05 July, 2006

Coming home vs. being home

Yesterday, I returned home. I arrived last night after a long and frustrating journey courtesy of the US Military and the lowest contract bidder. But I am home. I arrived during the evening of the fourth of July. There is a real symbolism to that of course, Independence Day and all. The fact wasn't lost on me.

While I was unloading the car my neighbor was out celebrating the day with his daughter. He was setting off some firecrackers. They went off about 40 feet from me. Without hesitation I was on the ground.

I do not suggest my time is comparable to the tour of a young Army trooper or Marine who has slogged through the streets of Mosul or Fallujah. But it has changed me to some measure.

I am home.

But I realize that coming home is not simply unloading the baggage from the back of the car.

22 May, 2006

Mutual of Baghdad's Wild Kingdom -- Part 2

It was an Animal Planet moment…

We were sitting on the ramp of the plane getting ready to go when we noticed a lizard, about six inches long, walking/scurrying about the shade of the tail. It was one of the moments where you stop and contemplate life. All the crew, both Iraqi and American looked on at this small life moving about the world.

At that moment a Sakar, a falcon, swooped out of nowhere and grabbed lunch…

We stopped contemplating life at that moment and got back to work.

21 May, 2006

Mutual of Baghdad's Wild Kingdom -- Part 1

So I was putting on my boots the other day and realized there must be a rock in the bottom. It wasn’t painful and I needed to get to the office so I said to myself, “I’ll just take care of this when I get there.”

Once sitting in my chair I realized, strange, the rock wasn’t in the same place and that I probably should do something about this. As I began to unlace my boot I realized the rock was moving… in a manner that suggested it was moving itself. My unlacing efforts sped up, dramatically.

As I upended the boot a very large black beetle (must have been over an inch long and about ¾ of an inch in diameter, I have witnesses) tumbled out and landed on the floor. It was obviously quite disoriented having been in such close proximity to my feet as it was stumbling about in confusion and recovering from the asphyxiation it had experienced in my boot. As I shrieked in horror to think what had been inside there, my boot was wielded high and mightily and brought down with unjust fury on the hapless bug. It was my fault of course for not checking my boots but the bug paid.

I check my boots now each morning.

15 May, 2006

What I’ve learned (recently)

When it is 120 degrees in the shade, French fries stay hot and an ice cold coke isn’t.

Not flinching at one unscheduled detonation is experience; not flinching at two unscheduled detonations is jaded.

Senior Officers don’t have a sense of humor.

Real conversation between me and a Senior Officer at Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar.

“Are you going to take off from here?” He was pointing at the spot we were standing at behind the plane. We were in a cargo ramp and I think he meant to ask if we were going to load cargo here then depart or just depart.

I responded, “Well Sir, I was planning to taxi to the runway to actually takeoff but if you insist I think I can make it from here.”

Not even a hint of a smile.

10 May, 2006

People pay good money for this kind of safari

Today, I spent my usual late afternoon like most US military, trying to find something to do during the hottest part of the day. Usually (for normal people) it is an expedition to find a working AC unit but today I decided to up the body count on the US war on pigeon shaped poop terrorists. Bird flu is an Al-Qaeda plot after all. For the last decade the hangar we have been using has been abandoned, the pigeons ruled the roost.

The birds have apparently been rather upset about the new occupants and have been showing their displeasure by pooping everywhere. When entering the hangar you must wear a hat. A plane being worked on rapidly accumulates a coating of pigeon droppings.

Enough is enough and the unit leadership has authorized unrestricted (short of WMD use) warfare on the birds. Your correspondent is a committed (or perhaps should be…) member of the eradication team. Doing my part for democracy!

My count is rising rapidly and the birds have begun to show signs of hunting pressure. They seem to be associating the appearance of a few people looking and point at them as reason to hide. They are now scurrying behind I-beams in the hangar making it hard to shoot. I’d say about 1/3 seem to be smart enough to dope out, if I can’t see the two legged murderous psycho he can’t see me. For the other 2/3’s – death.

Today I was in the hangar alone looking for victims when a group of about fifteen Iraqi guards and maintenance troops entered. Apparently my exploits have been getting some favorable press as I was quickly surrounded by them and then was the recipient of many thanks and pats on the back. The Iraqi guards are especially thankful as they have born the brunt of the poop attacks.

After the congrats and such the Iraqi’s began to offer me assistance by pointing up a potential targets. Speaking in Pidgin English (no irony there) they quickly found a particular dumb bird low down on the wall. As I fumbled with the ammo tin several guards reached for the can to be my ammo bearers. In short order it became the scene from a bad movie as the great white hunter strolled about trying to get a good shot while his safari, gun bearers and ammo boys scurried about.

Finally getting a shot off I smacked the wall next to the bird and it fluttered up higher. More pointing and talking at the bird as the guards began pushing and shoving to be the one to offer me the next pellet. Another pair took the rifle from me (obviously the NCOIC’s) and cocked and loaded it then handed it back.

