Saturday, December 13, 2008

Air Force commendation medal

I received an Air Force Commendation Medal from my unit in the mail the other day. It was a nice surprise. My boss at my job in DC is a former Marine, and he laughed at me for getting it in the mail...but that's kind of how we do it in the Air National Guard. Not quite as much "military bearing" or whatever you want to call it. I've actually seen promotional stripes simply handed to people before.

Actually, come to think of it, the medal wasn't included, I have to go buy that myself, but I got the certificate that allows me to claim I am a recipient of it. Which apparently carries some fierce penalties!

"Any false written or verbal claim to a decoration or medal or any wear, purchase, attempt to purchase, solicitation for purchase, mailing, shipping, import, export, manufacture, sale, attempt to sell, advertising for sale, trade, or barter of a decoration or medal authorized for wear by authorized military members or veterans is a federal offense punishable by up to six months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine."

Monday, November 03, 2008

New York Times article

Here is a sweet article about the new GI Bill and returning veterans. Virtually everyone I've worked with since I've been in DC and some of my good friends were quoted in this article, which was a Sunday NYT article and ran over five pages in a special insert.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/02/education/edlife/vets.html

Sunday, August 03, 2008

making sense of things

I just finished reading Love My Rifle More Than You. I related to a lot of it, though not all. I think the author and I are very different girls, but some things are the same. Many things are different. I never experienced any guy physically grabbing me, I didn't watch anyone take their last breaths, and I always got to piss in a port-a-john.

But she talked a lot about withdrawing, because she didn't want to deal with advances anymore, and I could relate to that. Just completely shutting down, shutting everyone out, because you are sick and tired of being taken advantage of if you open yourself up to some of the guys you work with. You don't smile, you don't make eye contact, no small talk, no friendliness that could possibly be misinterpreted for an open door for an advance.

She had her waking dreams, as did I. The ones that consume you after the fact. The medic flirting with me my first time volunteering in the E.D. (me thinking "is this really happening?", trying not to be rude but trying to make it stop) and they wheel in the bloody, hairy Latino guy, kind of stubby, mostly I remember him being really bloody and everyone snapping into a frenzy, shouting and pointing and waving and working. I'm standing there, kind of stunned, tossing gauze and blankets and syringes at whoever yells loudest. And suddenly one nurse flips the guy on his side and jams two fingers up the guy's ass, a cavity check. I reeled. I was not expecting that. My stomach churned. It was a lot all at once, a very salient, bloody memory that I have never really spoken of until now.

Then they wheeled they guy out, on his way to xrays and surgery and the ICU and Germany and home. And the medic immediately resumed flirting, and I remember feeling angry and indignant, sick to my stomach, like screw you, screw you all, you animals, did you even feel ANYTHING watching that guy bleed all over the floor.

In hindsight I know it's a coping mechanism, how else could we deal, other than to pretend life is normal? It's all part of the job description, we maintain our cool and calm and plow through each day, flirting with the new female volunteers no matter what crosses our paths in the meanwhile, attempting to retain a sense of normalcy.

But I couldn't make sense of it, never have.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

shaking things up

I testified.

Working with veterans' issues makes you wobble between hyper sensitization and desensitization. What a dichotomy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

End of an Era

So, I'm out in September. Dunzo.

The past few weeks I have been spending at my Air National Guard base here in Madison, making up guard drills. I leave for DC around the first of May, to work for Student Veterans of America (or rather, to get paid for working for SVA...), and my AMMO supervisor agreed to let me make up all the drills between now and September so I wouldn't have to fly home every month to drill. I am flying back for my final drill in September, to finish outprocessing and to say goodbye to my family (AMMO family, that is).

So basically I started outprocessing this week. It really is awfully breezy to get out of the Air National Guard. You just bop around to different offices and they type something into their computer and then they sign your sheet. The problem is that it's such a small base (about 1,000) that after 7 years, everyone is familiar, and even if you don't recognize them, they recognize you. So this is how it goes:

Me: "I need to turn in my ______". I hand them my sheet.
Them: "WHAT! You're leaving??? Why! How long do you have in?"
Me: "7 years."
Them: "But you're so close, you can't quit now! You quitter."

Close? Close to what? Retirement? HA!

And then they say: "Well, if DC doesn't work out, you can always come back. We'll take you back."

Awww. Thanks guys. There's always that, I guess.

So I made my final journey onto the flight line yesterday. I am not going to lie, I felt pretty weird. It's a job I've spent the most time in my 7 years doing--ducking under the jets trying not to smack my head, goofing around with the munitions loaders, driving around trying not to get in any of the jets' way with all kinds of live stuff pointed at the back of my head.

The tarmac has an unusual feel to it. It's always stifling, it always feels like you're cooking a little bit. The heat rises in waves off of it and there's nothing but cement as far as the eye can see. The jets are always parked perfectly aligned, poignant symbols of America's military prowess. Their "remove before flight" flags flap in the wind, their cockpits open, waiting for their pilots. Sometimes the flightline hums with activity, the hustle and bustle of prepping a jet for flight, and sometimes it's you and five guys for miles and miles, the machines frozen in time like giant statues.

I want to say goodbye, I want to formalize the moment, I want to take a picture leaning against the F-16 and frame it under the caption "last trip out to the flight line". I know there will be no equivalent to this experience in the civilian world, ever. But instead I just sigh, lean back in my seat, look over at my driver, and tell him I'm going to miss this place.

