes of leaving theater, do what you must...
Hmm, I wish I had a silver dollar-sized piece of candy, oh look! It really is a wishing well!
Only the dead have seen the end of war
From the sophomoric mire springs the occasional gem and even a quote from the classics. Infinitely entertaining.
Sunday, October 10, 2004
I am in the process of buying a Harley. Is it wise? Of course not. Abe Lincoln said that people without vices generally have no virtues either, and I've always had a gut feeling that I could get very passionate about bikes if I ever took that plunge. I'm buying a smaller model, the Sportster 883 Custom, often snidely called a "chick bike." Last I checked, I'm a chick, and I don't see spending $15,000 on a bike just yet.
If it becomes as much of a passion as I suspect it will (and I'm never wrong about these things), I can always trade it in for one of the pricier models. It's a "starter" bike, just like I bought my home as a "starter home," and certainly don't plan to retire in it. It's just one more thing for me to look forward to and get excited about when it comes time to finally leave this place. It's a frivolous, impulsive purchase, I'm fully aware of that fact...but I was talking about buying one when I got home from Afghanistan, it's something that has always been there, wanting a Harley. Too early for a midlife crisis and too late for a teenage obsession.
Saturday, October 02, 2004
It took three days to get back, mostly sitting around in airports. I slept for much of it. However, when we got onto the military aircraft that ferried us into Baghdad, all peace and harmony ended unceremoniously as I dealt with the worst motion sickness I've ever known.
The flights into Baghdad have to drop out of the sky like a rock, it's fifty times worse than any rollercoaster known to man, and it goes on for about ten minutes. I first broke into a nasty, hot-flashy, oh-crap-I'm-fixin-to-puke sweat, took out the barf bag while the other passengers eyed me in nervous anticipation. Sure enough, as soon as I lost lunch, it passed up and down the line until about two-thirds of the plane vomited violently. I felt wreched for making everyone else sick, fought it as hard as I could.
Then landed here to the news that I have a roommate. Her name is Lisa and it's not her fault, but I was livid. Everything I'd found bearable about this deployment got yanked away in one single motion--my sanctuary, my privacy, my uninterrupted sleep.
And for the rest of that day and night, and for much of yesterday, I fell into a deep, dark hole that hit me so hard, I couldn't eat or sleep. I still haven't slept well, but at least I'm not walking around with my stomach in a knot, feeling like I barely retained a shred of control, unnecessarily worried sick about the future, all the makings of a world-class funk. It was dreadful. I told Josee that if I didn't feel better in a couple of days, I'd need to go see someone about it, get some meds or something. I knew I couldn't walk around like that for long.
My roommate, she's a brand-new Second Lieutenant, straight out of school, and this is her first Army experience. And then she arrives to a very grumpy roommate in this shithole--I just couldn't pull off a friendly welcome, as shitty as I felt. And on her first day in country, she stood about twenty feet away as a guy got his hand blown off my a dud round some fool had tossed in the back of his truck.
So she came into the room shaken and terrified, having suppressed that feeling all day. It didn't help that the low-flying Kiowas swept overhead every few minutes. I sat up and talked her down for a large portion of the night, then couldn't sleep again--two nights in a row of intense insomnia, on the tail of the night in Kuwait during which we had no time to sleep for more than a few minutes at a stretch.
So I'm exhausted. My eyes sting. But at least I feel better, that intense sense of dread has mostly disappeared. It's not that bad here. But all day yesterday, I wished I hadn't taken leave at all, having been freshly reminded of the striking differences between here and all the things I hold dear at home. I am very strongly invested in space, in my personal surroundings. The room I had to myself was already poor substitute for my home, and with a roommate seemed nearly intolerable yesterday.
I suppose I just needed a 36-hour freak-out adjustment period.
Monday, September 27, 2004
The sun set on a soft, autumn day, and we'd just spent the glorious day sailing on Lake Ontario. He was a retired Air Force Colonel, former fighter pilot, God bless 'im, who had joined us on the dock as we returned...but he was also overbearing, knew goddamn everything, told these lugubriously boring stories about nothing, and stood entirely too close to have breath that bad. We stood in the Brewpub bar, waiting for a table.
"So then I flew down to Hanoi and we looked for a pulley in the catalogue..." The spooge from the underside of an interstate Texaco urinal. I tried to subtly back away. Breathed through my mouth. Nothing doing, he just blew the stench all over me.
"Then we called a place in New Jersey..." The more I tried to regain my personal space, the louder (and more blustery) he became. I figured out that if I buried my nose in my waterglass, the lemon on the rim masked it with some success.
The damn story, about how he'd saved the American taxpayers thousands of dollars getting a pulley from some odd place, went on forever. Tell me a combat story, I'm all ears, but this one was droll as watching golf. You'd think a Nam fighter pilot would have great stories. This one, he chose to tell the ones about ham radio operators and the guy they met in Saigon who'd been to his hometown.
"Aren't you glad the last President drew down your numbers to the point you have to deploy twice in one year?" I.e., it's Clinton's fault I'm in Iraq because a million soldiers aren't enough to fight an insurgency in a two-bit sandbox.
"I'm even more happy my current President committed us to two theaters at the same time for no compelling reason." I said. I just cannot believe this guy would blame Clinton for the trainwreck in Iraq. Laughable. He looked a bit taken aback but laughed it off.
The whole experience reminded me of one Saturday night in New Orleans, I was at Le Bon Temps (great uptown live music dive) with my friend, James. ReBirth Brass Band played for free and we'd just gorged ourselves on raw oysters. We stood close to the stage, just letting all those thumpin' horns wash over us.
Suddenly, the stench of the bottom layer of a two-month-buried coffin washed over me. My face scrunched and I looked at James to see if he'd been hit. He appeared nonplussed.
It soon wafted away after I took another swig of Red Stripe. It wasn't long, though, it hit me again, stronger this time.
"Damn! What the HELL is that stench??" I shouted over the funk. James shrugged. I looked all around. We pressed up against the other ReBirth fans, but the crew around me all looked like frat boys, all drinking, and beer normally goes a long way to mask the Inner Funk of the Unclean Piehole.
There it was again. And then it hit me. The trombone player pointed the brass right at me...and his breath, it came all the way through the instrument and still stank on the other side. He was a pretty wonky-looking character anyway, and I wrote the stench off to frequent drug use.
I didn't need to fret, though. A few minutes later, four cop cars pulled up outside. The band members all exchanged worried glances, some shrugged, all of this mid-jam. The trombone player, his eyes darted all around the room, he looked as though he considered making a break for it.
Sure enough, a crowd of cops washed in, pushed right up to the stage, and cuffed him. Right in the middle of a song. I thought there would be a riot. The rest of the band? Mostly laughed and kept playing.
Too bad, though, that the Air Force Colonel was nowhere near as entertaining as the stanky trombone player.
I'm leaving in a couple of hours, back on the plane. I look out my window at the fiery maple tree, my peaceful front porch, the incredible amplification of color a cool, crisp day will deliver. And I can't even enjoy it, knowing I won't see it again for at least six months.
It is hard to go back. I'd be bawling like a little girl if I didn't miss M so much, if I didn't look forward to seeing him. We've emailed daily, some of them rather naughty, and I think we've told each other more in the last two weeks than we would have in six months over there.
Back to the Sandbox. Wish me luck.
Friday, September 24, 2004
So no more hiking, might as well ride. Nothing painful there, right?
My horse's name was Zeus--he was a handsome quarterhorse, used to race and now played polo in his spare time. He looked too big to play polo to me--aren't they called Polo Ponies because they need to be smaller? At any rate, Zeus clearly had some pluck, some spirit, because one of the other ladies had already expressed reservations about him. So I took him--I used to ride fairly regularly as a child, and anyway, I'm an Army Officer! No horse is gonna punk me out!