High up on the wall the wary pigeon regarded the scene below with alarm. I lined up the shot and bam! Scratch one pigeon. Or so I thought. Tumbling and bouncing down the wall it landed on a cross beam and lay there. In silence the hunting party looked at the flopping bird. It wasn’t a clean kill unfortunately. After a little while it staggered along the beam and hid behind another. We could see the head sticking out but it was a tough shot.
The Iraqi’s were determined to help me get this one so they began to throw things at the bird in order to flush it out. Finally, one of them heaved a basket ball at the spot and the pigeon broke cover. Flopping along in some sort of variation of flapping and gliding the bird swooped across the hangar trailing feathers and fluff. Across the broad expanse it tumbled until it had reached the massive doors on the other side. Sort of falling through the air the bird managed to slip into the spaces between the doors.

The Iraqi’s were off in hot pursuit. In a few moments the door was surrounded as the Iraqi’s tried to get at the bird. I am not sure what would have happened if they had managed to flush it out as I was laughing to hard at that point to take a safe shot.

After about five minutes I convinced them that it was OK and that I really appreciated the effort. So continues the joint Iraqi/American war on terror, or pigeon poop.

18 April, 2006

The Medical Hobby Shop

We in the USAF often make disparaging comments about our flight docs and dentists. We call the clinics medical or dental hobby shops. It is our inalienable right to complain and so forth. The Iraqi’s have topped this however. A few days ago this correspondent had to have a mole removed from his back. (I watched Good Night and Good Luck yesterday. “this correspondent…” pure Edward R. Murrow!) I went to the USAF Medical Hobby Shop where they did a fine job removing it and putting in three stitches. The instructions were to change the bandage daily for three days and then use a band-aid. No problem so far.

On my base we don’t have a USAF medical clinic but an Iraqi medical clinic with a USAF advisor (MSgt D___). Since this was a simple bandage change I figured it would be a simple matter to have them do it. So I march over and walk in.

First unsettling thing I see: One of the hallways is flooded with dirty mop water. Not what you expect in a medical clinic. However, we see this everywhere and it is how they do it. The floors are all tile and they just pore a bunch of Pine Sol into a bucket of water, slosh it about then squeegee the mess out the door. Still it was a bit unsettling.

Second, the Iraqi’s all looked very surprised. An American? Here?!? Much scurrying about. “Hello, sir.” (means they know no more English). And worried glances as to why is this guy here. (Note: we have been instructed to use this facility when possible for Joint Operations… Get it? Operations… Medical… I digress)

While the USAF advisor was being summoned, hurriedly, one of the Iraqi’s tried to find out what I needed. I showed them some bandage materials I had been given to use and did the Pidgin English/Arabic thing trying to communicate. Further confusion since they couldn’t comprehend why the American was bringing them a couple of bandages.

Finally, the MSgt arrived and explanation were made and understood. Why his Pidgin English/Arabic is better than mine I don’t know. Into the treatment room I go.

While I am sitting there and the MSgt is getting washed up, the Iraqi’s are clustered about my backside obviously studying the three stitches. I notice a very large Iraqi (6’ 8”, 300 pounds) go over a medical cabinet and put on some gloves and get something out of a tray. He turns around and it is a scalpel in his hand. No not a scalpel, a knife about two inches long. As he starts walking toward me I think, “Hmmm… one head shot then head for the door.”

The MSgt came in at this point and began to do yell “No! No! No! Bandage only!” After much shouting and gesturing there was this sudden “Ahhh!” of comprehension and the scalpel went back into the tray. The bandage was replaced and all is well.

According to the MSgt the Iraqi’s use a scalpel to remove stitches, not the purpose built scissors the US uses. He is working on this and promises to have the technique down with his colleagues when I come back (right…). He also tells me they really do a good job, especially with serious trauma as they regrettably have far more practice with that then with Americans needing a bandage changed.

13 April, 2006

Off the path of Righteousness and into the abyss of Pride

Big, tough Major Irwin had to use the urinal in the back of the plane today. We were carrying some passengers. Of course, sitting next to the crew ladder to the flight deck was the obligatory hard core Marine colonel and two attractive Air Force officer flight nurses. The three most cliché people to have watching you as you screw up. As I was stepping down to the deck (I was wearing my helmet and all the related gear, trying to look all tough and purposeful) the comm. cord got hooked onto something on the ladder. I step down and promptly try to suspend myself in mid-air by my brain bucket. And of course the aforementioned three cliché witnesses immediately start laughing at me as I am trying to unhang myself.

And again, pride goeth before the fall.

Pride goeth before the fall

One of our NCO’s received a summer sausage from family. It is a big monster, almost three feet long. It is called a “yard o’ beef”. Tacky name aside I am sure it was much appreciated. Another NCO thought he would be cute and took a photo of the big hunk o’ meat and e-mailed it to his wife with the quote “Do you miss me?”

His spouse replied “Of course!” and sent him a picture of a Vienna sausage. You know, the ones about an inch long.

Why chose to share this particular bit of smack down with his friends I don’t know but he is now referred to as “little smoky”.