Because for as much hell as it's been, really, I am.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Neat little packages

The other day I struggled down to the local post office to mail care packages back to the guys still in Iraq. Usually carrying three boxes into a crowded post office and filling out customs sheets is enough of an ordeal on its own. This time even getting to the post office was a ridiculous hassle because of the Public Enemies movie being shot downtown. The general hysteria that Johnny Depp provokes everywhere he turns up creates quite a mess to navigate..the barricades, the crowds, the Range Rovers cruising like maniacs down tiny, previously serene side streets.

I collide with a guy on my way in and finally throw down the three boxes and proceed to fill out customs sheets. I wait my turn. I hand the boxes over to the clerk, relieved to be free of them finally. She takes her time. I feel slightly agoraphobic, being out of the house. Also slightly claustrophobic from all the crowds.

The clerk makes an attempt at small talk.

"You sending these to the troops on your own, or as part of an organization?"
"On my own. I have some friends over there."

I have adopted this strategy of telling the truth to strangers if directly asked, but generally I skirt the issue in small talk with people I don't know. Saying "I just got back myself" to that clerk would have kind of been like saying "Yo, I just got diagnosed with cancer!" No one ever knows what to say back to you.

"My women's auxiliary group sent a bunch of stuff over," she continues. "We only had one girl. It's funny what the girls ask for, you know like conditioner and body spray and good lotion."

Mmhmm. Yep. Mmmhmm. You don't say?

These kind of interactions are frequent, interactions where I am not really divulging much about myself and in doing so, I feel a little shady, or like I am tricking the poor stranger who probably only means well. I feel like I am accidentally overhearing a conversation that I am not supposed to be overhearing, like when you realize the people in the next room are talking about you and they don't know you are listening. It's the kind of thing that makes your skin crawl a little, makes the prickles on the back of your neck stick up a bit.

They don't know I am here, right there in front of them, because I don't fit into their little box of whatever they think an Iraq vet looks like. Shh. And sometimes I like to teach them a lesson, by abruptly informing them that yes, I was just one of those girls asking for good lotion, that we are normal people and we blend right in, but usually they can't hide their surprise and the conversation sours quickly while they attempt a recovery.

Ah well, such is life so far away from the military, I suppose.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Well, I've been home for an entire week now. Things have been pretty good. I've been at my parents house, which is where I'll be staying until I get a real job...hopefully in May I will be relocating to Washington D.C. to work on veterans education issues.

Being at my parents house is kind of weird, I feel very isolated but also it's very relaxing. There's food and drink abound, and my sister is here and she keeps me company during the day. I am not sure what would have happened if I was alone all day every day right when I got back. I think I may have gone insane.

I haven't really been doing anything interesting. Mostly lounging in sweatpants. Also working on the internet/phone pretty extensively with SVA (Student Veterans of America) trying to get myself caught up on what has been happening with the organization while I was gone. It turns out lots, and lots, and lots happened while I was gone.

I went out for St. Patrick's Day with my roommate from the desert, Kathryn. You'd think after spending every single second together for 2 straight months we'd be sick of each other...well after 5 days I was missing her something terrible. We went out to dinner together. It was weird to be out and about in downtown Madison, I felt really discombobulated by being around something so familiar after experiencing something so bizarre. I think being at my parents house has been a nice way of letting me sink back into the real world slowly. But dinner was good, and we talked about the trip a lot, and the people we missed, and laughed about inside jokes that no one else would think was funny.

We then proceeded to get absolutely smashed, it was St. Patrick's Day and neither of us had really celebrated being home yet. It was a really good, funny night and I saw a lot of random familiar people out and about.

Sleep has been interesting. It's been hard to fall asleep, it's been hard to relax in general. I think I am back in some sort of rhythm but it's not really a dependable one. I am sleeping through the night pretty well which is a good thing.

I sent out care packages to the guys still over there. I feel strangely guilty for being able to leave while all the active duty guys had to stay. I sent them all the things I wished I had had when I was there, plus their favorite junk food. The post office is right down where Johnny Depp is filming his new movie, Public Enemies, so it ended up being a HUGE ordeal and a big frustration. I've been kind of anti-people upon my return and masses of spectators is not really my cup of tea at this point. At any rate it is kind of cool that Johnny Depp is cruising around this small tiny town.

It feels really, really good to be home, but still a little bittersweet I guess. Not many people experience an environment stripped of all comforts from home, in a hostile environment at that, with complete strangers. As sucky as it was at times, I think I am going to miss being directly challenged to adapt to situations as extreme as that.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

For posterity's sake

Home sweet home:


Lookin' out my back door:


Combat loading HEI (High Explosive Incindiary) 20 mm bullets:


FUBAR'd HEI round:


My name's on here from last time. And yes, we did:


Geek Squad:


Some of my crew:


The flight office:


Nothing like a jet engine laying around:


Doom and gloom in the bomb dump:


Line-D South Cookout Night:


Get me the H out of here:


Oh boy.


Fuzing bombs:


Free stuff courtesy of the Ravens:


BLU-126=30 lbs of explosives="low collateral damage"


Me and my 5"4 supervisors


Stress relief AKA AMMO vollyeball:



Sisters:


In your eye:

Zombie

I am home. I am a zombie. Will recap the weird past three days soon.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

I am a rock. I am an island.