I only ride English. Western is just too clunky, you can't post on the trot and it seems more an operation of just hanging on than actually riding. Problem with this particular English saddle, though, they'd swapped out the stirrup straps, and the right one was about a half-inch shorter than the left. There was no hole in the middle of the leather to make it right. No one had a pocket knife once I was sure there was an imbalance--after we'd cantered up a road and that half-inch became VERY pronounced.
So we stopped, and I leaned back in the saddle to see what I could do--lengthen them both a bit, even it up. I was working on the right one as two guys galloped up behind us, full speed. I felt Zeus tense up, and lifted my left hand to tighted up on the reigns...just as he launched, full-speed, after the galloping pair.
I'm sure it all would've looked funny on camera. I only had one stirrup, I gripped the pommel with both hands, shouting, afraid to let go with one hand to pull the reigns harder, bouncing all over the horse. The galloping pair stopped--we'd caught them, that Zeus can haul ass--and Zeus, he ground his front hooves into the earth and stopped.
Funny thing about inertia, I didn't stop. Kept going, right over his head, envisioning catastrophic injury. Next thing I knew, I was standing next to the horse, missing a shoe. I'm told I grabbed his neck, hugged it, looped around him, and landed squarely on my feet. I am NOT a graceful person, I don't know how it happened this way. One of the other riders said it looked like a gymnast's dismount.
Funny thing about gymnasts, they're flexible, can put their feet behind their heads and whatnot. As soon as I took a step, I thought, damn, that's gonna hurt tomorrow. My back and right leg stiffened up immediately, someone had to lift me back onto Zeus's back.
That was yesterday. And yes indeed it DOES hurt today. I can barely walk. But I'd rather have scorching muscle soreness than broken limbs...or worse. All the way back to the barn, all I could think about was how it would play out in the Battle Update Brief to the Colonel in Iraq:
Personnel Officer: "LT will be delayed a couple of weeks, she broke her leg falling off a horse."
The Colonel: "She WHAT? You're joking! She fell off a horse?!? What the hell was she doing on a horse?"
I'd never live it down.
Lady: "Well, this was just a huge disappointment."
I couldn't help but eavesdrop, it was quiet as a morgue in there.
Man: "I just wish they had more variety."
Lady: "This is made with Eggbeaters."
Man: "Well, I just don't eat omelets. I can't imagine why we can't have pancakes."
Lady: "And now we'll have to find someplace else to eat breakfast!!"
It went on like this and I winced as they angrily confronted the waitress, then the cook, who was also the part-owner. It was a tiny inn, adorable and antique-filled. My room had a balcony and was full of light. And the omelet was most certainly NOT Eggbeaters--I've had fake eggs in my time, believe me, and these were real. You can't get that flavor, that fluffiness from eggwhites alone.
The owner/cook, clearly shaken from the confrontation, came to clear my plates. I told her the omelet was delicious, that those people must just be naturally difficult.
"I don't understand," she said. "I've been doing this for eight years, I've never been told the breakfast was horrible!" It had clearly ruined her whole day. Someone who takes pride in what they do, they'll take it personally when criticized this way.
I suppose it's all about perspective. It sounds silly to me to hear someone complain about much of anything at all on a morning like that. I made myself laugh picturing the couple in Iraq, in the chow hall...this isn't chocolate sauce on my ice cream, they poured chocolate milk on it! This isn't even real milk! They only have iceberg lettuce! And why do we have to wear all this GEAR, for chrissake! This rifle is heavy! It's hot out here!
That actually happened to me, by the way, they poured chocolate milk on my ice cream when I thought I was getting chocolate sauce. But that's getting pretty prima donna, also, complaining about ice cream in a combat zone. So I didn't complain, I laughed about it, scraped off the contaminated bits of ice cream, and ate it anyway.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
This is the first time in my life I've had money. I make plenty of it and don't mind spending it on myself. All my expenses are MORE than handled, I invest a rather large sum of money toward retirement, I have savings, why shouldn't I drop some cash on a mini vacation? I caught a great deal of hell in Iraq for spending $120 on a pair of Bose headphones, and asked the question, Did any of ya'll put any money into my checking account? No? So shut up!
I'm eating too damn much. That's what vacation is for, though. I'll return to Iraq all plump and happy. Well, not very happy about going back to that hellhole, but plump at least.
But first, I'm going night sailing with the Sackets crowd on R's big boat. R is an older gentleman, charming, sounds just like Gordon Elliot with the accent (he was born in South Africa), owns a bridge-material company both here and in Montreal.
I wouldn't go without Rachel and the crew though, because last time I saw him, he grabbed my underwear. I had on low-waisted pants, I guess the underwear poked out the back as I leaned over. And he grabbed it. Mind you, the guy's like, sixty. It's like drowning filet mignon in ketchup--stop! You're ruining it!
But with R, I was pretty direct when he grabbed my panties. I don't imagine there will be a repeat performance, and he only goes into Dirty Old Man mode when he's been drinking. Tonight he has to sail the boat, and he loves that boat too much to drive it drunk.
Even still, there is noting so creepy as a 60-year-old man grabbing your panties. Rates right up there with getting dressed in front of a State Trooper. But that's a different story.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
But the bottom seam curled up just enough for full exposure of my laziness. So I tore off the bottom, then painted over the rest. Who'da thunk sage-colored paint makes such a great wallpaper glue dissolver? Bits bubbled up and had to be torn off, one little shitty swatch at a time, and the piles of paint-sticky wallpaper mounted on the paint tray of the ladder. Some fell on the floor and I had to be careful not to step on it and grind it into the carpet.
I have a big dresser, a hastily-bought, put together yourself job I planned to replace but just haven't yet. I put it together with power tools almost two years ago, it was gorgeous. Then it sat directly over an electric baseboard-heater going full blast for two northern New York winters. It must've warped the wood or something, because now the entire left side has splintered damn near off, despite the nails and screws I've driven in there in a lame attempt to resurrect the dead donkey. The doors and drawers don't close, it looks like shit. And it's heavy enough to put your ass in traction if you try to move it. It took three guys to get this damn thing up my stairs last April.
When I tried to move it aside to paint behind it, the damn thing nearly fell apart. So I moved it out enough to paint behind it as far as the eye can see. I know, shitty work. Put it on the "I'll-take-care-of-it-when-I-get-back" list.
Then I couldn't move the bed. Not one inch. Shortcut, shoddy work-girl, I just passed the roller between the slats (it's a metal sleigh bed) and rolled the color down far enough you have to turn around while actually in the bed and peer down there to see the unpainted bit. Yes, it's poor workmanship. I don't care. Put THAT on the same list.
It will be my pleasure to check off all these little messes on my list when I get back. Because none of those messes comes close to the ones I face going back to Iraq. Those messes, I'll leave behind in that miserable sewer of a nation. I quite like my own messes.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
But at any rate, I moved into Luci's tiny, eccentric house at the bottom of Jackson Avenue. Donald had just moved out but the breakup was amicable and he still popped over from time to time. Luci is a Loud, Talkative Southern Woman, just like me. So of course we hit it off, and of course we stay in touch. There are only so many Loud, Talkative Southern Women out there, and I'm a firm believer in keeping good friends as long as we can bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyles.
Before I deployed to Afghanistan, Luci complained that she'd gained thirty pounds. When I got back from Afghanistan, she sent me an email that said, in essence, that she was a mommy. Holy shit! I yelled on the phone. You told me you'd gained thirty pounds, you didn't tell me it was a PERSON!
But that's Luci. I called her last night and put on my best older-Southern-woman accent and stated I was Mrs. Gloria Merriwether of the Macon, Georgia, Merriwethers, please call me back at the following number. She called back howling with laughter after she figured out it was me.
