30 March, 2006

It’s the end of the world! Or the end of the fry-cooker…

Yesterday, I was minding my own business when there was a loud and close explosion. Not unheard of as there are frequent controlled detonations of unexploded ordnance by brave troops working to clear the place of such. Usually, there is an announcement but not always. We normally pause for a moment and listen for another. If yes, we begin to consider finding out more. None followed and so back to my keyboard. However another, louder boom went off minutes later and I began to smell smoke and hear alarms. Seconds after that the general attack warning went off.

Everyone began dashing for our helmets and armor. The Iraqi’s began to race about in their 4x4 sirens blaring (quick note: Iraqi’s in their 4x4’s pose a real and present danger as well but that is another story). To the unfamiliar eye their rushing about appears to have great urgency and purpose but I know better. I ran for our building looking at an ominous pillar of smoke reaching high into the sky at the adjacent joint US Army/Iraqi Army Special Force Camp. I could see flames shooting above the berm separating our camps.

I headed for my post which is running the ops control center (a phone on a desk in which I hide under) and began shouting for accountability info. That means I am supposed to know where all of our folks are and pass the information up to our leadership. In a few moments I knew where everybody was (they were hiding under the desk with me). A quick phone call to my overall boss (Colonel H___, a great American, USAF reservist pilot and possible future airline job reference) telling him all accounted for and “Sergeant, get your ass out of my face! I’m trying to talk to the Colonel!” Colonel H___ promised to call me back with updates.

About twenty tense minutes later Colonel H___ called back and told all personnel to stand down, operations back to normal. It appears the kitchen tent at the adjacent camp had caught fire and the explosions were from the propane tanks attached to the fry cooker detonating. No injuries but according to Col H___ the Army wasn’t going to be having French fries for a while.

25 March, 2006

NCAA -- final report

That’s it. There ain’t anymore. Gonzaga (Gonzaga, it’s just fun to say!) is now Gone-zaga (Gone-out-of-tournament). With that my campaign to win is over. There shall be no more NCAA updates from me and I can return to my sports oblivious perspective.

I don’t count NVG horseshoes as a ‘sport’ so much as a spectacle (or perhaps even more correctly guys wearing Night Vision Spectacles) so further reporting may occur.

23 March, 2006

It’s the little things that get our attention – in this case 5¢

At overseas locations the base economy is penniless. AAFES does not use pennies, all prices our rounded to the nearest nickel. The cost of shipping pennies is more than the value of the pennies themselves. Here in Iraq they take it further, no coins at all. But they don’t round to the nearest dollar. Instead, they issue ‘pogs’. These mini-gift certificates are used in place of coins. On one side is the AAFES logo and some suitably patriotic image and on the other a 5¢ 10¢ or 25¢ notation. AAFES makes it clear that ‘pogs’ are cash value as depicted and can be redeemed at any AAFES world wide for the full value. And really, I don’t want carry a bunch of loose change in a combat environment. This program makes cents.

Saying that however, I have not seen a real coin in several months. While shopping at the local BX to get something or other I handed the cashier the cash and put my hand out expecting a few ‘pogs’. An odd weight settled in my hand. I turned to look and Lo! There in my hand was a nickel! I and my two colleagues stopped talking and gazed in wonder at the coin. There seemed to be an angelic chorus in the background and the image of Jefferson seemed to glow. It was a real nickel! A tangible piece of home! A no kidding bit of America! It was a remarkable experience!

To us but not the cashier. She looked at the three slack jawed idiot aircrew standing in front of her staring at this nickel, looked at the coin in my hand for a moment and then looked at the three dummies again.

“Hey, it’s a nickel! Get over it! NEXT!”

22 March, 2006

NCAA update… Like I really care…

You’ll be pleased to know that I am not in last place. Last is occupied by somebody who really deserves it – loud in mouth, bold in predictions, weak in delivery.

Dillman, Seton Hall beats Kentucky in the regionals (not going to happen). I guess having a distinguished name and no skills kind of reveals itself. Though I understand Kentucky vs. UConn was a foregone conclusion.

Mike Ballard, I appreciate your statement regarding not confusing UNC with NC State. I respect the threat of a horseshead ruining my 1000 count Egyptian cotton sheets. However, please speak to your wife regarding your brief message and the importance of completing the objective and intent of your passage. It remains unclear to me where you loyalty lies as far as your Alma Mater so I will go out on a limb and offer my condolences on the loss of NC-State to Texas. I am sure you are happy though the UNC was crushed by George Mason.

Of the four Washington state schools I was disappointed to see George Washington lose in the first round. I am pleased to note the George Town and Gonzaga remain (Gonzaga, the name that’s just fun to say! That ought to be their official slogan). And I guess I should mention Washington getting on as well. Whatever…

18 March, 2006

Open mouth, insert foot…

We had a formal presentation recently as the Iraqi Air Force officially did a ribbon cutting for the base we are stationed at. Lots of dignitaries and important world leaders came to this milestone event… OK, just the Swiss ambassador and neither he nor us are sure why he was there.

A number of media folks did attend including the US military’s newspaper the Stars & Stripes, the LA Times and an Arabic company. The reporters were interviewing one of the US officers that oversee the program. Lt Col B___ made the comment about how cultures are different and how at this event the US might celebrate with champagne. The Iraqi’s however went with their traditional mode and slaughtered a couple of sheep, painted the blood onto the nose of the C-130’s and then had a cook-out. To each his own.

The problem came with the actual quote Lt Col B___ made to the media types.

“In America we celebrate with champagne, here, they do a sheep.”

15 March, 2006

Idle hands… the work of the devil… Or bored aircrew…

Thanks to the power supply situation here from mid-night to six in the morning we are without electricity. I’d like to blame the insurgents but this one resides wholly in the shoddy workmanship of a contractor and the inability to get fuel oil in a country with gas to burn. Further details aren’t important but our response is!