Trying to pass the time by napping isn't working. I crawl out of my bunk and stretch. The wheels in my mind are cranking so hard it hurts, and I just want to release tension. It's 4 a.m. in the morning. I pull on my crinkly crackly PT gear and head out for a run. Despite the fact the base is pulsing with activity 24 hours a day, it is usually dead around this time. I am alone. Technically, I am breaking many rules by running alone around the base, we are supposed to have a wingman between certain hours. One, so we don't get hit by a mortar and end up in a ditch and no one knows where we are. Two, so the Army doesn't eat us. I don't care. Tonight I am taking my chances. I need this. The occasional Stryker, Bradley, MRAP, Humvee clanks past in the otherwise desolate silence.

The flight line lights up miles of open space behind me, coloring everything a dim fluorescent ashen in front of me, enough so I can avoid the gaping potholes and random electrical wire. My shadow trods steadily in front of me, bobbing against a foreboding barbed wire fence. I am quietly pattering away on the dusty pavement. I feel like I am floating. I feel tension melting. I am alone. I am a rock. I am an island.

Friday, March 07, 2008

A Bittersweet Symphony

My time here is rapidly coming to an end. I had my last day of duty the other night. It was a light night of work and I volunteered for most jobs as a "last hurrah" type thing. I even volunteered to "get the gate", the dreaded job of all AMMO troops, unlocking the padlock and swinging open the finicky gate for the vehicles to pass through. (It's really quite amazing to see what great lengths people will go to to get out of "getting the gate", it is the bane of our existence here even though it is not a big deal, usually left for the lowest ranking individuals who nearly always try to squirm out of it).

I have not really said goodbye to many people. The time after you finish your final duty day is spent in total limbo, since you no longer have a dependable routine and are given time to pack up and get all your stuff in order. Sometimes they give you too much time. It just stretches out the waiting, so a bunch of us volunteered to go on duty even though we didn't have to, simply because it makes time pass faster. Plus we like the guys we work with and wanted to spend a bit more time with them before saying goodbye. There has only been one goodbye so far, my best buddy that I made here took a helicopter down to Baghdad to deal with some AMMO accounts he is responsible for. I felt really heavy hearted after that goodbye...time is so bizarre here, how you can bond so quickly after only a few short weeks of working together. Usually people make their goodbyes short and sweet, like it's no big deal that you will never see each other again, ever. That is, if time allows for goodbyes. Many times goodbyes just aren't said because the mission doesn't allow for it. The military doesn't really believe in closure.

Katy asked if I was doing ok afterward. I think she noticed that my eyes were beginning to brim. "You alright?" "Yeah. That one stung a bit."

Anyway, I spent a few hours cramming all my stuff into bags. We have to go through customs soon and I know from previous experience that it does no good to pack things neatly since they will just be ripping through it looking for war trophies anyway.

There are a solid 3-4 people that I am going to miss really bad. I will not miss the work that I do. I am proud of the work I do here, but I also know mechanical, technical work is not really my forte, and I don't really particularly enjoy wrenching on things. They never wrench the right way for my anyway. In hindsight, I am making it out of here without getting into trouble, and only screwing up a few very minor things...although there is one incident that happened that makes me look like a total jackass, but that cat isn't out of the bag yet.

Tonight we went and had a cookout with Line-D South. We wore our Physical Training (PT) gear and not our uniforms and steel-toes. We sat up on top of a HAS (Hardened Aircraft Structure) and cracked a few near-beers, watching the lights flicker on the flight line, it was surprisingly quiet. The chicken got dried out, the kabobs were chewy and iffy, and the near beer did not make my innards warm, but it almost felt like home and I almost felt happy.

I am relieved to be getting away from mortars. We had one the other day that was fairly scary but on the off chance an insurgent finds this blog I don't want to give them any hints about the success or lack thereof in their attack. This asshole knew what he was doing, more than most. I am really excited to be able to eat fresh food. I am really excited to take a long hot shower and have an ice cold beer. I am excited to wear sweatpants and hang out with my family. I am not excited to see drunk college kids, I am thankful I am not going back to Madison because I just might lose it. I am excited to feel like a girl, and not feel guilty for putting on good-smelling lotion. I am excited to come home and have Johnny Depp filming Public Enemies in my hometown of 3,500 people. I am excited to possibly be testifying before the U.S. Senate about veterans education issues in April. I am excited to move on with my life and have my last deployment ever behind me. I am really sad to be leaving the Air National Guard. I will miss the structure and the routine this place has provided me with, strangely enough. I will not miss the toxic smoke that envelopes us on a daily basis, the smoke they tells us contains elements of cyanide, Styrofoam, human body parts, and rubber tires.

I came down with The Crud a few days ago. I avoided The Crud for nearly the entirety of my deployment, and then a mere few days before I depart this hellhole, I come down with The Crud. Congestion, coughing, sore throats, phlegm, etc. It's because I did postloaded a bomb in a dust storm, I spent about an hour in the dust and when I came inside my lungs felt like they were on fire, like someone was sitting on my chest. The Crud. It's better now, I'm just hoping it doesn't get worse when I show up in frigid Wisconsin.

Freedom isn't free, they like to say. Well, freedom feels frightening at this point, a vast open space that I am not sure I will know what to do with. I pray that I will adjust quickly and adapt a strategy that will enable me to feel refreshed by life, and not overwhelmed.