After complaining about Iraq for awhile and going on about the work climate and the assholes, during which she hollered in righteous indignation like a friend is supposed to do, I told her about someone in Iraq saying I was a chatterbox.
I don't know why it bothered me. I talk alot. Always have. That won't change, ever.
But Luci, she said exactly what I needed her to say. Even more righteously indignant, she yelled, Girrl, you are the most entertaining person I've ever known! If they don't GET it, they can't keep up! It's not LIKE you're going on about the WEATHER, for god's sake! You have a BRAIN and you're funny as SHIT and FUCK 'EM if they don't GET IT!
That's why I keep that crazy bitch around. I'm so glad I can attain and retain these wonderful longtime frineds I have. I've always had instant connections to certain people, and I'm never wrong, we always end up loving each other for life.
There's Jules, my beautiful, elegant friend from our angry, post-punk high school days. She's a Columbia-educated nurse-midwife, now living in Portland. Luci, of course. She lives in northern California now, but we renewed our friendship when I lived with her in New Orleans, before I got my own place in the city where she was the only person I knew at first. Michelle, a roommate from college in Athens, Georgia, who climbs mountains all over North America and makes maps in Lexington, Kentucky. Tracey, a gifted painter I ran around with, also in New Orleans. Jim, my big gay friend from Athens. Jeff, also a gifted painter, who still lives in Oxford, Mississippi, where we were friends in high school, then college, and now he's one of the people I can count on for a beer and some entertaining stories when I go home to deal with family nastiness. Josee, the one I hang out with in Iraq, will be one of the hang-onto crew.
I go through these uncomfortable times when I feel utterly out of my element. Iraq is NOT my element, I am NOT myself there. And not in a good way. It has eroded my sense of self, bruised my confidence, I guess burnout has that effect on me. Thank God for the Luci's of the world, who can bring it all back home for me. I must be one cool lady, to have so many amazing friends.
So now I'm sitting in my den, on my second glass of champagne (well, sparkling wine, technically, it's Australian--and delicious). Drinking at 10:45...it feels exactly right. I am blessed with friends, no matter what ugliness I go through in Iraq, no matter who calls me chatterbox, no matter what happens with Dad, if I get betrayed by co-workers, jerked around, none of it matters once I get here and can reconnect with my bitches.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
I don't. The champagne is for me to savor on the front porch and see if I like it enough to serve it (and an Australian Savignon Blanc) when I make dinner for friends on Monday. I'm thinking spanakopeta, the Greek spinach pastry made of phyllo, a spinach salad, my favorite soup made with chick peas/potatoes/rosemary, and homemade ice cream for dessert. I have truly missed cooking.
I ate lunch today with Kelley, a Signal officer who was on the Ten Miler team with me last year (we were friends before that, though). She's as disenchanted with the Army as I am, and she's never deployed. She and her husband (a rather salty guy I worked with last year in the Engineer Battalion) have been separated by the Army for the past three years due to deployments, schools, temporary duties, etc. And now it looks like he'll deploy in a couple of months and she will not.
The only officer I know right now who plans to stay in the Army is Shayla, my fellow LT in Iraq. I think she has this vision of herself as a Colonel and plans to sit it out. Hell, more power to her. It's just not the life for me.
Like Kelley, though, I loved the Army until all this shit happened, the endless deployments and unmanagable operational tempo. No end in sight for that dynamic.
It's late afternoon and the maple tree in my backyard which is taller than the house has just started turning red. The sun filters through it and all over the deck, into the dining room, all the way in to where I sit in the den. Phil put the ugliest goddamn coffee table I've ever seen in here--straight out of the '70's, thick pine, complete with cheesy iron fittings. I haven't asked where my coffeetable is, and I haven't seen it around the house. I suppose I should ask this question--his explanation of the coffee table was that he puts his feet on it and didn't want to ruin mine. Fair enough, I suppose, but depending on where he's storing mine, it could get ruined anyway.
But for now, the champagne has been in the freezer long enough for me to enjoy a glass in the shade of my fiery maple tree. I cannot even enjoy it fully, knowing I have to go back.
This will all be here when I get back for good. Whenever that may be.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
Surprise # 1: The House is Filthy. Terri picked me up at the airport (I love this lady) in my truck, which has been washed, waxed, and vacuumed. It looks brand new and I got to drive it home. The little things you miss. The whole way up, she told me about how filthy the house was—she cleaned it yesterday, for which I owe her 70 bucks (Phil will pay this one, it’s HIS filth). Evidently, the boy has been just slogging around in his own filth in my home. To his credit, he hasn’t had parties and the cats are well taken care of…so I count my blessings there.
Surprise #2: The House is Periwinkle. WHOA. I chose what I thought was a muted blue/grey. What I got is straight periwinkle. Holy shit. So I’ve already picked out a charcoal grey for Dave to paint over it in the spring. There’s a house on the next street that looks like mine and is charcoal grey and looks fabulous. Then you drive down my street and POW, there’s my house. It would look adorable in New Orleans. But up here, in the Land of the Philistines and Formidable Matrons, it’s a bit much.
Surprise #3: Phil is still here. As soon as I walked in the door, the excuses started…My truck broke down, I haven’t had time to seal the deck/paint the bathroom/start the floors, insert about four more predictable excuses here. He’s leaving tonight. The house looks great, thanks to Terri, but his junk is scattered around…I expected that.
(Sidebar, no real surprises here) Sleeping in my bed is like checking into a five-star hotel. I spent money on the softest sheets, plush down comforter, a fine pillow-top mattress. And with all that, I didn’t sleep well. Kept waking up and savoring the cool ceiling fan breeze, the soft sheets, the crickets outside the open window, the rain, the amazing way that bed feels.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Kuwait: "So, do you like it up there?"
Iraq: "Yeah, it's okay. It gets kind of boring."
Kuwait: "Don't you have a movie theater where you are?"
Iraq: "Yeah, but they only change out the movie once a week."
Kuwait: "And I heard there's a pool."
Iraq: "Yeah, but it gets crowded."
Okay, ladies, come spend a day in MY world, and complain about your crowded pools and movies that only change once a week. There is a pool at my base, but I will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER have the time to go. Movie theater? Are you kidding?
And besides, what little free time I have is spent either sleeping or breaking the rules. Which I can't get off my mind (not the sleeping part). It's no small feat to have something to get me on the plane back to Iraq after my two weeks at home are over. And I cannot quit thinking about how much more enjoyable this trip would be if Mark could come along...I'd love to spend a couple of days in my big gorgeous bed, answering the door only to accept food.
Wednesday, September 01, 2004
One of my soldiers had a huge crisis of confidence this afternoon. I could see she was on the verge of tears, so I skirted the elephant in the living room until she got to it in her own way. Which was to burst into tears. She wanted to quit. Didn't think she could do this. Doesn't feel there's anyone to go to bat for her. Her supervisor couldn't care less if she got shot in the face by a field-grade officer.
I've had exactly these thoughts, exactly this crisis. Over and over, only in the portajohn, trying to keep quiet enough that passersby don't hear it. So I said the same things to her that I say to myself at least once a day: you CAN do this. Whether or not you CHOOSE to is another matter. You learn the most in times like this. You'll come out of it stronger. Have a whole new perspective, a new way to frame all the events of your life after this year. This is where your character kicks in and gets you through it. We're all in the same boat. Hang in there.
It probably works better coming from someone else. Plus I went in with her to talk to the Major, when she thought she'd get chewed out and was terrified. Her supervisor wouldn't support her. And here's where it got a bit odd, and brought home the point that I am truly an island adrift in the Big Boys' Club that is any Infantry Brigade: MY supervisor, the Major, shot me an annoyed look as we left the room and asked, snidely: What, are you playing Mother Hen now?
