29 December 2010

If... and Christmas!

If… Rudyard Kipling

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

So I found this poem when I was reading Bridget Jones:  The Edge of Reason (which incidentally is not a bad book… I picked it up in some transient location somewhere out of a lack of things to read… I’m rationalizing).  I found it to be remarkably reflexive of the whole deployment experience (the poem, not Bridget Jones).  While things here gone well overall, the experience is still at times trying.  Deployment has a way of stretching your every last nerve in every direction.  Enduring the experience is an accomplishment in and of itself.  Surprisingly after the experience is over, it’s generally positive in hindsight.  I know I have dozens of “one time at band camp…” stories that I subject my fellow soldiers to all the time gloating about how wonderful of a time I had in Afghanistan.  The work of transitioning a deployment from a reality to a memory is the most difficult part… an endurance test of its own nature… one that I think is captured in Kipling’s poem.


In other news, we just finished up with the Christmas holidays.  I set the Christmas tree on fire just yesterday.  I understand that lighting Christmas trees aflame upon the conclusion of Christmas is not a tradition, but I highly recommend that we make it one as it provides a youthful anticipation reminiscent of Santa Claus.  The crackling and uncontrolled flames alongside the wanton sense of destruction make for a very positive experience.  Above you will see a picture of the Christmas tree in the days before Christmas… note its unsuspecting look of innocent ambition… it never saw what hit it.


I helped cook breakfast on Christmas morning.  Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes (aside from setting Christmas trees aflame… and using the word aflame) so it allowed me a little release.  We cooked sausage, scrambled eggs, and pancakes for approximately 80 soldiers with wonderful results.  The morning looked grim at first after a handful of near electrical fires (due largely with issues related to scaling down 220 volt power sources to 120 volt power).  With a faithful crew of electricians/cooks we managed to put breakfast on the table just in time.  The breakfast was nice as it gave us a break from realizing that we were away from home on Christmas morning.  The amount of work that people put in organizing and setting the whole venture up reflected the spirit of the holidays.

After the breakfast, I had the pleasure of getting to watch my daughter open her presents over Skype.  She was extremely happy about all the tape and paper that she got, and did not seem too annoyed by all the toys that she had to separate from them.  One remarkable thing about this deployment has been the proliferation of technology as part of the soldiers array of crap they carry around with them.  Unlike my previous deployment, we can enjoy special moments in person by proxy via webcam in the privacy of our rooms (instead of in shared computer lab facilities).  We have better access to stay in touch with those at home.  Honestly, I think soldiers have surpassed the military in their ability to use modern infrastructure to communicate.  I know more about what individual soldiers have done all day and how they are feeling through Facebook (across a wide variety of locations within Iraq) than I know about them through the official military channels.  Sometimes I feel like I live in a BestBuy commercial.

Well that’s it for now...


16 December 2010

Life following leave


So I have a tendency to stop posting when the situation shifts to such a state where the emotional vividness or the social mechanics of the situation become difficult to articulate absent the context of such a “unique” time and place.  It’s most likely laziness or lack of literary adeptness on my part, but it’s sometimes difficult to describe what’s going on here as so little of what happens stands out as events that can be easily be isolated and relayed.  In fact, everything here is interwoven into some incredibly complex, utterly disturbing, and distortedly civilized tapestry that creates an abstraction of humanity which stands as a piece of postmodern art.  Most things that happen here only make sense here and only through the lens of the experience that has brought us to this point in the deployment.  I struggle with accurately relaying that content.  Not to mention that most of our conversations and antics are not to be repeated among polite company.

I enjoyed a wonderful leave for a large part of my absence from blogging.  Leave is truly a bittersweet thing during which the military is kind enough to give us our lives back only to cruelly rip them back away from us once we truly begin to feel again… once we truly understand what it is we are missing.  I relished the moments to see my daughter walking around for the first time and exploring the world in a way that only a mind unblemished by the negative aspects of humanity can do.  I had the opportunity to experience the anticipation of a new baby in a way that’s not possible here given the complexities of living in two realities.  It was a chance to enjoy the experience without worrying about arbitrary deadlines and issues of contrived experiences.  I glimpsed briefly into the incredible difficulties that my wife has experienced in playing the role of two parents, working, and dealing with the emotional turmoil of deployment.  I will never completely understand what she has endured, but I am humbled at her ability to take on the other part of a deployment… the part that gets far less glory and very little press recognition.  In short, I had a vacation to be a whole, real person again.

Back in Iraq I have quickly fallen into the daily routine of moving things around, shuffling paperwork, and gossiping like a bunch of middle-school girls.  Our days are a countdown until the end of our deployment and an extended waiting period between meals.  Meals are for all intents and purposes the clock that drives the Army.  Our focus has started to shift on getting ready to get out of here, but there’s still plenty of time left to go.  We have created a pretty rigorous social and entertainment schedule that gives us enough to look forward to push us through each day.  Our nights are marked by dinners eaten with the company of Pat and Alex as we compete through episodes of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune.  The weekends bring Risk tournaments (complete with complex scoring and ranking system) and movie night.  Time passes slowly, but it passes in good company.  For all the negative facet of a deployment, the people make up for it.  The soldiers set the tone of mutual dependency and camaraderie that makes it all bearable.

The picture at the top is me following my daughter as she leads me through the airport to get my luggage at the start of my leave.  And as always I promise to attempt to try to possibly post more… that’s it for the moment.

17 October 2010

Hacked - My Latest Update

Once again it’s been some time since I’ve posted here.  Life is busy as usual, and I have the attention span of a hummingbird.  So here’s what I’ve been up to lately…

First of all, my “planningish” website that I maintain to geek out on my professional life was hacked by Islamic hackers.  I’m not kidding… this was in fact a reality.  I’ve included a picture below.  At first I was somewhat angered by the whole ordeal, but then I found an odd sort of irony in the whole situation as the event seemed to have no correlation to my being here in Iraq.  Honestly, I am tired of being caught in some Islamic onslaught against the Western/Christian invasion (or vice-versa depending on your perspective).  I really don’t have a dog in this fight… I may be passively idealizing Western culture (I’m not trying to deny that), but I am not actively proselytizing it. 