Anyway. That's what's on my plate for now. A lot of changes and adaptations, mutations and adjustments. A bittersweet symphony.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Alright, the guy next to me here at the "cyber cafe" (the name is deceiving, there is nothing 'cafe' about this place) is alternately giggling to himself, burping, and smacking his lips. It's driving me BATTY. Fortunately I typed this entry up ahead of time, the other night, so I am just going to cut and paste and get the hell out of dodge.

I volunteered at the hospital the other night. There were virtually no Americans, a good thing, but there were plenty of Iraqis in the ICW. I am not sure if they were all part of the same IED blast or if they were injured in various different tragedies. I read a couple days ago about a mortar that was aimed at our heads but instead fell short, falling into a field of Iraqi children playing soccer. I am not sure if the kids were the same, but there were three little Iraqi boys, must have been about 7, in the ICW. So tiny, so adorable…it’s almost more painful to look at them when they are conscious than when the kids here are unconscious. Those giant jaded brown eyes shuttered with long lashes. These kids did not seem vacant or haunted, like some people think all wartime children ought to be. But I didn’t really interact with them, I just watched from a distance, as I dutifully stocked supply cupboards next to patient bedsides.

I interacted with the most Iraqis I have ever interacted with tonight. Stocking the medical supplies took forever, the drawers were just chaos and none of them had the right amounts of the right things. I spent almost four hours reorganizing about 40 beds’ medical supply drawers. Tourniquets, iodine swabs, burn pads, guaze, bedpans, IV start kits. One Iraqi guy looked to be about my age, maybe a few years younger, he wasn’t hurt too badly. He was really friendly, through a great deal of hand signals and quizzical looks I managed to figure out his name, that he was probably an Iraqi policeman, and that he was injured by an IED that hit him in the leg twice. He liked to play guessing games and flirt with the nurses. Getting blasted by an IED didn’t seem to dampen his spirits much. I saw him drop a water bottle on his own thigh accidentally and he winced and slapped himself on the forehead before grinning over at me.

Another Iraqi guy had a skin graft on his lip, and about half of his mouth sewn shut. You could see burn marks from fragments of whatever hit him all over his head and face. I was trying to be quiet stocking his bedside table but he woke up and started motioning that he wanted something…I have learned that if they want something, the nurses and med techs often do not have a much better idea of what they want than I as a volunteer can figure out, so I usually try to figure out what the situation is before I go drag someone into it. So this guy is motioning about his blanket, like he wants it covering him more. So I try to cover him more with his wool blanket that’s all bunched up on his side. No, hot!!! Too hot!! He gestures. Ok, I pull it down. Sheet, up! Ok, I pull the sheet up. Over head! Ok, pull sheet up over head! No, bad! Feet are uncovered! Really swollen, bruised feet covered in stitches peeking out under the sheet. “Beeeeg”. He says. Aha, got it! You want your sheet to be big enough to cover your face because it’s too bright and you want to sleep, but long enough to cover your toes because they get cold. You want a bigger sheet. Ok, problem solved. I get a thumbs up, a smile (as much as he can muster through his stitches and skin graft), and a firm handshake for my eventually successful attempt at decoding his desire.

There were some detainees there, more than usual. They are shackled to the beds and they are not allowed to see, a curtain gets pulled around them and they have bandages wrapped around their heads to cover their eyes. That’s all I’m going to write about that. Except that a few of them looked really young. I couldn’t help but wonder if these guys were actually insurgents or if someone just wanted to make some extra dough from the Americans so they handed these guys over. There’s no way for me to tell, of course. That’s above my pay grade. Young Army guys guard them in shifts, looking bored out of their skulls. I have to say though, the resilience and resolve of the Iraqi civilians in the ICW is unreal, I can guarantee that if some American civilians had injuries similar to these Iraqi civilians, there would be a great deal of moaning and groaning and general scene-making; for the most part these people seem to have accepted their fate with a tenacious quiet fierceness. The guy making the most noise was a detainee, wailing strangely in English but not saying much more than “oh my God”, and he wasn’t even that bad off compared to the other guys in there. I asked one of the nurses what was wrong with him and she said he was “generally unhappy with his situation at this point in time”.

I went to go get a cup of coffee and ran into one of my favorites from home. He looked tired. He told me he was working out on the helipad and brought in a two year old, who he then watched die. He was there when they broke the news to the child’s father. I suspect that experience will haunt him for years to come...but then we talked about how important we thought it was for people to volunteer at the hospital, to get out of our little routine of 12 hours of work and then go work out and then go to bed. We talked about how important it is to remember that you can guarantee someone here legitimately has it worse than you at all times, and how important it was to get ourselves out of our little “H-6 Bubble”, our Air Force compound bubble You think you have a bad day, no you did NOT have a bad day, go take a walk through the ICU or the ICW in Iraq and then try to tell me you had a bad day.

I think therein lies a great deal of the world’s problems, that the people making a lot of the big decisions in the world do not take strolls through the ICU and the ICW here in Iraq on a regular basis. I just finished reading Three Cups of Tea. Greg Mortensen talks about being in the Pentagon to brief some military intel about the situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan after September 11, and all he could remember about the Pentagon was that everyone ran around with laptops, surrounded by concrete, and that Rumsfeld had really shiny shoes. He calls the war on terror a “laptop war”. And these are the individuals making huge decisions affecting millions of impoverished, uneducated Pakistanis and Afghanis and Iraqis, dropping thousands of bombs and not following through with the aid we promised to repair what we destroyed with pushes of red buttons from 8,000 miles away. The quickest way for Americans to make enemies out of Muslims, Mortenson points out, is to make promises and then break them. Lord only knows how many promises have been broken here.