I was appalled. Mother Hen?!? I'm her Platoon Leader, I responded, making no effort to conceal my irritation with the patronizing remark.
This is what we do as leaders. You don't send your Sergeant in to talk to a field grade officer by herself. At least I don't.
What is WRONG with these people? They make this crap so much harder than it has to be, then find weakness where there should be kindness. We can't even support each other? I keep chalking my crisis moments up to being in a World Class Funk, when maybe all those nasty thoughts I have in my weak moments are right on target.
I need to surround myself with my friends and family, get my perspective back, so I don't turn into an asshole like this organization encourages.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
I rode in the back of a Jed Clampett-style truck, standing up and facing forward like a dog in a pickup, because I wanted to see everything. It's a little walled-in city, the International Zone, lush and green and peopled with smiling Americans and friendly Iraqis pawning pirated DVD's (Copyright? I'll Copy yo' shit Right onto mine) and former Regime currency with Saddams iconic mug on the bills. I spent all the money I had on movies--call it Hollywood's contribution to the war on terror, I don't feel the least bit remorseful.
I was there for a meeting at the Embassy. My job just became much more interesting and rewarding in that my piece feeds into a national-level effort. I'll go to these meetings once a week, either in the Embassy or closer to where we live. Either way, it's a bright spot in my week and infinitely more gratifying to be a part of something bigger than our little fishbowl of a Brigade.
So, the International Zone--we ate chicken biriani (fabulous) at a cafe next to a sign that read, "Alcoholic Beverages Will NOT Be Served Until All Weapons Are Cleared." I was with a group of Majors from our higher headquarters and they were great company. The female major has a voice that would curdle mother's milk when she briefs over the high-tech voice-chatroom thing we use, but in real life, she's warm and funny, and very good at her job.
I savored every moment. The spicy chicken and sweet rice, studded with currants and saffron. An older episode of Happy Days played on the TV overhead, complete with hystrionic Arabic voice-over. I drank a mango-puree concoction and we laughed about filming While You Were Out in one of Saddam's palaces. How his arrest, detention, and trial are all an elaborate ruse to get him out of the palaces so we can renovate them, make military headquarters and embassies out of them all.
I go home a week from Friday. I'd enjoy it much more if the lovely blue-eyed man could come with me, but that's outside the realm of possibility.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
As soon as we pulled into the Police Station, a small crowd of kids gathered just outside the reinforced barrier. They hollered, cheered, gave us the thumbs-up, which I'm still not sure about. In Arab culture it's more obscene than our middle finger...but we figure the kids have seen us do it enough, they know it doesn't mean that to us. And they won't stop until you wave and smile at them.
It was obvious that Americans haven't been to this town in quite some time. We saw no other military vehicles. The small crowd that gathered told me our presence was unusual. There was nothing hostile about it.
The Police Chief was a Colonel. Although anyone can call themselves a Colonel here, this guy had the bearing of one--he was clearly a man who was accustomed to being in charge. Iraqis are much larger people than Afghans; I dwarfed even the men in Afghanistan and even with my smallish feet, they easily wore my running shoes. Not these Iraqis. A couple of them were quite large, with giant hands like hams.
The Chief's lackey (probably a Lieutenant ;) brought in a silver tray of shot glasses centered on tiny saucers. They were filled with sugar, and he poured hot tea into each one. There were similarly tiny spoons; it was like playing tea party. The tea was almost unbearably hot, and very sweet.
We took off our helmets and settled in to talk. Soon the word got out that there was an American woman on the premises--every Iraqi cop in the force soon gathered out in the hallway, pushing each other out of the little door to stare at me. It was a bit unsettling. As soon as we finished meeting with the Chief (above all, they want rugs and curtains, to hell with the boots), the men saw I had a camera and the party started. One by one, they lined up to take pictures with me. I couldn't see the men as the Lieutenant took the pictures, and laughed out loud when I saw them later. In each photo, the man is leaned back a bit, with a very serious, tough-guy expression. A possessive arm hovers just behind my back.
I had three marriage proposals in fifteen minutes. There's the novelty of how we look--me, in particular, with red hair, pale skin, and green eyes--but I think it's more than that. I think American women are in turn worshipped and reviled the world over. For this, we can thank Brittney Spears.
I haven't slept much at all. I could spend the morning sleeping after this briefing I have to give in half and hour. But I need to get out there. I need something to look at, I need to see different people and some of this country. And I will spend the next 24 hours straight prepping a weekly rollup brief for the Commander, so this is my one chance to run for it.
One just ran across my desk. Yes, a mouse. They don't bother me the way they do some of these big manly men--some of them screech and jump like little girls. They set traps, they consult with exterminators, it has become A Problem. They spend time and energy on it that I just don't have, or care to summon for something so trivial.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Problem is, we're under a General Order that forbids sex between unmarried people. Which means I won't get naked with him. Period. That kind of trouble, I can do without--I have enough just doing my job day to day. And Mark, he was the one who told me about said rumor. I tried to gauge how he felt about it, if it was a subtle how 'bout it?
And what did I do? Laugh suggestively, level a charming gaze into his baby blues, and purr that it would be nice to give 'em something to talk about? Um, no. Actually, it caught me completely off guard and I went all awkward. The sleep deprivation and my physical filthiness added to the decidedly unsexy way I felt right about then, sitting in the chow hall trying to force down a steak sandwich with dirt under my fingernails and grit in my ears.
It was a perfect opportunity for me to just lay it on him, that when we get back to the States it's on like hot buttered popcorn, baby, that I'll put him between two slices of bread and call it Love Sammich? Oh, but no. My stomach clenched and I stammered something about the fact that his civilian rank is equivalent to a Colonel and wouldn't that be fraternization?
Damn it! What's the matter with me? Ok, I have to bring it up again, casually, and stop being such a chickenshit. How is it I can tell someone higher in rank that they're a dumbass, but I can't even look at this man when the conversation turns a bit serious? I feel fourteen years old, like my braces are cutting my lips up and I have a bad haircut.
But all the signs are there. It's in the way we speak to each other day to day. The soldiers picked up on it immediately, hence the rumors. I have to be careful, though, because it looks unprofessional that I'd have a little summer fling.
But it's not. We're not fooling around. Really. It wouldn't be so awkward if we were. Would it? I'm out of practice, I've blissfully forgotten how uncomfortable it can be, getting that close to someone.
But really, there's nothing wrong with me that a full night's sleep wouldn't fix.
Saturday, August 07, 2004
The last few days have been utter hell on earth. I cannot even look the commander in the eye, I hate him so much. It's been so long since I've dropped off or picked up laundry, I'm on the Third Wearing of the Socks. It's 6:30 on Sunday morning, I've been here since five, and I won't get to leave until well after midnight tonight. And am required to be in by five. Seven days a week. For the next ten + months. And the late nights will not go away.
My short-term memory is gone. I couldn't remember the word for that thing you write when you come in from a mission, oh yeah, a REPORT. It literally took thirty seconds to come up with that word. This was last night. I think.
Just now I caught a glimpse of myself in the chow hall mirror as I washed my hands. I look like a drug addict--red, glassy eyes (with black circles, very glamorous), hair in disarray, pale skin.
The one bright spot in my week came two nights ago, unexpectedly, when I finished a six-hour meeting with the Men With Rank, and the sweet man I've mentioned before had gotten my dinner. Steak, a salad, and cookies, in a go-box on my desk with a little note about how he'd noticed I hadn't eaten.