I am tired of the conflict surrounding two cultures that could easily peacefully exist beside one another should their supporters decide to take a few minutes to stop shoving their beliefs down the other side’s throats.  To hop up on my soapbox for a moment, I would like to ask that those who so vehemently oppose religious beliefs counter to their own to take my place.  Seriously… I am missing some of the best years with my family and I find the news to be a depressing reflection of the reality that despite almost a decade of conflict, we’ve done nothing but breed extremism (both religious and political) on all sides of this problem.  We should have learned our lesson, closed mindedness and extremism threw us into this battle; it’s not going to get us out. 

In case you were wondering, the Arabic phrase on the picture of my hacked site is translated (by Google Translate) to mean “We do not claim to intelligence I seek to destroy intelligent”.  Beautifully said.  At first I was upset that intolerance and extremism  had become such a problem, but I am comforted that such movements have aspired include an attack on intelligence as part of the evils of the world.  I would hate to see how quickly the world could become corrupted if we had individuals capable of independent thought running around.  But I digress (and put my soapbox back in the corner where it belongs).

On to more positive things…  I managed to get my hacked website up and running (it really wasn’t a big deal, it just took some time to figure out) and decided to do a major overhaul in order to improve things.  You can check it out a LocalPlan.org.  I have been working on building some professional contacts for the website so that hopefully I will be lucky enough to be able to syndicate some writing to other websites.  The Urban News was nice enough to let me publish a book review which you can read here

Other than website things, I have been spending quite a bit of time catching up on reading and laying out some long-term education goals.  I am in desperate need of someone to convince me that educational credentials are not merit badges.  I finish an Associates in communications at the beginning of the month and I start a bachelors in Sociology in November.  I have also been looking at some interests to pursue when I get home and at the moment I believe that I will be going after a Masters in Project Management when I get home.  I start Social Deviance on November 1.  I am pretty excited about it, I just hope that my picture is not in the textbook anywhere.

That pretty much concludes my ramblings.  I conclude with this warning from the back of an energy drink can I purchased today after getting my hair cut.  It warns that the drink is “Not suitable for:  Children, Diabetics, Pregnants and people sensitive to Caffeine”.  I didn’t even know that “pregnants” were a class of people, but the term is honestly less redundant than “pregnant women” as I rarely see pregnant men walking around.  Unfortunately I can't take a picture of the back of the label that isn't blurry, but here is the front.


22 August 2010

A Series of Randomness

So looking at the date of my last post, I see it's been quite some time sense I put anything up.  Sorry about that...  I have spent most of my time knocking out civillian classes which are suprisingly entertaining (well at least they give me something to pass time with), but increasingly time consuming.  I have also attempted to perform some iPhone surgeries (so far one successful and one unsuccessful).


Apparently the last combat troops left Iraq last week sometime, it makes me wonder what exactly I am and why they make me tote this gun around all time.  I keep hoping that maybe they forgot to tell the rest of and we'll get to leave too, but I don't think it works that way.  All in all things are the same in Iraq, there is a sort of tense vibe at times (or an air of ambivalence, I can't tell which) waiting to see what will happen for the transition to Operation New Dawn on September 1, 2010.  I'm really not expecting anything to terribly exciting, but I'll take pictures if they drop confetti from the sky or anything.

We've incorporated a formalized movie night into our weekly routine.  It's pretty exciting as you can see here.  "Pretty Ricky" there in the middle actually passed out due to all the excitement.  Actually the vote for movie night is more of a form of entertainment than anything else.  It's amusing to see what your vote gets switched to and who gets a new nickname on the vote board.


I've discovered the joy of 6Pazzi, a semi-Italian type food place here on base.  So far I have had the blue cheese pizza and lamb chops.  Albiet pricey it's nice to escape from the chow hall food every once in a while.  In a cruel twist of fate it has a structure that looks exactly like a bar, but has no alcohol.

Thanks to everyone for all the cool things you've sent.  Food goes fast as we tend to get wrapped up in things and miss a meal or two.  I've been reading books left and right... I keep posting the reviews on Amazon hoping that I can write enough product reviews to get them to send me free stuff.

That's all for now... I'll try to catalog all the excitement in a more timely fashion.

23 July 2010

Vibe Roller vs. Zamboni

Life in Iraq goes on, and it's interesting enough.  Post curtailment (the official Army term for sending people home), we got a little busy for a while.  Now it's all about trying to get into a routine.  I am working on it, but the Army is revolutionary in its ability to create spontaneous emergencies spaced at random intervals throughout the day.  During said emergencies we all run around trying to complete some inane report during an impossible timeframe or trying to move some piece of equipment using mind power and disposable spoons.  Upon conclusion of these emergencies we will immediately return to our seats and do absolutely nothing productive for 3-4 hours (while making grandiose efforts at looking extremely busy and put off by the whole ordeal).  Okay, it's not that bad, but the stop and go pace of things (often referred to as "hurry up and wait") make it difficult to successfully establish a routine.


Of course it’s very easy for me to look busy with my newly acquired 42” monitor (actually I think it’s supposed to be TV, but be real).  I know a lot of you at home (like all 5 of you that read this), are saying to yourself, “That seems excessive”.  Believe me it is.  It’s almost difficult not to blind myself while using it, but I have found that it makes for a superior and almost immersive feel while playing Risk or Monopoly.  Further, I have always wanted to experience a life of decadence and I very much enjoy both the jealousy and conversations that it brings.

Other than using my computer screen, I’ve occupied myself with operational type things and various administrative tasks.  By no stretch of the imagination would anyone call me a respectable engineer equipment operator, but occasionally much to the chagrin (III Don that was just for you) of my fellow soldiers, I try.  Apparently when using a vibratory roller (pictured below), you are not supposed to drive it around in circles like a Zamboni (even though the area you are trying not to flatten is in fact contained within a circular wall).  Lesson learned.


I am almost done with one semester of online classes and I start another one the week after next.  If the Army’s willing to pay for it, I am all about it.  I am pretty excited about the “Food and Culture” class.  Well I’m done for today.

24 June 2010

Toner and the Commo Guarantee

The crappiest part of this whole experience has been living with the idea, that I will have to let the next months of my family's life slip by through conversations that sound much like how you would describe your child growing up to someone who is blind.  Actually they don't even sound like... more like conversations that are e-mailed and IMed like.  It's not that I mean to be particularly depressing, it's just a part of this whole thing I am not happy about living with.  It's a harsh mindgame to wonder what your missing at home and if you'll be able to squeeze back in the middle of a dynamic that has had to go on without you.  It's weird to think about coming back as a sort of third wheel and interupting a process that has by necessity ventured on without your intervention.