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
--W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

My People.

Here is a very basic rundown of a few of the folks I work with. These are the ones that have left the largest impression on me and are the ones that I communicate with most often while here. I don't really have their permission to be writing about them so I am using anonymous initials to describe them, and staying away from anything too personal that I have learned about them.

Sergeant A: A really fresh faced kid we affectionately call “Mouth”. I have had the pleasure of serving with this loudmouth for all three of my deployments to the Middle East. He is from the middle of nowhere Kansas, but he is what we refer to as a “Guard Bum”, a guy who is in the National Guard and volunteers for 90-150 day deployments, then lives off that money for several months, then deploys again. Some people make a lifestyle out of it. Shrug. Anyway I first met Mouth when he was 18 in Qatar. He noodles for fun and he was once in coma for two weeks after a car accident. He is an extremely hard worker. He makes every day slightly more interesting than it should be. He’s a very animated storyteller and he also thoroughly enjoys pissing me off. I really like the guy, he is one of my favorite people that I’ve ever met in the military, although we bicker constantly.

Segeant B: A rough, tough tattooed guy with a buzzed head and really intense brown eyes. This guy is seriously the kind of guy you believe when he says he has killed people (he hasn’t; I asked). He is from a rough part of San Diego and he’s been through a lot in his short life, I think. He’s a genuinely nice guy, but do not cross him, because holy crap, he might actually kill you. He really likes to fight and this has gotten him into a bit of trouble in the past. He says he is big on treating women respectfully but is also a self professed “player”, which doesn’t really jive, but he has a way of making it seem like it should and I think he is pretty good at making ladies see things his way. He owns a pit bull and really likes restoring cars. I think he is the most interesting person I’ve met here, I am frightened and completely intrigued by him.

Sergeant C: The kind of guy I hope is still single when I turn 30. Well, his kind anyway, this one is engaged. Sergeant C is a really nice guy from PA. He walks with really slow, high knee steps, like Woody from Toy Story. He is usually really friendly but sometimes really cranky, I never know quite the response I am going to get when I smile and wave at him. I think he misses his fiancee a lot. He is a paramedic back home and told me he grew up fast, at a very young age. I think he's seen some pretty horrible things. He is the kind of guy you would want to rescue you though, he has that levelheadedness/compassionate combo that is so important in people that save lives for a living (or on the side). He looks like the kind of guy your mom and dad would want you to marry but let me tell you, this guy has a surprising potty mouth. He has a really distinct laugh that doesn’t sound like it matches his physical appearance, which almost always makes me laugh when he laughs.

Sergeant D: I went to tech school with Sergeant D in Wichita Falls, TX in 2002! I walked onto the bus my very first day here in Iraq and I hear “Hi, Liz.” Huh? It’s Sergeant D! (When I knew him he was Airman D, not a Sergeant, obviously). Sergeant D was one of my buddies that I used to break all the rules with in tech school. He was married then, not anymore. He is a really sarcastic, smart fellow who checks up on online news regularly and is really into economics. We see a lot of things the same way and have been known to exchange a few knowing glances (not about economics). He has a very dry, off the wall sense of humor and jokes a lot about the sound of freedom ringing over head whenever the jets take off. He is a random guy from a random base and didn’t come with any troops from home, sometimes I feel a little sad for him because that has got to get lonely.

Sergeant E: A fiery red head from Michigan, yet he seems like he should be from Texas or Mississippi or something. He’s really into sweet tea and biscuits and gravy. He’s really goofy and jerks around a lot when he talks. He has knocked entire computers over while telling stories. He’s hilarious. He will bend over backward for you, and does really nice, thoughtful things for people. He also knows his stuff and is a go-to guy. He tells a lot of stories with really interesting eye contact methods, so you can’t really tell if he just decided to start telling the story he WAS just telling you to the person sitting next to you. Every day he gets cheesecake at the chow hall and he always gives me exactly one bite of it. It’s one of the rituals I am going to miss most from here.

Airman F: An intensely blue eyed Mormon. The Mormon also reminds me of a strange little brother that I never had. The Mormon put his Mormon lifestyle on hold while he served a one year tour in Korea and really let loose. Now he’s back to being Mormon and he has a good Mormon girlfriend who has never seen a rated R movie and who has never cussed in her life. I think he is really into “meek” girls. I am basically the antithesis of “meekness”. I think that really pisses him off. I know because he spent a full hour describing my personality flaws to me, telling me I need to be nicer. Whatever. I’m plenty nice. It’s just that he likes meek girls and I am not meek. He also reminds me of what my mother’s father would look like as a 21 year old. He’s a neoconservative, but a really nice, well behaved guy though.

Airman G: A quiet farm boy from Iowa. Wait, I take that back. A really sarcastic farm boy from Iowa. This guy is deceiving. I thought he was a quiet gentle giant for the first 4 weeks I was here. I didn’t hear a peep out of him. Suddenly, over the course of several emails discussing a potential Ammo volleyball tourney, he flipped out of his shell and became hilariously sarcastic. He is my resident arch nemesis here in Iraq. Once he stole my Honey Nut Cheerios and hid them in the ceiling amongst mouse turds. He drives a ’72 GMC with no heat and one speaker. He’s married to a really sweet looking girl who is six months pregnant with a baby girl, who he plans to dress in flannel to keep potential suitors away. I think he is going to make a phenomenal father. We go for runs together. He once dry heaved and almost puked by the DFAC and came back to defeat me by nearly 100 yards in a dead sprint. He moves fast for his size.