It sounds like a tiny gesture, but at that moment, I was moved nearly to tears. I'll take all the wee kindnesses I can get right now, and make an effort to push some out myself. I gave my two soldiers the morning off and that's why I'm here now. Stuff like that. I can't let the vitriol filter down. I must be the shit filter. Does it make my life hell? Yes, it does. Is it the right thing to do? Yes, it is.
I'm good at my job. I just don't like it much right now.
Sunday, August 01, 2004
Actually, I was even more glad no one was around to witness my stress-induced tantrum moments later in the shower. Having worked that insane schedule for many days in a row, I can't exactly remember when my last shower took place. I'm thinking it was three days prior. But last night, I reached my filth threshold and sacrificed a half-hour of sleep for a shower. So imagine how pissed I was when I reached for the knobs, naked, shampoo in hand, and there was no water.
I cursed. I threw things. Slammed doors. Then went about fixing the problem...threw switches in the fuse box, turned knobs on the pump, still naked as a jaybird and not giving a tinker's damn. And finally, something went right and the pump started working.
I was still pissed, though, and muttered furiously all through the shower and kept it up stomping back to my room.
There's nothing wrong with me that a full night's sleep wouldn't fix. I'm only able to keep this blog updated because the Boss isn't around and we finally have an unclassified computer in the Dungeon.
I miss my queen-sized sleigh bed with the fine sheets and thick down comforter. I miss the ceiling fan's sweet breeze. I miss waking up to sunlight in the room and the sound of traffic outside the Park where I live. I miss my kitchen. And the front porch with the cheap chairs I bogarted from Dad's house that actually look great and are quite comfortable when you pull one up to the railing, put your feet up, and read for the late afternoon as the cats chase each other on the front lawn. I just plain miss home.
Friday, July 23, 2004
I slept soundly until about ten pm local time when BOOM!!! Huge explosion. BOOOM! Even bigger one five minutes later. A bunch of us gathered outside after turning off our porch lights so the sumbitches wouldn't have anything to aim at. We could see blue flashes of light from both the east and west, the ground shook. There's no bunker, so we stood there laughing nervously.
"Was that one closer? Are they bracketing?" someone asked. Bracketing is what folks do with artillery, use a spotter and tell the dude firing the tube to crank it left or right so they can hit the target.
So we all felt pretty sheepish this morning when we read that only the first explosion was an incoming mortar...the other ten? Us firing back, hallalujah.
Just now all the field grade officers in the Brigade Headquarters freaked out, walked from office to office shouting and swearing and threatening to fire folks. A fist fight almost broke out between two majors.
When will these infantry types learn that it's in times of chaos that calm counts the most? And that jackassery has a way of trickling down if you don't have a strong enough leader in the middle as a stopper? They all reminded me of little barking chihuahuas, walking around spreading vitriol without task or purpose or direction.
So I escaped. It's air conditioned in here. I snuck out with our Warrant Officer and Shayla, the other female lieutenant. They won't miss us in the chaos.
Saturday, July 17, 2004
You would think that the road connecting Kuwait to Baghdad, roughly the same route Saddam marched years back, would involve a nice, four-lane interstate. And parts of it were. But mostly, it was worse than the back roads of Mississippi. I had neither door nor seatbelt to keep my body-armored butt in the vehicle, so spent a significant amount of energy just holding on. That and pointing my rifle out the door, ready to tear somebody's ass up if they messed with us.
The radio consumed the rest of my effort--I had no speaker, so had to hold the handmike under the kevlar helmet the whole trip. My ear was purple when we finally arrived. But we're not there yet.
The first flat tire hit just after the dead camel. We'd been out the gate maybe twenty minutes. It took almost an hour to change it...the truck was huge and heavy and bent the jack like a paperclip. The next flat tire hit the next day. There were six in all. And then the coup de grace.
"Shit, is that a wheel in the road?" I drove at this point, the PFC almost passed out from the heat and fatigue. Sure enough, an entire wheel spun off the road, the heaviest truck we have beached to the left of the road. Thank Allah there was no fuel truck convoy from the opposite direction at that particular moment.
For three hours, midday heat, we stood on the side of the road. Everyone kept both hands on weapons, fully alert despite the face-melting heat--we were, after all, in Iraq by this time.
The third day began with the outpost where we'd "slept" getting mortared. Time to hit the road, folks, let's move. Next, I fully exploded on a Staff Sergeant from another unit who dismounted his vehicle moments before we were to depart in order to inform me, snidely, that our trailer/big satellite dish had a tail light out. He'd been openly disrespectful the whole trip, and my Flip Mode went something like this: "No shit, Sergeant! It's been like that for four days, jackass! Get back in your goddamn vehicle and get your head out of your ass! And take whatever personal bullshit problem you have with you!" I think there was more as he slunk back to his truck.
We finally arrived here. I have my own room in an air-conditioned trailer. I bought a fridge. But that is where the luxury ends. We're two miles from the chow hall. A mile to work. Three miles to the higher headquarters. No vehicles. Very hot. I'm buying a bike today.
Three days of holding urine for hours on end to my GREAT discomfort culminated in a bladder/kidney infection that hit me like a bag of bricks yesterday. It went from "Hmm, I may have to go to sick call tomorrow" to "Holy shit is there an emergency room around here?" in the span of an hour. Nothing like pissing volumes of blood and suffering pain that doubles you over speechless to make you move toward the doc.
What's next? Possibly, some days of frustration and more jackassery from my commander. I'm getting better at avoiding him entirely.
Saturday, July 10, 2004
HE, or High Explosive--an artillery round. This question from the driver, a Specialist in my platoon and one of my favorite soldiers. We drove willy-nilly through the desert, ten Humvees, thirty personnel. We were on our way to yet another range, another day spent in the face-melting heat. If we could just get there.
People went on a recon the day before, to make sure we could get out to the range. It's notoriously hard to find, this one--out in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert. They finally found it, somehow, and now led the pack. We were already late, having wasted half an hour before we left due to a mixup with guard duty and the last-minute addition of several vehicles to the convoy without telling me.
ME, the Range Officer-In-Charge. Yeah, ME, the one who organized all this crap for the last three weeks. ME, the one who needs to know about additions to the convoy so I can get the paperwork done.
But surely there is a real road that leads to this range, or what passes for a road out here--generally two little mounds on either side to guide you through the loose sand. Only out here, no guidance. Only craters and spent artillery that indicated we were in an impact zone.
At first, it was funny. The Commander has us lost and wandering like the Philistines through an impact area. Ha ha, we could get hit with a mortar.
We drove through herd of camels. Passed heavily scaled lizards as big as your leg. Turned around more than once. I instructed the soldiers in my vehicle to scan for heffalumps in homage to that Winnie the Pooh where they wander in circles through the forest.
Two hours of nudging camels and dodging lizards (but thankfully, no mortars), we arrived at the range. One of the infantry units from our brigade occupied the range off to our right about 400 meters, well visible on the desolate desert floor. The heat has become even more intense these last few days. In the afternoons, stepping out of the tent into the glare makes me think of that Nazi sumbitch on Raiders of the Lost Ark who opened the Ark, and his face ran off onto his shirt, eyeballs rolling off his chin. It literally feels as if your meat is cooking.
As we assembled the big weapons we were to shoot, I bent into a Humvee to get another bottle of water. And then there was a MASSIVE explosion. I straightened up to see sand falling about 150 meters from us, between our site and the infantry guys. Someone close to me yelled, "What the hell was that??"
"Cease fire, cease fire, cease fire!!!" I yelled. I was the Range Safety Officer. I got onto the radio to Range Control. The consensus among our guys was that it was a mortar round, far too big for anything we or the infantry guys fired that day.
It's a point of contention. There was a mortar platoon up the hill from us who categorically denied having fired at all. And so the range went on.