Last night, several of your finest got to thinking in the dark what we could do to pass the time. Our operational rhythm is such that we are all wide awake right at mid-night and won’t be turning into sleep for a while. What ccccaaaAAAAAANNNnnnnn we do??? One of our NCO’s got the bright idea of playing horseshoes. We set up a pit a few weeks ago and it actually has been a good thing. The Iraqi’s and we have used it as sort of a talking spot and it is paying off well in building relationships and teamwork. But how do you play horseshoes in the dark? Easy, we all strapped on our flight helmets and buckled on the latest in military aviation Night Vision Goggles (called NVG’s or NOG’s) and voíla! – the first ever New Al-Muthana Air Base NVG Horseshoe classic. It was a smash hit. Fortunately, smash in the metaphorical sense. Much to the relief of the guy responsible for the equipment no damage was reported.

We have some photos taken with a low-light camera that I hope to send out soon.

The next invitational event suggested will be Mountain Biking on NOG’s. I think the boss may rethink that one. But at least we would be wearing helmets.

13 March, 2006


Not since 1992 when a classmate at Wright-Patterson AFB asked me if I wanted to go to a Cincinnati Reds game and I responded in all seriousness, “Cincinnati Reds… That’s baseball, right?” has anyone asked me to participate in a spectator sports activity.

I have finally been beaten down and forced to participate in one of these office pools. It’s costing me $5. Only because the paper said basketball was I aware of the sport I was ‘playing’. Frankly, I am uncertain if this is the game that they use the sticks or is it the one that they wear all the pads? Somebody help me out here.

I wanted to honor my friends Dillman and Ballard by at least having their teams make the semi-finals but the name Seaton Hall sounds more distinguished than Kentucky and Ballard, sorry, I couldn’t remember if it was NC or NC State.

I really would have had Arkansas beat Memphis but I was writing in pen and couldn’t erase the mistake.

Brian and Diane: The Washington they have here is for UW right? I’m supposed to be a rabid anti-UW person, correct? I think I’m supposed to cheer for Iran over UW, correct? Even so I have some issues with Utah unrelated to sports so Washington gets at least one win by default.

Mom and Dad, I know you sent me and your money to WSU but I didn’t see them listed.

George Washington goes as far as it does on name recognition alone.

Same with George Town – though I didn’t realize George, Washington (pop. 528, US Census 2000) had an NCAA school.

12 March, 2006

The rare Desert Yeti

People can be so mean. Our deputy commander has an excess of body hair apparently. He was seen without a shirt and has a new ‘unofficial’ call sign as the rare ‘Desert Yeti’. What is so appealing to me is that he doesn’t like it. I don’t much like him. I find reason to use the term daily.

04 March, 2006

The root(s) of all evil

For the last few days I have been traveling around Iraq visiting several Iraqi headquarters and their Ministry of Defense. My job has been to get some profiles on the various personalities and processes the Iraqi Air Force has to work with. My impressions along with other advisors are being consolidated as a report on Iraqi military fitness.

That is not important.

What is important is that I have faced the root (or roots, there are three) of all that is evil…

Broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes...

While visiting one of the offices in the Ministry of Defense I was invited to have a light meal with the deputy for the operations division. A nice colonel named Amir politely ushered me into the office and offered me tea. Arabic tea is one of the bright spots in my day as it is quite good and makes for a starting point for a conversation. As we sipped our tea we exchanged some pleasantries (via an interpreter, the colonel’s English required occasional support, typical in my dealings and not a criticism by any means) and discussed what we would be talking about.

Then the orderly (colonels get orderlies) brought in a plate of food…

On this plate was what I take to be Iraqi focaccia. You probably have had it at an Italian restaurant of course, thick bread with cheese and sometimes some vegetables, mostly tomatoes. I tend to avoid it unless I can have it my way, without tomatoes.

The Iraqi intelligence service must have a dossier on me since this particular piece of bread was covered with chopped broccoli, cauliflower and tomatoes...

Covered is such and inadequate word… More like freaking slathered on in huge heaping shovel loads! You couldn’t put another particle on top without it revealing an inherent instability not unlike Enron’s financial situation before the collapse. I was simply aghast!

We were taught in our Arabic sensitivity classes (me sensitive, HA!) that when offered food we must be absolutely thrilled at the presentation and consume it with relish and comment on the exquisite taste and generosity of our host.

It was at this point General Q___, chief of Iraqi Air Force operations strode in to join us along with his entourage. He was going to snack with us.

…I was doomed.

The colonel of course cuts me a huge slice of this thing. And with a sense of great pride at his staff kitchen’s accomplishment puts it on a plate and places it before me. Even before General Q___. At this point I am thinking I’ve got thirty rounds, I’d probably be able to get to the door and maybe make it to the HUMMV.

The General (obviously sensing my discomfiture) speaks in a deep basso voice via the interpreter “Ah, this is my favorite, please go ahead and eat Major.”

The things I do for my country…

After my nightmarish meal our conversation turned to business. As I mentioned the General had arrived with a small entourage of hanger-on’ers and they were all talking at once. It was difficult for me to hear the interpreter. In an attempt to lighten the mood (and get my mind off the churning in my stomach) I commented to the General that since we were both folically challenged it was an indication of “our intelligence and knowledge on these matters and is what has caused us to be so hair negative. Perhaps it would be best if we were the only ones speaking right now.”

The interpreter passed on my comment to Q___ and several people laughed at the joke. Not a very good joke but the Iraqi’s are nothing if not polite. Q___ didn’t smile at all but spoke in his deep voice. All talking stopped.

“The General, he says… Yes, only the bald men may speak.”