As my time here winds down, I honestly am really going to miss these folks, plus a handful of others. I was writing home about my upcoming readjustment back to civilian life, and I told my parents that I was kind of hoping this trip would be just so awful, and I would hate my time here SO much, that getting out of the guard in September would be a piece of cake and I wouldn't look back. Unfortunately, despit a lot of BS and other general crappiness, this trip reaffirmed that which I actually love about the guard: the opportunity to meet and befriend total characters, the kind you wouldn't normally be friends with back in real life.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mortaritaville

I feel like everything here bears some resemblance to home in some bizarre way. I mean, no where else is a "dining facility" quite the assault on the senses that it is here, but all the food is kind of similar to home and it's kind of like a regular cafeteria (except our DFACs blare R&B and 'in the cloob' type music from 1730-2000, except on Indian food night, and then we listen to Indian pop music). The gym is kind of like a gym at home, but not like Gold's Gym, more like an alpha male weightlifting gym. The vehicles are kind of like home, if you stay in the Air Force area...except they are all identical white pickup trucks and they are all leased by the government (I heard we were paying up to $2,000 a month per vehicle. That's where your tax dollars are going, folks.)

There is one thing that will never, ever (hopefully) resemble home. And that is an Indirect Fire Attack, aka an IDF, aka an "incoming", aka a mortar/rocket attack. I don't really like to bring it up because I don't like to worry the people at home. But the fact of the matter is that these mortar attacks basically define Iraq for me. These fleeting moments where you stop WHATEVER you are doing, dive on the ground, cover up your head, and hold your breath. Well, that's if you get the siren first. If you just hear the explosion you just mind your own business and continue doing whatever you were doing, because it's probably too late now anyway and besides, the alarm is supposed to sound, so it must be a controlled detonation by our EOD guys!! You just start to pay no mind, because it's easier that way. Mortars do have the ability to put you on edge, even put you out of your mind if they get too close...but for the most part they don't happen often enough to actually mess with our heads. Or at least, they don't happen often enough NEAR enough to us, to mess with our heads. When I heard the actual count of how many have hit since I've been here, I about fell out of my bus seat.

Last night was a classic example of the bizarre nature of IDFs. So I'm minding my own business, pouring myself a cup of coffee (I swear, they always happen when I have coffee, but then again I drink far more coffee here than I do at home). The klaxon sounds, I manage to not dump my coffee, I dive to the ground. No man is left standing when that alarm sounds, not even the SIX FOOT ELEVEN, 300 LB GIANT of a man that Katy shares her hermetically sealed box with. Honestly his size 37 steel-toed feet probably pose more of a danger to her fragile skull than frag. Anyway.

So we lay on the ground, inhale some dust, the kaboom sounds in the distance, we mutter some obscenities to each other. We wait awhile, we pry ourselves off the ground, we argue over whose turn it is to go do PAR sweeps (post attack recon), then we argue about whether or not we actually have to do PAR sweeps because the giant voice hasn't told us to, then we pause because BOOM BOOM BOOM! Outgoing mortars! BOOM. We all file out the door outside to peer over our cement T barriers, even the munitions controllers who are not supposed to leave their hermetically sealed box. The funny thing is, with my naked head exposed to night air, peering out into The Real Iraq just over the fence line, I feel exposed and vulnerable. It's crazy how much safer you feel with a frickin tin roof over your head. Like that would stop anything. Ha.

We can't really see anything, it's chilly outside, and we're back to bickering over who has to do PAR sweeps or if we even have to do them. We end up sending some folks out with flashlights who weren't doing anything of any real importance. When the attack hit we were about to head out to the MSA to do some work on bombs. Awesome, I really want to go wrap my arms around 500 lbs of explosives after all this garbage. So we rumble out and continue with our daily duties, try not to think about the absolute worst case scenario, crack some morbid jokes, weigh our odds for the worst case scenario, which causes more bickering to ensue. Not going to lie, I am usually at the center of it, but hey...you have to get your tension and aggression out somehow, right?

Anyway don't worry, after all that bickering and all those odds weighed, we have come to the conclusion that mortars aren't actually that dangerous, it's just that the weird circumstance of coming under hostile fire that is mentally jarring more than anything else. I'd much rather deal with mortars and rockets than IEDs and small arms fire, that's for damn sure.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Groundhog Day sets in.

So it’s been awhile since my last entry, but truthfully that’s because it’s basically been Groundhog Day since then. I haven't gone to the hospital since the Purple Heart day, I felt a little drained after that night at the hospital, had trouble sleeping a few nights, just a little emotionally drained. So I didn't go this past week...I felt guilty about it kind of...I spent the evening playing volleyball instead. I counted 8 medevac flights landing and taking off at the hospital, but I didn't go to lend a hand. One important thing I've learned about myself in these situations is to pay attention to little signs, indications that you need something. This week I just needed to not be absorbed in the misery of others, and to try to pretend like life is normal for a little while. Some interesting things have been happening at work, but either they’re too sensitive to write about on the Interweb or they’re only interesting to me and would be lost on most other people.