But we did notice, on passing the mortar platoon a second time on our way home, that the tubes all pointed in a different direction than they had when we'd passed them earlier.
Well, yeah, it could've been bad. But it wasn't, and makes a good story.
Sunday, July 04, 2004
I managed to creep into my tent yesterday and spent the afternoon writing and reading a summertime trash novel: Trading Up by Candace Bushnell of Sex and the City fame. It's exactly what I need--a frivolous tale about some rich, hip girls in New York, driving out to the Hamptons for parties on the beach.
Talk about escapism. What, am I supposed to read Hamlet out here?
Still, I can't let my brain go to mush, so the next novel on the trail is Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Must Bear it Away. Great Southern black humor, too bad she died at 32. She would've continued to whup ass.
I have never lived well with people. Right now I'm crammed into a tattered, filthy tent with thirteen other females, and I'm the oldest one by at least ten years. I cope using earplugs and a frou-frou little blue silk eye pillow that allows me to shut off my lights whenever I get away from the Headquarters at night.
Most of these ladies, they're good people, just a bit young. But two of them just annoy the hell out of me--it's just this constant litany of honking, braying laughter, loud enough to shatter glass. One of them plays the I'm So Cute role, using babytalk and all other manner of nerve-grating, little-girl vernacular. The other plays Poor Me, My Life's So Hard. AND they BOTH greatly exaggerated illness and injury while we were in the desert in order to get driven back here, away from all that hard stuff. And they're both Sergeants!
Nothing annoys me more than a female soldier who feeds right into all the negative stereotypes many of our male counterparts assign us: we're lazy, we're weak, we malinger and complain.
The First Sergeant made my whole day yesterday when he told me that officers live in single-person rooms. I won't have to listen to all that blah blah blah from those two.
Friday, July 02, 2004
I've concluded that they must've filmed the Tatooine piece of the original Star Wars here. I've never seen such a vast expanse of utter nothingness. Not a bush, not a scrub tree anywhere in view. I thought El Paso was bleak...this place looks like the surface of the moon.
But I'm satisfied. I ran five ranges in four days, successfully trained the company on a myriad of combat tasks. And the best part of each day out there was the early morning "range sweep," bearing close resemblance to a Rat Patrol remake.
It was that short period of time in this moonscape that it's actually pleasurable--the sun's just up, it's still cool, and there's a pink-purple cast on everything. My range sweeps involved my riding shotgun in a Humvee with some crusty old retired-Infantry Sergeant Major, smoking and cursing, as we hauled ass through the landscape. Felt like a bobblehead doll, almost fell out a time or two, and loved every minute of it.
The purpose of the Range Sweep is to chase off the Bedoins. Hard to imagine, in this day and age, a herd of camels sheparded by an astonishingly wiry Bedoin, accompanied by a pack mule and a dog, roaming the landscape in search of scant feed for the herd. But we chased them off the range all day, keep them from getting accidentally shot.
I'm strictly limited on time, so I have to keep this abbreviated.
There was another unit out there with us on an adjacent range, and I watched them through my binoculars as they chased a herd of sheep away...they did it differently from us though. We politely asked the shepard to move on, using gun-gestures to explain they might get shot if they stayed. Usually worked just fine. These jackasses, however, barreled right into this poor man's herd. I SAW them run over a lamb.
I was PISSED.
I saw the Lieutenant, a guy I've dealt with here from time to time. I asked him, "Hey, did ya'll just run over that guy's flock???"
He smirked. "I think we scared one, it might've had a heart attack."
I stared at him for a moment. "No wonder they hate us, you jackass," I said, then walked away.
I can't abide arrogant American assholes. Period.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
The case of the Exploding Ass.
I wash my hands religiously. I use gallons of hand sanitizer. I only drink bottled water. To no avail. I still spend all my free time hunched over in the portajohn...which, by the way, is essentially an oven in the midday heat. When I'm briefing the Colonel, I'm praying all the while, not here, not now.
Here's a way you can approximate how we live here, exploding ass excepted: bundle up in long sleeves, pants, etc. Then add the thickest down vest you can find (that's the body armor). Weigh yourself down with a bunch of gear, put a motorcycle helmet on your head. Now hop into your car in the middle of the day after it's been out in the direct sun. Go ahead and leave the door open, I'll allow that. Crank it up, turn the heat on high, and sit there with that blast in your face for a few hours.
But you know, for some reason I'm not miserable. Actually, I felt okay all day. I'm either acclimating or just accepting it all. Okay, so it's hot. Yep, there's blowing sand. Roger, we live in the ghetto. And yeah, I'm not crazy about the job I've been given. But at some point I think I must've mentally rolled up my sleeves and decided to quit fighting it all, just roll with it. I feel better when I force myself to be cheerful--mood follows actions.
I'll somehow make it through this thing. I wish I could be more descriptive, but Operational Security dictates discretion.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
The winds vary from Moderately Annoying Sandstorm to No Visibility Sandstorm, depending on the time of day and how many degrees over 100 it happens to reach. The hotter it gets, the higher the winds.
I'm told we'll live well once we get to our permanent area. I'll believe it when I see it. Right now we're crammed into a damaged tent--I wake up several times a night to a sandblast to the face, which I suppose could have theraputic exfoliating qualities...but not when I'm trying to sleep, damn it!
My job right now is as Collection Manager, which means I marry up intel requirements to assets. Booooo---rrrrinng! I'm trying to understand how the HUMINT Platoon Leader gets sucked into this one.
But I did tell everyone who needs to know up my chain that I intend to leave the Army, got the paperwork started. One officer tried to talk me back into staying in the Army, but I stopped him in his tracks. Buddy, you don't get it, I am DONE with this crap.
It can only get better. Right?
Monday, June 14, 2004
So at any rate, in this dream, I had returned from Iraq, left the Army, taken a job in some swank office building that also contained my apartment. And what an apartment it was--huge, with plush bathrooms for each oversized bedroom, windows everywhere. I walked around deciding which room I would call my bedroom...except that the place was trashed.
The previous occupants were ditzy coeds. Dirty laundry, old garbage, long-spoiled food languished everywhere you stepped. I had just decided to call the landlady and raise holy hell when I came across the head of a cat on the kitchen floor. As I stood horrified, it began wiggling around, making noise. And the whole garbage can was full of rotting kitty corpses, all moving around and making a fuss.
See what I mean, psychological side effects? I dream about houses all the time, and it's almost always a case of their being large and beautiful and full of doors that open to entire wings of rooms I hadn't known about previously. And almost always in a state of disrepair, in need of an owner who would make it into something. And these dreams started a decade ago, long before I owned a house.
But dead kitty heads running around on the floor?!? Good lord!
I must admit, though, it is HIGH entertainment.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
It stood up on its hind legs on the side of the trail, some sort of vine in its hand which it slowly ate. I braked just in time. I didn't want to jump over it, 'cause can't they, like, shoot quills at you?
Then I just bent down and watched it. "Hey, uh, I tell you what, you go your way and I'll just go mine, deal?" It reacted like a pampered patron at the Four Seasons seated at the table next to Anna Nicole Smith's entourage...shot me an annoyed glance over its shoulder, kept eating leisurely. How uncouth, how untoward. Can you NOT see I'm trying to enjoy my luncheon here?
I grinned and crept past, still envisioning quills! shooting! into! my! leg! He was gone by the time I'd finished the trail and came back his direction.
Then this morning, I heard the distressed squawking of a bird growing steadily louder and closer. And Esther crashed into the dining room through the slightly-open deck door with a grey dove in her mouth, which she released into the kitchen as all hell broke loose.