Anywho...  For everyone who's read the RollingStone article about General McChrystal, I am wondering what's going on here/there (for those who haven't you should - It's an interesting look into the military and the nature of our current conflicts in the easy to love RollingStone style).  We haven't been able to get many details due to internet outages and what not, but basically from what I understand, President Obama was displeased about the contents of the article and General McChrystal is no more.  Personnally, I didn't see anything particularly tragic about the piece, but the military and I have drastically opposing viewpoints on freespeech rights with respect to soldiers.  I thought General McChrystals candor was refreshing and the level of insight that was provided into the cogs of the war machine was something that we should all be exposed to (at least in the sense of having it explained in a manner that makes sense).  That being said, I still think he should have left the Burger King in Bagram open.

In terms of life here in "the suck" (seriously I go home everynight drenched in the rankness of White-Out and air conditioning *Credit to the Maintenance Team for the dig*) things are hectic as usual.  The theme of the week has been internet outages and the perpetual lack of computer equipment (if anyone wants to open up a store here that specializes in the sale of HP Toner cartridges, you can make bank).  We've introduced "the Commo Guarantee", a process in which our Communications Team will promise that a problem will be fixed in the next 24 hours only to repeat the same promise again once the 24 hours runs out.  While this might sound annoying, it's actually nice to have a time to look forward to even if it does turn out to be a total untruth (no hard feelings for the Commo people, they do a great job).

We broke our civilian trucks (we use them to get mail and parts and it's a necessary issue of contention within the TOC) and we're waiting on parts.  Fortunately, we were told since the trucks were completely inoperable we were the top priority tier.  Top priority tier puts our estimated turn-around time at somewhere around September (not kidding).  If anyone has a radiator and a thermostat housing for a Ford Explorer just sitting around, I know a quick way to make a bunch of soldier friends.

Special K's comic strip featured in an earlier blog post has seen particular success and we are all awaiting further editions.  I intend to post more in the future, but unfortunately the humor is a bit esoteric.  We all think it's hilarious though.  I'd explain it, but you have to live it.

We are losing some of our fellow soldiers to a far away land known as the United States as the military continues to scale back operations here in Iraq.  It's not fun watching some of the soldiers that we have come this far in the process with being sent back home (not to mention it's hard not to be a lot bit jealous).  As the unit slims down, it becomes more and more obvious how far we've come in just a short number of months.  At times this surreal existance seems like reality and an end doesn't appear to be a natural part of it.  As we watch our friends mentally prepare to head back into the real world, the rest of us try to prepare for this whole adventure lurching forward and beginning again in a new way.

17 June 2010

Comics a la Special K

Up and coming artist Special K has blessed the unit with his graphic commentary which I feel obligated to share with the rest of the world.


14 June 2010

Fires, books, and beer

Props to SpongeBob for snagging this picture of me coming out of the office.

I suppose I lost track of time again so it's been a while since I posted last.  I have been putting a lot of energy into tweaking my Amazon.com profile hoping that I can get my reviewer score high enough to get in the Amazon Vine program (apparently it's a program where you can get free stuff sent to you if you just review it).  It sounds exciting enough, so I've been spending what little free time I have between work and studying trying to post reviews of books and other things (you can check it out http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AUCOL2XUE1IX7?ie=UTF8&ref_=ya_T16_56).  If you feel like it, like or dislike my reviews so I can move up in ranking.

Other than that, it's been interesting lately.  We are currently going through a transition, a downsizing if you will.  More on that later though.  I've been keeping busy fighting various fires... literally.  In the past week we've had two dumpster fires and a connex fire.  None of our stuff got hurt thankfully, but I did get to use the fire extinguisher on the dumpsters (honestly how many times do you actually get to use a fire extinguisher).  In an unrelated fire incident I managed to set my hand on fire.  It's okay, but it looks like I was bitten by a zombie (perhaps I'll post pictures of that later).  Below is a picture that LT III Don (aka FrieDaddy) took of me.  I am not sure what's going on in this picture, but I believe I am still reeling from the dumpster fire.


It's been pretty hot here lately (I'm beginning to see a theme), and I have mad respect for the guys that do the real engineer work while I sit in the office all day.  Today was the Army's Birthday and to celebrate, they gave out a limited number of beers with dinner.  The rules for getting the beer were needlessly complex, but I guess it makes the Army feel like it gave us something.  Beer here is a big deal since it's expressly prohibited by General Order 1A (aka the Fun Prohibition Rule).  I didn't partake largely because having to ride a bus a half an hour for two beers really isn't my idea of a good time.

I've been paying particularly close attention to the special economic system we have going here, which seems to revolve around hard to come by items such as printer cartridges and Kuwaiti water (it comes in little bottles that don't get hot before you finish it).  Other items can be traded for engineering work or any number of food items.  My item of the week to obtain is fire extinguishers (to replace the used ones from the dumpster fires).  I have an acquisition team looking for those along with spray paint... another commodity here.

Until later...

05 June 2010

How Starbucks Saved My Life

Book Review
Starbucks tends to get a bad rap when it comes to its effect on our communities and our social lives often viewed as a corporate Satan hell bent on destroying our way of life.  Michael Gates Gill has another point of view.  After being forced out of a career working as a ranking member within the corporate hierarchy, Gill finds himself out of luck and running low on business prospects.  He ends up in a Starbucks and waywardly steps into a position as a 64 year old barista.

Gill’s story follows his own path learning the treacherous ropes of the coffee trade and reflects on his transformation from cruel corporate lackey to an enlightened employee who throws himself into a job he never would have wished on himself before.  While at times How Starbucks Saved My Life comes off as Starbucks propaganda, Gill’s transformation is very genuine.  Starbucks places him into the harsh world that he has somehow avoided during his rather privileged life.

How Starbucks Saved My Life holds nothing back.  Gill readily confesses the mistakes he has made throughout his life and looks for a way to pay his penance.  His interaction with customers and his fellow employees shows how fulfilling life can be when we are not caught up in the pursuit of a career or a better life.  Gill’s account is sometimes painful as he reveals his past sins and the tragedy of the sacrifices he chose during his former life.  How Starbucks Saved My Life provides an unparalleled perspective into the things that are truly important in life and reminds the reader what they might be missing or could miss if they don’t place their focus in the right place.