Anyway, here's some fun facts I have compiled about LSA Anaconda/Balad Air Base:

Ugandan military personnel check our IDs going into the DFACs and BX/PXs. They don’t really wear much of a uniform, but they carry loaded weapons and inspect our IDs and ensure our weapons are placed on safe. They are always accompanied in each place by an unarmed US Army person, usually a small unassuming low ranking female. This boggles my mind. I don’t understand why on earth we would have approximately 12 Ugandan military members (they have girls! Really pretty military girls!) assigned to this base to check our IDs. I should do some research on this but really I don’t have time. I want to ask questions but they don’t have more than 2 seconds to check our IDs, much less carry on a conversation about this intricate military relationship we apparently have. Like seriously, we can’t spare the manning to have our own Army check our IDs, like we did last time I was here in 2006, that we have to ship an insanely small number of Ugandans here to do it for us? What gives??

Speaking of bizarre military contracts, there have been some interesting Kellogg Brown & Root developments since I was last here (KBR for short, used to be a subsidiary of Haliburton, now an independent military contractor). KBR is taking over the world. Or at least American bases in the US. The base I stopped at on my way into Iraq is a base I have been to several times in my way in and out of country in the past. Almost everything was always handled by our military: the rec center, the gym, housing…everything except laundry and the chow hall, basically. This time when we passed through that base on our way into Iraq, all of that stuff was run by TCNs (Third Country Nationals, usually Filipinos, Nepalese, Pakistanis, SE Asians). This time the housing was run by Americans, but not American military members. They were big dudes wearing a lot of bling and Timberland boots. The movies at the rec center? Popped in by contractors with rat tails and scruffy faces. The questionable “egg” omelets? Scrambled by TCNs. Your sheets? Washed by TCNs. Your alcohol ration card (3 drinks a day)? Doled out by the guys wearing bling and Timberlands.

The difference this time, "in country" here in Iraq, is negligible compared to 2006. TCNs still do all of the dirty work, just as they did last time. They suck the crap out of the port-a-johns, they scrub our showers, they burn the insanely toxic trash, they collect our trays in the chow hall. There is one key difference though: in general, our troops seem to have come to the conclusion that KBR is the devil. Most troops seem to realize that these TCNs are making peanuts, doing the shitty (literally) work on base, and get treated like crap. It seems to me that troops are much more polite this time than last time, they say please and thank you and excuse me, and don’t take the TCNs for granted as much as last time. Troops are curious about the wages of TCNs (we heard $450 for 4 months, according to a TCN that pumped diesel for military vehicles) and how many days they get off (none, most work 7 days a week, at least 12 hours shifts). People seem to be on to KBR, people seem to be coming to the conclusion that this is essentially modern day slavery.

The bittersweet thing is the attitude of almost every single TCN I have come across: smiling, polite, friendly. I suspect there is so much smiling because I am a female and there aren’t many of us here. They’ll slap chicken on a guy’s plate dutifully, but if a girl passes through, they excitedly ask her if she wants chikin? Beans? RICE?? ROLL???? Cookie?? Why not! Why you not want cookie from me?? It’s funny, and more often than not I ask for a little bit of one thing and I end up with a whole plate full of something completely the opposite of what I ask for..but I never have the heart to tell these guys that they gave me the wrong thing. On my one day off a week I generally eat closer to DFAC closing time, and they let us stick around in there after they stop serving if we are still finishing up our meal. I like to watch them interact with each other when they get to relax…they goof around a little and seem more like normal people, instead of like the serving wenches our military makes them out to be. Seriously you should see the outfits these guys have to wear. They’re ridiculous. Little tuxedo costumes with bow ties. I’m not even kidding. It’s disgusting.

That’s all the dirt I have on KBR for now. In other news, there has been an usual amount of animosity from the active duty toward us National Guard folks on this trip. I can’t say as I entirely blame them, it has to be frustrating to be the same rank as a person—getting paid the same amount, and having the same authority—yet having the Guard person know considerably less about the job than the active duty people. We put up with a lot of slams on the National Guard. A lot of the animosity comes in the form of poking fun and name calling, but you can tell sometimes that they are legitimately frustrated with us. I try to make up for my lack of knowledge with a good attitude and work ethic, but that doesn’t get me into the clear all the time. I screwed up some stuff the other day and my supervisor was like “Liz. How long have you been in the Guard?” and I’m like…”Six and a half years,” knowing full well the earful I was about to receive. “AND YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO______!!!!!!”

Ok. It’s not my freaking fault. I drill TWO days a month. Two! Factor in that over 75% of our time is spent doing computer based training, such as Explosive Safety, CounterTerrorism, and Sexual Harassment. We have to do the same computer based training as the active duty—they have 365 days to complete it, we have about 24. So we spend all of our time doing insignificant computer training instead of training for our actual job. Kind of asinine when you consider that our real job deals with EXPLOSIVES, something you kind of want to be proficient at when dealing with, no? Oh, and the other 25% of the time is spent standing in line at the medics, waiting for vaccines like anthrax that will probably eventually kill us. So after I put all of this out there, my supervisors’ faces softened a bit, and they were like “so all of your experience comes during deployments?”