It flew into the window, POW! Then into the wall, BANG! I thought the next impact would surely crush its light little skull. It hit the floor as I pushed the cat out of the way, then darted into a space I didn't even know existed...under the cabinet, there is a hole in the baseboard that leads into a small, awkward spot under the counter, where the drawers don't reach.
Shit! How the hell to get it out of there? I could hear it flapping a squawking. I tried a broom...hell no. I tried to pry up the countertop...it became clear right away that I'd have to remove the entire sink for that one to work. Finally, I just stood there and waited.
It didn't take long for it to head for the light and burst from the little hole it had squeezed through. I caught it and held it in my hands, all trembly bird energy. It didn't seem hurt and flew for the stately maple tree in my yard when I released it.
I've been a terrible procrastinator. I must go pack for this goddamn deployment. I'm putting together a series of care packages for myself, all the crap I can't fit in that giant rucksack...my fancy-schmancy Camelbak, eight books (Tom Robbins, mostly, and some Flannery O'Connor), extra superpowered sunscreen, girly shit like haircolor because I've gone so grey and I just don't need to see it.
But right now, I'm not quite done with this month's Runner's World and it's a beautiful, warm day. The front porch beckons.
Saturday, June 12, 2004
God I'm going to miss my life here. We leave Wednesday. I can't help having a bad attitude about it, because I don't want to go. Period. I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels this way, but I was somewhat excited before we went to Afghanistan, it was this big adventure. But now I know the truth about deploying--it sucks. It's boring, it's acutely uncomfortable, and I was only in Afghanistan for five months. This one is for a year.
I can't even conceive of it--that's a Korea tour. And THAT felt like a decade, the year I spent in Korea--where I had a room, a bed, a shower, hot food, all the books I wanted, subway trips to Seoul. There will be none of that in Iraq.
I'm struggling to wrap my head around this thing, because this time I'm the one in charge. Right now I need to pull an Oscar-winning performance out of my ass, smile like an idiot, and GET EXCITED! Isn't this fun, ya'll??
I think I found the absolute perfect Brownie recipe. I should've known it would be the best one, it came from Good Eats, on the Food Network.
Good Eats is hosted by this character named Alton Brown. I love this guy. He's like a Mr. Science for food. He'll demonstrate why your souffle' falls by blowing up twenty white balloons and going into the Molecular Structure of Egg Whites. But these brownies, they have four eggs and two sticks of butter--just pure fat and sugar, like a brownie should be. I just heated some up and topped it with some vanilla ice cream for breakfast.
That's what I'm talkin about!!
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
CG=Commanding General, as in the two-star guy...and this one, he stands about six-eleven and sounds like the Voice of God from high in the stratosphere. Needless to say, I got a call from the CG about you is NOT a statement I'm looking to hear from the mouth of my commander, jackass or not.
"Yep, he says you're non-deployable. Do you know what that's about?"
For one moment, my heart soared. But then reason took hold...I knew it would be some mundane technicality, one that would quickly get resolved.
I was, of course, absolutely spot-on.
"Um, it must be because I just got back from Afghanistan."
"Oh, so you'll need to sign this form..." He (with much mustered nonchalance) pushed a counseling form across the desk to me, already filled out, with the title DECLINATION OF STABILIZATION PERIOD/VOLUNTARY DEPLOYMENT. Then I got it.
He (my commander) waited this long to present me with the fact that I could, in fact, decline this deployment. I felt a little sick to my stomach as I read the form...I understand that this deployment is for the period of one year or until mission completion...my participation is entirely voluntary...
See, the commander knew that if they'd presented me with this document a month ago, I may very well have refused to sign. I still could. It was never pitched to me as something I could opt out of--instead, I got the speech that went something like this: the Army never guaranteed any standard length of time between deployments, this is what you signed on for whether you knew it or not, we're counting on you to be the kind of leader who will stand strong for this mission...
In other words, vastly different from what's actually going down on paper. On paper, I fully stepped forward and said, Ooo! Ooo! I WANNA GO!!
So did I sign? I hesitated, while certain thoughts went through my mind: what do you care, you're fixing to leave the Army and join the FBI, you could stay and work on the house...
But of course I signed, and here's why: I'm a leader of soldiers, I'm in charge of forty-two people, we're in this together. And who would suffer if I acted like a little bitch and backed out one week before we leave? Not my commander, not the CG...these soldiers and my fellow lieutenants, that's who.
See, I have to be able to look myself in the eye as I'm brushing my teeth in the morning. And the six years I've already served would be forever tainted by this one cowardly act, refusing to go to combat with my troops. And the thing is? The commander KNEW that. That's why he waited until the CG called, until my not having signed that form became an issue with The Boss.
But here's what I also know: I'd still get deployed in September or January, at least this way I'm getting it over with. Also, I know I was hand-selected for this position, and it's a testament to the Battalion Commander's confidence in my abilities to lead this platoon. AND, the other lieutenants in the Battalion, the ones who could/would potentially replace me...well, this platoon needs someone who's willing to be A Total Bitch (i.e, ME) and stick up for them with this commander. I don't trust them to anyone else. You know, when you want something done right, you do it yourself? Yep, that's exactly the case here.
I'm not a Patton. I'm not a Bradley, not a McArthur. But neither am I a chickenshit, and the thing is, I DO care (very much, actually) about what happens to these folks.
So this job, I'll do it myself. I couldn't stand it if one of these soldiers approached me on returning and reported how fucked up things were and that their Platoon Leader wouldn't stick up for them.
So what I need to do now is quit thinking about how I could've said no. I need to quit being pissed off about getting sent right back out the door, get my head in the game, and just move out, do what needs to be done.
OK, got it. Saluting smartly and moving out.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Consider, gentle readers, the 1 1/2-inch thick filet mignon I bought last weekend and have been too busy to grill up. It was still fresh, so I coated it with a light coat of olive oil and pressed into it a dry rub of every appealling savory seasoning in my cupboard. I heated the grill as blistering as it could get and hit it for a couple of minutes each side, intending to sear it, create a seasoned crust, while preserving a cool, blood-red, tender inside.
Ambrosia of the gods. The fat and olive oil crusted perfectly with the seasonings, the whole thing remained astonishingly tender. Intially, I tucked into it like a starved hostage. But then I cut smaller and smaller bits, slowed down, savored the crisp-tender, almost silky texture of the fine meat, the slight smokiness. I even ate the bits of pure fat, which were the most flavorful of all and retained the finest crusting. Seasoned juice puddled in the plate with each cut. It's too cool to eat outside, but I wouldn't have wanted any distractions for this one. I was happy to be alone, at my antique dining room table, in this sun-filled room, not holding up one end of a conversation. I had full focus on this thing.
I've never had such fine steak--no upscale New Orleans restaurant could rival it. The local brewpub doesn't even come close, and I love their filet mignon.
My favorite side dish when grilling is cibollitas, or plain old green onions minus the white part, sprayed with Pam, dusted with Kosher salt, grilled just long enough for hints of brownness to show, then liberally drowned in lime juice. When I lived in New Orleans, I would drive all the way across town to have them at a Mexican restaurant we loved. And now I eat them at home several times a week.
At this rate, I won't even fit into my uniform for the initial liftoff...but judging by the 20-40 pound weight loss I've seen out of folks landing there in that impossible heat, I'm not terribly concerned.
And honestly, during these last few days of time off I'll have for the next 365 days, I just don't give one baby rat's ass.
Thursday, May 27, 2004
Saturday, May 22, 2004
So we're rebuilding this team from the ground up. These soldiers just finished training, they have no operational experience at all, and the soldiers we expected to take get to stay here and get a bit of stabilization time. Some of the new ones are Guard, some Reserves, from all four corners of the United States, and very cognizant of the Active Component's perception of Guard and Reserves. They all plan to sew on our Division's patch right away. Many are cops in real life, and most speak at least one other language. They're all friendly and seem eager to integrate.