04 June 2010

Laundry Day

I am beginning to like laundry day more and more, mostly because I come down from the TOC early and actually get to spend some time in my CHU.  I am not particularly good at laundry and the Army complicates it by putting 57 pockets that you have to check on your uniform prior to throwing it in the washer.  It always seems to take longer than it should, but that's probably a function of my impatience toward the task.

Above you can see my poster that I use to remind people that I don't care where the company vehicles are.  I proposed the pony as the company logo (we're called the Stallions), but the idea did not catch on as well as I had hoped.  People said that it was offensive, but it looked super masculine to me (I am contemplating changing the rainbow to camouflage to see if the idea can gain traction).  The SeaPony has to do with the fact that we are attached to a unit that has a Seahorse in its patch. I originally proposed that we use the SeaPony as the company logo, but people didn't catch the logic that seahorses are also very masculine because the males get pregnant (I mean you have to imagine how secure the seahorses must have to be with their manhood to even go there).  We still haven't adopted a logo yet, but I'll get one of my ideas across eventually.

Other than that, life goes on.  I keep meaning to take pictures, but it's always dark by the time I get back down to the living area.  My running shoes came.  So far they've gotten mixed reviews.  I'll post some action shots and let the people in the states judge my fashion sense according to current fashion standards (Iraq tends to lag in that regard).  Right now I am waiting to start online classes.  I am pretty excited about that as it gives me something to focus on.  I am taking Human Sexuality and Small Group Communication.  While they seem random, I am finishing an Associates in Communication with one class and starting a Bachelors in Sociology with the other class.  Like I said it gives me something to do during my free time that doesn't involve hemorrhaging money to military sponsored retail outlets (there is a Pizza Hut, a Taco Bell, a Burger King, and an Italian restaurant here... truly war at its finest).

That's all for now...  I am off to rotate the laundry.

27 May 2010

Sun tea, iPods, and other assorted things

Life in the TOC (tactical operations center) can be very slow.  First off, the TOC is basically just a glorified office with radios and lots highspeed Army computer and technology things (by highspeed, I mean you could pick them up at Best Buy for $49 and they would actually work).  While there is always something to do, it can be on the monotonous side and it closely resembles the movie Office Space.  Instead of the TPS reports we have the PERSTAT (a list of where everyone is).  We hear about the PERSTAT throughout the day and attempt to work through the various reasons why it doesn't have the correct cover sheets or doesn't match the memo that came out.  Occasionally important people come in and we have to yell special phrases and stand in certain positions until they order us to stop.  I suppose it is humorous through an outside perspective.

In order to keep ourselves from devolving any more rapidly than we already are, we find various ways to amuse ourselves.  Recently, I have found the lovely temperatures in Iraq are perfect for making tea in the giant, dirty bottled water containers we get.  With the climate here, it's possible to have it steeped to perfection in about 15 minutes and through the miracles of refrigeration we can knock it down to about room temperature in about 24 hours.  It's exciting because its a deviation from water, water with half a packet of Gatorade, or water with a full packet of Gatorade.  We also have Rip-Its a Red Bull knock off, but I have to slow down on those as I think I start to annoy people after 3 back-to-back.  It's probably not exciting to anyone outside of here, but the prospect of being able to do anything that even slightly resembles cooking is entertaining.

As far as the iPods go, I have heard more Lady GaGa on this deployment than I thought physically possible.  Admittedly, she occupies some space on my iPod as well, but she gets a lot of play time and invokes much thoughtful discussion (usually involving her gender or how she looked in specific videos).  The unit that we replaced was generous enough to gift us iPod speaker docs, and I don't know what we would have done with out them.  The TOC runs 24 hours shifts and the iPods really never stop playing (they do switch as different shifts come on to accommodate varying music tastes).  It's interesting the mixes that get played as well as the common ground that everyone agrees to.  Bob Marley seems to be the median.

Care packages have started to come in.  Our parent unit gave us several boxes sent by an elementary school in California.  The TOC is now decorated with a barrage of Policy Memos, letters from school children, shift rosters, maps, radio frequency lists, and other assorted important paperwork.

That is all for now...

26 May 2010

Sometimes Awkward Phase

Now that the Company is for the most part together in one place we begin a somewhat awkward phase of the deployment.  Learning to live here and learning to live with each other for the long haul.  For me at least the realization that we are now in Iraq and this is our lives for the next however many months is somewhat daunting.  Not too mention that (as much as I genuinely love everyone here), we must deal with being "married" to the people we deployed with.

While bonds are certainly strong in situations such as these, it can also be tested while everyone learns to live in even closer proximity to one another.  So far everything is going well in that department aside from the occasional bickering.  It's hard not to be frank and honest with people that we eat with, sleep within slapping distance of, share meals with, and go on shopping excursions with.  Occasionally we (okay I) come off to blunt or just have a bad day (picture of my bad day poster forthcoming).

We have much better living conditions now compared to the open bay barracks of Wisconsin and the festival tents in Kuwait.  We now live in 10' X 10' CHUs (containerized housing units).  Thankfully, I have a great CHUmie and we don't work together directly so it's not likely that we will end up in some horrific homicide situation.  The work spaces are still somewhat confined and we work 12 hours shifts so those of us that work together see a lot of each other.  It always amazes me that we can continually generate new topics of conversation during the waiting part of "hurry up and wait".

As far as the people go here, again I think they are all great.  We have already been through a lot together and our first weeks on the ground have shown us that our strength as a unit will ultimately affect our personal resilience.  Having been through this process before, I know that it's much like a family.  We will all have our falling outs but ultimately we are in this as a team.  It's all a process as a Reservist to slowly let go of some of our individuality in order to make sure that everyone is taken care of.  I think in many ways, being here is much easier than being the family member left at home because we have a stable set of stand-ins for those that we left behind.  They may not be as attractive and they are a lot weirder, but we know that they will be there each day (mostly because they lack few other options).

Until later...

25 May 2010

A Day in the Life of...

After learning from the comments on the last post (and Facebook comments) that people really are interested in the mundane details of our lives here, I have decided to attempt to share some of those details.

Much of my day consist of staring into a computer (well actually two - one for secret stuff and one for non-secret things).  I am largely confined to the 5 foot radius around my computer, but occasionally I am fortunate enough to attend various meetings (by occasionally, I mean at a minimum daily).  All of my work involves coordinating training activities and the various components of actual missions.  It seems relatively simplistic and straightforward, but the Army is extremely efficient in creating bureaucracy and inflicting it upon people.  Not to mention the overall mission structure is complex and there is a lot of coordination that must take place due to the fact that our trucks and soldiers now carry more electronics than a BestBuy (I was going to say Radio Shack but do they even sell electronics anymore?).

While I very much enjoy my actual job, I spend a large portion of my day yelling, complaining, and threatening people about the use of our civilian vehicle (referred to as a non-tactical vehicle or NTV in Army speak).  The NTV turns each day into a perverse game of capture the flag in which everyone tries to get the vehicle and obscure its where-abouts while every third person who walks by my desk ask where it is.  Despite a number of systems put into place to keep track of these vehicles (we only own 2) it continues to prevail as one of my more frustrating issues (this along with people not filling the water refrigerator back up).

Other than that life here is somewhat surreal.  Every office and living areas is contained within large concrete walls and it's like living within a giant maze.  Somehow we have all figured our way around, but navigating involves memorizing a series of landmarks in order to find the correct concrete cube containing your destination.  I get lost trying to find my room every other day.  We walk everywhere or take public transit (there is actually a good bus service here and we own a bus for the company).  The buses are small little Japanese creations that somehow fit as many people as a normal bus in like 1/4 of the space.  The roads are really bumpy and torn up (which is somewhat of a travesty considering we are horizontal engineers and horizontal engineers build and repair roads).

Until later...

23 May 2010

And I'm Back

I've been thinking about what and how to write in order to update people what's going on during this deployment, but it's not possible.  Accurate descriptions evade this experience for a variety of reasons.  One of those being OPSEC (or Army speak for operational security).  On a tangential note, I hate Army acronyms.  I suppose they are meant to be time saving devices, but seriously how can you save time when you spend more time explaining the acronym than it would have taken to actually utter the words which it abbreviates.  I digress.  It's difficult to explain what I see here because descriptions could endanger the lives of the people I work with as illustrations might provide clues as to which threads might unravel our defensive and offensive mechanisms.  Our trucks, the living areas, our water supplies... now describing seemingly inconsequential pieces of the larger picture of Iraq life might give away too much information.  I'm not trying to be paranoid, but it's a very fragile feeling to be here, outside the security of home.  Many people's lives balance precariously on pieces of technology that the enemy... no, the terrorist...no, bad people... no, the other side needs very little information on in order to undermine.

Secondly, this place is depressing from many aspects.  It's an environmental travesty for one.  The entire base is littered with plastic, water bottles, wrappers, discarded pieces of scrap metal, worn vehicle parts, or abandoned defensive positions.  Oddly we don't really seem to care.  "Draw down" is the phrase of the day and aesthetics are most assuredly playing second fiddle.  We live in what feels to be a bubble (or a series of connected bubbles) in the middle of a desert.  Somehow despite the surroundings we manage to enjoy all the luxuries of the states (in terms of running water and food items).  Not that I'm complaining about the food or the showers but it's still depressing when you think of our ecological footprint here.

Other than that, it's difficult to figure out what we can write about and what we can't.  The stuff that filters out isn't all that interesting to talk about.  There are a lot of really powerful dynamics changing within the Army today, but most of them are difficult to understand from the outside.  The others are dangerous to get caught up in.  While it would be great to bring them into the public forum, that's not the nature of this beast.

I'm trying to figure out how to balance the limitations of what can be posted here against my need to show what the deployment is all about, but it's going to take some time.  Until then...

10 May 2010

Pictures thus far...


Here we are getting on the plane to start our trip to Iraq.  20+ hours of travel time just to Kuwait.

Here is the best picture I have of the Ziggurat in Ur (it's really close).  I will get a better one soon.  I tool this with my cell phone camera.  Why I still carry a cell phone that I can't get service on is beyond me.  Force of habit I guess.

09 May 2010

A Dusty Grey, Smelly Place

After a few days of flying.  Wandering around bases in Kuwait.  Lots of trying to find WiFi.  Lots more reading.  And a pretty vicious mosquito attack resulting in an oddly swollen hand (I look like I'm wearing a Hulk hand), I've finally arrived at my destination in Iraq.  It's dusty, somehow muddy, hot, and everything is surrounded by 20ft blast walls.  It's very difficult to get oriented as it's completely flat and everything moves from one group of walls to the next.  The ground is stained by salt everywhere and there is only sparse vegetation.  At times it seems that the ground, the horizon, the walls, buildings, and the sky are all just different shades of the same color.

We have a lot of work ahead over the next few days working to pick up on all the work habits of the unit we are replacing and assuming control of their projects.  Hopefully everyone is acclimated by now, but if they are anything like me it's hard not to be completely exhausted by all of this moving around.  I'll try to post some pictures soon.  Until then, Happy Mother's Day everyone!

08 May 2010

Food Rules - Book Review



I was admittedly somewhat skeptical when Michael Pollan’s Food Rules was released.  It seemed to be trendy, cliché, and just another manner of jumping on the local/organic bandwagon.  I say this being a complete fan of all of Pollan’s other works, but my impression from the publicity was that he had gone the way of many celebrities and was simply pushing a commercial product.  I was wrong.

I ran across a copy of Food Rules on a free bookshelf in Kuwait and picked it up out of a sense of curiosity.  It’s remarkably short (both in overall length and the amount of text), but it packs in a lot of information in terms of wading through what we should and shouldn’t consume.  Oddly enough he dispels volumes of ambiguity regarding diet choices without really saying anything definitive.  As he does in In Defense of Food, Pollan simply provides a loose set of guidelines regarding the food we eat.

I found the book at a great time as I have an opportunity to transform my diet for the better (I must say the desert is not the place to do this as the fluctuations in energy levels during the transition are a bit rough).  Pollan offers sage advice and doesn’t trap the reader into a set of overbearing dietary restrictions that take the fun away from food.  In fact, Food Rules does a lot to turn eating more into an adventure where the reader can become excited about the food they put on the table as well as the people they are eating it with.

In terms of writing style, Food Rules is an easy read.  It’s easy to read in a single sitting and it’s interesting enough to whip through.  The illustrations are well done and add a certain vividness to the text.  I recommend that you read it before your next trip to the grocery store as it allows you to feel empowered and informed about your food choices (as opposed to the overwhelming sense of confusion and frustration that usually goes along with the journey).