My first impression of the females, however, is that they could get ahold of some attitude down the line--they showed up here in tight-fitting, low-cut outfits wearing a great deal of makeup. There are three, and this is true of them all. Two visibly sidelined themselves as bags were being uploaded, and two are noticibly overweight.
More to follow, I'm sure...
Thursday, May 20, 2004
lickey chewey: n. A treat or snack, usually sent to soldiers where none are available. Make sure the Chinook hovers over the firebase long enough to kick out that bag of lickey chewies to Sergeant R's squad.
soup sandwich: n. or adj. Evidence of incompetence or laziness. LT S's convoy ended up in a minefield because he can't read a map--man, that's soup sandwich.
shit the bed/went tits up: v. Ceased to function. We got four miles outside the gate when the humvee shit the bed. It went tits up outside Kabul.
cut the sling load: v. To dispose of people who are weight without benefit, as if from a load-bearing Chinook helicopter. Sergeant F is too lazy to take with us, we need to cut the sling load and leave him here.
take a knee, drink water: v. Action taken in order to recover from some arduous event. Sergeant R stepped on a landmine while we were on patrol, so I told him to take a knee, drink water, and drive on.
Monday, May 10, 2004
This from the C.O. (Commander), as soon as we walked in the door this morning. My heart sank. I even joked, "He's fixin to tell us something we don't want to hear."
Sure enough. We got sucked into the deployment. We leave in three weeks. AND we're now a permanent part of D Co, which is unfortunate. Unfortunate because I really liked B Co's command structure, the soldiers, all of it. I've heard nothing but horror stories about D Co's commander.
Anyone out there who could foster a couple of adorable, well-behaved, sweet cats, email me at email@example.com. They are my biggest concern right now. Get them taken care of, I can handle everything else.
Thursday, May 06, 2004
We went to a new Mexican restaurant off post called Antojito's. The only other Mexican restaurant in the entire area is out in Sackets, and it's not very good. Antojito's features tamales that are enough like the ones I loved in El Paso that I can only conclude that there is a genuine Mexican back there. Tamales tend to be made by women, and I used to buy them by the dozen from a convenience store...I'd walk in, ask for a dozen chicken-green chile tamales, and she'd stop working on her stack of the same to plop them into the steamer.
They were amazing. One of the only things I liked about El Paso was the food. But even that didn't compensate for that oppressively barren landscape.
So, today there were tamales...and damn good ones! And for dessert, cheesecake wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried, with an apricot/honey sauce on top.
Immediately afterward, all three of us had a briefing from Range Control--in order to run a range (where we shoot our rifles and qualify on them), you have to have this class. It's about an hour long, in a dark, cool room with comfy chairs that recline just enough...
We were knocked the hell out. All three of us. I'd look over at SSG R (who's a muscular, bald, black man) just as his head would tip and wake him abruptly. Then I'd struggle. Vic was just flat-out asleep at one point. It was torture and I don't think I retained any information at all, except that if you leave food in your vehicle at the range, the bears might break your window and trash your car. I felt sorry for the briefer but I could not force myself to stay awake. I looked around the room and everyone struggled with it. Heads tipped, mouths dropped open, eyelids fluttered. That guy could've told us the Seven Horses of the Apocalypse had just pulled up outside, there'd be no reaction.
Note to self: never schedule briefings, as the giver or the taker, just after lunch. And avoid tamales and fried cheesecake if the timing can't be helped.
Wednesday, May 05, 2004
First, I'm attempting to create my own website, so I can post photos. And as I struggle with getting Frontpage to publish to my newly-purchased site (www.gi-jive-turkey.org), I marvel that so many jackasses manage to create websites every day. Judging by much of the content out there, these folks are a far cry from brain surgeons. Seems like I should be able to figure it out.
My reasons for outrage concerning those photos, besides the glaringly obvious moral bankruptcy of it all:
1) Arab anger=attacks on Americans. Rocket science? I think not.
2) Iraqis will not take kindly to apprehension, will die fighting to avoid it. Chemlite up my ass? I'll pass.
3) What are the chances American prisoners will now be treated humanely? Slim to none, and Slim just left.
But I didn't have any training! I asked for guidance! Military Intelligence told me to! Horseshit, people! Does anybody really need to be told not to torture prisoners? Haven't we all been trained on the tenets of the Geneva Convensions? (The answer is yes, by the way, it's part of the absolute basic soldiering skills, I don't buy they'd never heard of it.) Are you THAT stupid? How many times have we been told to disobey illegal orders? And oh, by the way, my platoon of interrogaters all tell me that's bullshit, that it's SOP to direct the MP's to "prep" them. Doesn't happen.
And then to take pictures, for chrissake.
It WILL cost American lives. The damage IS permanent. I keep thinking that at some point, I'll stop being surprised by stupidity, but it hasn't happened yet. I'm freshly astonished regularly at what imbeciles lurk among us.
It's 5:15 am, and I've been up since about 3:30. I'm not sleeping well since learning I'm most likely headed to Iraq for a full year, leaving in under a month. Yes, I'm pissed off. I know dozens of officers who have never deployed, and here I get two in one year.
A full year deployed is utterly incomprehensible to me--that's a Korea tour. I just bought this house and it looks like I won't get to enjoy it, or even get all the way unpacked. I'll have to either find a surrogate home for the kitties (how likely is that?), or a new home altogether, which hurts my heart to no end. I'm terribly attached to my little guys, my perfectly-proportioned, fluffy grey Esther and the sleek, handsome little black panther, Oscar. Ouch. There is still a slight chance we won't go, but if I've learned anything about the Army, it's that the news is never good.
It was on the news last night, and annoyed the crap out of me. Our local TV station cannot seem to EVER get unit names correct...they called us 1-10th MI, when we're 110th MI. Seems like a small thing, but it's not...that dash would make us part of a regiment, which we aren't. We're direct support to the Division and the Infantry Brigades.
Then, in the true tradition of Army Public Affairs misinformation, it was stated that NO SOLDIERS WHO HAVE RECENTLY RETURNED ARE INCLUDED IN THIS DEPLOYMENT, when my entire company just got back from a year in Iraq only two months ago. Then the chirpy little anchorwoman said, "Some of these soldiers have been back less than a year!" I had to laugh. Try three months, you Whore of Babylon. It's not her fault, she's only repeating the misinformation handed her by those pogues at Public Affairs.
It will be a daily test of my character; it's in times of chaos that calmness counts the most. I have to think of how my behavior will effect my soldiers, keep that in the front of my mind at all times. Whether or not I agree with the mission or the timing is irrelevant--if my platoon goes, I go, simple as that. I should count my blessings that I have such great soldiers, especially the Warrant Officer who so clearly has my back. I'm lobbying against sending the Sergeant First Class about whom I've only heard the worst possible gossip...he's lazy as hell, he's a liability, etc. The Staff Sergeant who is currently my Platoon Sergeant is so overtly outstanding, to replace him with this bag-o-donuts would really chap my ass.
I think the weblog will be a base of sanity. I'm liable to get really, really bluesy if this thing kicks off like we think it will.
Monday, April 26, 2004
The bad news: the company spent a year in Iraq, and were among the first in, long before the initial assault. The stories the soldiers told me were unlike anything I've ever heard--the logistics were so bad, they were down to one bottle of water a day in that heat, they deployed with only a rucksack and so couldn't wash or change clothes for months.
What it all adds up to: the soldiers are highly competent, but they are beyond burned out. They just got back from that year in hell last month. Most of the soldiers now in the platoon will either PCS or leave the Army soon, as I'm sure is true at the end of any long deployment. So we're pretty much starting over.