Cross Posted on LocalPlan.org

Gentlemen of the Road - Book Review


It’s been sometime sense I’ve finished a work of fiction.  Not for lack of trying, but for lack of getting into a really good story.  I happened upon Michael Chabon’s Gentlemen of the Road on a free bookshelf in Fort McCoy (this will develop into a theme at some point).  It was certainly the reintroduction to fiction that I needed.

Chabon provides a fast, paced and action-filled journey through the Khazar Empire as a moody, physician (Zelikman) and a weary African warrior (Amram) become unwillingly tangled in an adventure that doesn’t seem to end.  The book seems to have no intended direction instead following the lead of the characters who are guided by their past demons and desires to avoid further involvement in the affairs of others.

The already complex, lives of Amram and Zelikman descend into a tumultuous chain of events involving bloody battles, plundering, and the occasional coup upon the introduction of Filaq (a weak and defenseless prisoner whom they are charged to protect).  Filaq’s rather dubious origins and shifting connections to royalty manage to seal Amram’s and Zelikman’s fate and link them to an unavoidable destiny.

Chabon offers no shortage of plot twist in his beautifully descriptive short novel.  He drops the reader dead into the center of the Khazar Empire and builds the environment in which the characters reside as the story progresses.  Gentlemen of the Road hits the ground running leaving the reader to catch up with a story that has been ongoing for some centuries before the story picks up.

07 May 2010

Exploring Kuwait

So after enduring the heat for a couple of days, I am getting re-acclimated to desert life.  It's actually very nice weather until after midday and then with the wind it feels like someone is chasing us around with a hair dryer.  Kuwait is much different then Afghanistan in terms of what's available and how much money the Army has invested here.  When I was in Afghanistan, it was more or less a forgotten war.  Having seen trucks and equipment moving back from the Iraq border, I am beginning to think we will be in better shape this time.  We went on several convoys in Afghanistan in HMMWVs with cloth doors covered in sheet metal and sand bags on the floor in a vein attempt at deflecting blasts.  Everything I have seen on this deployment is fully up armored.

We went out and about on a firing range today and got to drive off the main base for a while.  Other than US convoys and other US Foward Operating Bases, there really wasn't much to see.  Just miles and miles of desert.  We are working on completing our last training requirements before venturing into Iraq. 

As I mentioned earlier, the weather is not horrible here.  As the sun sets, there is usually a nice breeze that calms things down and brings down the temperature quickly.  We had a brief lightning storm this evening, and right now the weather is perfect for walking around.

Very few people have gotten used to the time change, and unlike bases in the states, this base never sleeps.  There are several 24 hour activity areas (including a KFC, Starbucks, etc.).  As I write this some people are just waking up from naps and wandering off to see what they can get into.

I hope to have an address soon, but given the availability of everything here, I can't think of anything I would need sent.  There is always a huge selection of books, including new, best-sellers.  I am enjoying working my way through Michael Pollan's Food Rules at the moment (review forthcoming).

That's it for now.  If anyone has any questions, please post them in the comments and I will see what I can do to answer them.  One of the long-term goals of blogging about this deployment is to expose people to the behind the scenes and between the lines aspects of war (if you would call this that).

05 May 2010

And So It Begins...

So we've finally made the big move. After over 24 hours of traveling
we arrived in Kuwait (via Canada and Germany). It's not too hot yet as
we hit the ground around sunset, but we've been told to expect a hot
morning. The food in Kuwait was good and the accommodations in terms
of internet access and phones is much better than what we had in Fort
McCoy. This place has 24 hour food joints, multiple PXs, and pretty
much any recreational amenity you can ask for. We'll see how Iraq
compares in a couple of days.

I occupied my time on the flight with an autobiography of John Lennon,
a book on water and food shortages, copious amounts of caffeine, and
lots of sleep. I took some videos to show how exactly we occupy our
travel time and I'll attempt to post them soon. Other than that
things are good, everyone is safe, and everyone is happy to finally be
free of Fort McCoy.



Posted for Josh by Stephanie

30 April 2010

Heavy Metal in Baghdad - Book Review












Despite the fact that America has been locked into the Iraq conflict for over 7 years, it’s still difficult to get an accurate or honest understanding of the popular sentiments involved with the war (at least from the perspective of Iraq’s citizens).  Do they want us there?  How did they feel when they came?  Have we overstayed our welcome?  Did they see the same problems that George W. Bush saw when he pressed for the invasion?  Heavy Metal in Baghdad follows Acrassicauda, a Heavy Metal band in its formative stages, through both pre and post-war Iraq.  Rather than relying on an author to provide their own spin on the story, Heavy Metal in Baghdad relies on the dialogue of the band members themselves to paint a clear picture of their journey.

While at times difficult to follow (as a result of the transcript/interview format), Heavy Metal in Baghdad provides a level of insight that isn’t present in a lot of writing about the current Iraq conflict.  The story allows an understanding of Iraq through the lens of pop culture without a heavily skewed perspective.  The book focuses on the formation of the band Acrassicauda, but allows readers to understand how the events unfolded in Iraq with an inside perspective. 

Following Acrassicauda from their early days as a far away dream held by the members to a worldwide focal point proves to be an emotional roller coaster.  The members attempt to hold onto their dream as they struggle to find safety and escape from war torn Iraq.  The reader follows their quest through the painful separations from friends and family to anxiety ridden weeks as they work their way through bureaucratic red tape holding them back from freedom. 

Heavy Metal in Baghdad creates a new set of heroes in a time of tragedy.  Rather than focusing on soldiers or politicians, the book shows that social change comes on a variety of levels.  The passion in the book is inspirational as it demonstrates that dreams can live through almost anything, as long as we don’t lose sight of them.   

29 April 2010

The Kick-Off for the Deployment

This video is the official kick-off for our deployment.  On March 23, 2010 after going through a handful of "Yellow Ribbon" Ceremonies and getting ready for movement to Iraq, we left from Northfield, NJ for our flight to Fort McCoy, WI.  It's been a weird journey so far (from Asheville to NJ to Wisconsin and now waiting to see how we'll get to Iraq).  The police escort from NJ onto the tarmac of Philidelphia Airport was certainly a highlight thus far.

Playing with Guns

Before I started out on the deployment, my family was nice enough to get me all kinds of electronic gizmos to keep me amused.  My wife and I got matching Flip cameras from her parents and sister and brother-in-law.  I'll start postings some videos of the things we do as I get a chance to upload them.  Thank god for finally having internet.  Here we are playing on the machine gun range (I can't tell who is actually shooting the gun in this shot).

On Guerrilla Warfare

So, in my occassional free time.  I do get to read a little bit.  I borrowed/acquired this book from someone who found it on a free bookshelf somewhere on Fort McCoy.













In the midst of seemingly perpetual conflicts, it’s interesting to understand the nuanced nature of war and the variety of views that are used to justify action that steps beyond non-violent resistance.  On Guerilla Warfare vividly illustrates the desperation that leads a group of people to resort to guerilla tactics.  Rather than simply demonizing guerilla fighters as a disruption to efforts in attaining some form of global tranquility, Mao Tse-tung explains the mindset of the guerilla fighter.

Translated by Samuel B. Griffith II, On Guerilla Warfare provides a concise venture into the mindset of a guerilla fighter.  Extending beyond a simple explanation of tactics, Mao Tse-tung explains the delicate balance between the guerilla as a soldier and the guerilla as an activist/organizer.  Although brief in nature, the book manages to explain the realities of guerilla warfare rather than perpetuating the stereotype of the hardened, professional traipsing through the jungle.

Tse-tung explains the many facets of guerilla warfare including organizational structure, overarching strategy, methods of resupply, and recruitment.  In addition Tse-tung delineates the varying methods through which guerillas can be utilized alongside regular military troops.  Although On Guerilla Warfare is full of information on the technicalities of military insurgency, it also peppered with inspirational and philosophical knowledge regarding the nature of resistance.

Personally, I think On Guerilla Warfare is useful information for any soldier.  It explains the mindset of the guerilla fighter (or the insurgent fighter) and illuminates the similarities in tactics between traditional and non-traditional soldiers.  Tse-tung brings a certain sense of relevance in showing that war is not simply a one-sided endeavor.

28 April 2010

New Boots!

So after over a month of training (and around 40 days of being away from home), I am finally getting to relax with Stephanie and Samara.  Instead of opting to go home (we get 4 days off before we ship out), we decided that they would come up here (Wisconsin) that way we could focus on not doing anything in particular.

Even though I've been mumbling about a day off for some time, it took Stephanie coming up here for me to understand that she was in the same situation that I was.  She's just a little more quiet about her plight.  For the entire time I have been away from home, she has single-handedly taken care of a rather hyper (now) 7 month old baby girl.  She's been working the same types of hours I have and she doesn't get the prospect of all kinds of ribbons, patches, and awards for it.  I've spent the last month hearing about how hard the job that lies ahead of us as soldiers is (its really all a matter of perspective), but its clear that those that takes the reigns of the family while we are away bear an equal level of responsibility and hardship.

While I originally thought that I would enjoy a couple of days of unconstrained freedom and the opportunity to sleep in, Samara has clearly demonstrated her ability to be in charge of how we spend our free time.  I did manage to order a set of new boots (apparently the Army thinks that the boots that they issued to me and most of my soldiers over 5 years ago are more than adequate to go to Iraq).  Personally I find it a bit ridiculous that we have to fork out the cash for new boots, but I find a lot of things about the deployment process to be ridiculous.   I got a set of Converse boots, if they're anywhere as cool as Chuck Taylor shoes at least I'll be stylish.



On a positive note, I am excited about the group of soldiers that has been assembled for this deployment.  They have come together wonderfully in the past weeks and we are operating as a cohesive unit.  For whatever I find lacking in the Army as a system, I always have my faith restored by the people that make the work happen.

15 April 2010

A Union Would Be Nice Right About Now

So I am into day like 25 or 26 of mobilization. I have really not
been keeping tight track of it, as it gets a little depressing after a
while. Everyone says that the MOB station is the worst part of the
whole process (it’s where you get all your shots, straighten out your
records, train, train, train, and get all kinds of new stuff issued to
you). It’s a very slow process and it’s a stressful one. Small Pox
shots have been interesting (I already had mine 5 years ago), everyone
expresses concerns of some type of Small Pox zombie outbreak and the
vaccinations are pretty nasty looking. The timeline is extremely
compressed and there are actually two concurrent missions going on.
One mission is to train and prepare and the other mission is to
operate as if we were already in country engaged in our daily
operations.

Right now I sleep 5 hours each night (max). I have pulled quite a few
23 hour days. I keep hoping they’ll switch us over to hourly pay
because the overtime would be wonderful. It is a very surreal
experience because nothing ever stops moving, it’s a continual process
with no real breaks and no way to really tell the days apart. There
is always something to meet about and something to plan. Meals are
usually a chance to talk shop or talk on the cell phone in between
mouthfuls trying to coordinate details. The big talk right now is
getting through the upcoming cumulative field exercise and of course
the “pass” we have coming up where we get a chance to see our families
for 4 days.

Thus far we have done a lot of training on driving equipment,
operating weapons, and moving tactically. Unfortunately, I am in an
office job so most of my days are spent behind a desk typing away on
the plethora of paperwork that the Army requires for everything. I
write orders, plans, assess the safety of each action and make sure I
have everyone’s name on various sign-in rosters so they get credit for
the training. I do get a lot of time to play with the Army’s high
tech war tracking systems and radio equipment (ok radio equipment is
not really high tech at all). As expected it’s an interesting
experience and it keeps my mind occupied, but simply bearing through
the whole scene and getting back to my family is my overall mindset.

"The reason the American Army does so well in wartime, is that war is
chaos, and the American Army practices it on a daily basis."
- from a post-war debriefing of a German General

Posted for Josh by Stephanie

20 March 2010

Count Down 0

First off, no amount of time spent with your family will be enough.  Time flies by and there is nothing you can do to stop it.  Amidst the last minute preparations, I can't help but regret all the times that I did other things other than spending time at home.  Today did not go at all as expected and a short day with the Army quickly turned into a logistical nightmare in attempting to arrange flights for people scattered throughout the country to pull this whole deployment off.

I fly out in a couple of hours and while I am in no way ready to say goodbye.  I know that 20 years from now when I'm vacationing on the warm beaches of Iraq enjoying the peaceful summers it will all have been worth it... that or we'll still be sorting through the ambiguity of the situation.

Over the next couple of days, I'll be in New Jersey for a dog and pony show (a special, official ceremony in which the Army tries to make us feel better about things and tells us how to say goodbye).  After that, I'll head to Wisconsin for training to complement the 21 days that we just ran through last month.  It should be an interesting time there considering WI and Iraq don't really experience parallel weather patterns.

At this point I expect we'll go on "lockdown" in Wisconsin where drinking and other forms of fun are banned. Internet access will also be spotty, so I'll have to save up my cynicism for larger blocks.

18 March 2010

Packing the Books...

As I continue to put off packing in favor of watching Julie and Julia, I am still struggling with the books that I want to take on the first leg of this trip (I've got a bookshelf of titles ready to be mailed as I move through titles). I have rather expansive taste (more honestly I lack any focus in selecting what I want to read) in books as you can see by my Amazon wishlist and the books I've reviewed on my other website (LocalPlan.org).

So far I've narrowed the list down to:

  • The Bully of Bentonville
  • Land Administration for Sustainable Development
  • Heavy Metal in Baghdad
  • The Triple Bottom Line
  • Rediscovering Black Conservatism
  • Sociology - Understanding a Diverse Society
I have also added significantly to my "must bring" gear.  Most of my recent additions include tactical gear (mine probing kit, rapid personnel recovery kit, poleless litter, IR strobe light, tourniquets, and Nalgene canteens).

We'll see how all the packing goes.  As for plans for actually getting out of Asheville, well that's a complete nightmare at this point, but I am sure it will all come together if the Army wants it to.  

In terms of my personal exit strategy, I'm trying to keep things on the calm side, but things I have forgotten today perpetually creep up.  Not to mention that I put off finishing every course I was taking until today so it's been a mad dash to try to get all that finalized before going full on Army on Saturday.


17 March 2010

Going Away...

I have a deeply complex love/hate relationship with the Army.  In terms of its organization and decision making capabilities, I think it needs a lot of improvement (I'm being nice).  I have somewhat of an authority problem, so it's true that my own personal perspective differs drastically to the system in which I exist thus prompting a healthy amount of discord.  Doing anything with the military is a frustrating experience in attempting to interact with a cold, calculating system rife with inefficiencies and devoid of logical skills.

On the other hand, the Army does have a tendency to bring out the best in people.  Both in soldiers and in the people that support them.  I hold the soldiers that I manage in the highest esteem.  Despite the fact that I sometimes have to come down harder on them than I want to, it's impossible not to value each of them as individuals because of their quirks and personalities.  As I make my transition yet again into Army life, I am struck by how generous people are in supporting us and how the network of civilians working quietly in the background makes whatever it is that we are doing possible.


As the time grows closer to moving out, I am forced to say goodbye to all the great people I know and even though I know, I'll have a great group of soldiers to lessen the void, goodbyes are always difficult.  I have to show off the basket full of goodies that the great folks at Buncombe County Planning put together for me.  I think they've all heard my assorted stream of consciousness rants getting ready for overseas and they've been really great about putting up with my incessant yammering about all things Army as my mind became consumed by the realization of going away.

Over the past few days, I've had to relinquish whatever sense of control I felt like I had over my own life and realize I have to turn over some of my autonomy and agency to the Army (if you know me, you know that this is unlikely to happen).  Even harder though, I've had to step back and realize that I won't be around to intervene and meddle in the daily lives of my wife and daughter.  I have to mentally deal with the idea that I won't be there to contribute my own amount of irrationality and emotion to any problems that creep up while I am away.  In all seriousness, as hard as it is to leave my family, I feel at ease with it simply because of the people that have come out of the woodwork to support us all.

14 March 2010

Jedi Tab

While deployments generally suck in terms of being away from home combined with the drudgery of everyday military life, there are still plenty of opportunities for entertainment.  Most of these opportunities are self-created, but soldiers have seemingly boundless capabilities for amusing themselves.  During our free time on my last deployment our common sources of fun included duct taping one another to chairs, rearranging the living areas of others, and the "Water Head" Olympics (a series of athletic events which revolved around Olympic like sports simulated with various vehicle parts).  

The surrealism of the military itself also serves as a source of entertainment.  Given the overly bureaucratic nature of today's Army, it's sometimes difficult not to take advantage of the humor.  As a junior enlisted, I often kept myself occupied by working to understand the complex quagmire of Army regulations and testing the very limits of those regulations.  During one such venture, I orchestrated the award of the "Jedi" to a number of my fellow soldiers.  The memo below was used in an attempt to dissuade any inquiring higher ups from making us remove it.  We found it to have about a 50% success rate.

12 March 2010

Preparations

So admittedly, I've slacked off quite a bit on blogging, but I am getting read to fire things back up so that I can give a little insight into my looming deployment to Iraq and hopefully keep up with the real world.

This being my second deployment, I am slightly more aware of how to prepare, not that it's really helping me prepare, I'm just aware of the things that I'm putting off. Instead of making sure I was well stocked on all sorts of highspeed military gear, I've focused more on making sure I have plenty of stuff to keep me entertained (which in my case is lots of books) and things to help record the experience. During the last deployment, I didn't take the time I should have to get as many pictures as possible, and for many reasons I regret not having the memories to refer back to.

I've been attempting to get as much information I can about what the conditions are like in Iraq (you know the important things like what the chows is like, how fast the internet is, and do they have a Post Exchange on base). Last deployment I spent a bulk of my time on a small base in Afghanistan and this time I am headed to Iraq and expect to be at a larger (and hopefully more built-up base).

Just in case it's interesting my current packing list includes (it's not all-inclusive yet):

  • Laptop
  • Webcam
  • Flip HD Ultra Video Camera
  • CDs and Flash Drives
  • Gameboy
  • Digital Camera
  • Military ID Card Reader (we use them to digitally sign documents)
  • IKEA Pillows and Sheets (nothing exciting but I know they're clean)
  • Books (list books)
  • Uniforms (2 regular, one PT)
  • Tourniquets
  • Flashlights
  • Knives (2x pocket, 1 K-Bar)
  • Dip
  • Drop-Leg Magazine Holster
  • Rack-Type Magazine Holster and Pouches
  • About 3 full 3 ring binders with records
In case you think the list looks slim, believe me it is (we are expecting to be away from home over a year).  At this point we are only allowed to carry two duffle bags and one large backpack on the plane ride overseas with us (we are also allowed to carry a personal item such as a laptop and a carry on).  Last time I went, I remember how difficult it was to fit just the Army issue items into the little packing space we had (we finally got all my stuff crammed into my bags by having one soldier hold the bag while I jumped up and down into it until things were compressed enough).  Currently, I have a full duffle bag full of cold weather gear waiting for me in Wisconsin and am expecting to get at least another bag worth of stuff issued before we head over.