Yeah. That’s right buddy. Everything I know about building bombs I learned while I was deployed to a war zone, not in practice at home, 365 days a year like you guys. And keep in mind I volunteered for this. AND keep in mind that if I didn’t volunteer for this deployment, an active duty guy would have been yanked away from his/her spouse (since all of them are married by age 20, divorced, by 22, and remarried by 23) and gotten sent here for five months, because active duty guys rarely get deployed here for less than that. So I know that when you said “you suck at this”, you really meant to say “thank you for volunteering to come here, it’s ok that you don’t know how to do this task, and hey isn’t the National Guard training system like totally FUBAR’d and it’s not actually your fault you don’t know how to do this??”.

Time to go play some volleyball and pretend like life is normal, as medevac copters whip overhead and we try not to contemplate our next 12 hour shift of building bombs.

On a lighter note, here is the evidence of organic soy milk in the DFACs that my good friend Danny requested, along with a picture of my half of a box and also one of us jobbing:



Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Purple Heart

"They gave me a Purple Heart," he struggled to repeat himself, barely audible. "They gave me a Purple Heart and I don't know where it is."

The colonel across the bedside from me reassures the baby faced soldier lying between us. "They put all your belongings together, we'll track it down for you." The colonel leaves me and the soldier alone. I put on gloves and start wiping the blood off of his hands. He's fresh out of surgery, doped up on morphine...he doesn't have a leg anymore.

Another volunteer comes up, holding a large bag of belongings. Here's his stuff. He plops it down next to the bed. The soldier is drifting in and out of consciousness. As I'm wiping off the dried blood, his eyes flutter open. "Your stuff is here. Do you want me to check for your Purple Heart?"

"Yes ma'am. Please."

I start digging through his stuff. All of the stuff he had with him this morning, before he knew that when the sun set again he wouldn't have a leg anymore. Gum. ID card. Dog Tags. Wallet. Chapstick. I don't see the Purple Heart. Then my hand hits a heavy plastic case, slightly larger than my own medal cases. Here it is. I pull it out. "Do you want to look at it?"

I hold it up for him, he takes it between his two dirty hands. His face is perfect, smooth flawless skin and beautiful brown eyes. He stares at it. I lean over, my hands elbows resting on the guard rail of his bed, I've never seen a Purple Heart in person before. It's heavier than I thought it would be.

He keeps staring at it. I start to worry that maybe I shouldn't have let him see it, maybe this is too overwhelming. Moments before he had just recanted what had happened to him to the colonel. He recanted losing his leg, step by step. "And then I reached down and I could feel my bones...". He keeps staring at it, holding it, and I'm really starting to worry. "The Army ain't gonna have a place for me anymore, are they." His eyes are the widest they've been since I met him a few hours before. He's suddenly alert. I take his hand, close the Purple Heart case gently. "You don't worry about that right now. You just worry about getting better first."

I can feel my eyes well up as I bend over, struggling to hold back tears as I place the Purple Heart back with his belongings. Time for me to go. Time to go take a few breaths and pull it together. I do, and then I'm fine. But it's just the beginning for him, the first of many one-legged steps. I think his name is burned into my memory forever.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Holler.

News stories of late as they pertain to my life here:

No Internet: Stars and Stripes told us a ship's anchor cut a giant undersea fiber optic cable. We have internet, it takes anywhere from 3-27 minutes to load one page. They took away all websites except .mil to speed up the mission essential sites. Apparently the cyber cafe here on base is run off a satellite or something and so everyone and their mother is trying to pay bills and communicate over civilian email on the same 30 computers. Anyway I don't know if I'm buying the ship anchor story, seems a bit suspicious to me. You should hear the rumors running rampant here! I am extremely behind on primary news. McCain won FL?? Rudy dropped out? Edwards dropped out? Yikes!

These are the guys that I helped in the hospital. I think of my EOD buddy every time I build stuff now. This is how our conversation went:

Him: "Where do you work when you're not volunteering at the hospital?"
Me: "Ammo. I build bombs."
Him: "Nice. I get to go out and blow them up when they don't blow them up the first time.
Me (grimacing): "Yeah. We try not to let that happen."
Him (shrugging): "It's cool. Something like 10% of ordnance fails. I'm sure it's not your fault."

One of our guys' wife had a baby. A beautiful baby girl, I saw pictures. I feel really bad for him that he couldn't be there for the birth. They tried to set up a webcam but I guess she came out too fast! Anyway we made him a card and one of the guys scrounged up a bunch of cigars, we all joined in on a few celebratory puffs, even our Mormon, although he bitched and moaned and made a scene, he partook in a few puffs as well.

Now that we've been here a few weeks, everyone is starting to get their "bad days". It's inevitable that everyone has one now and again. I haven't had a bad day yet, I've definitely had a few bad hours but I pulled it together and brought my mood back up. One of the main low points includes slipping on mud, falling out of the bus, and hitting every step on the way down. I have the bruises to prove it. Owie.

Anyway. A high point, to counteract falling out of the bus, was I that I got to shower away almost 5 days of gunk on my body!!!! (Diesel fuel is really hard to scrub out). Now we get to shower every other day. I can totally live with that. 3 minutes of scalding/freezing water every other day with lots of other people is a treat compared to 4 days of diesel fuel perfume.

I sat by a bunch of Army guys at dinner/breakfast (I never know which to call it, my breakfast is like, spaghetti and salad or usually some sort of 'chicken') and they were complaining about how they have to watch the Super Bowl on AFN. Hahaha I hadn't thought about that. The Armed Forces Network is notorious for their absolutely horrible, corny PSAs. No Super Bowl commercials for us. We will be watching PSAs about 'locking our doors' and OPSEC and COMSEC and such. It's obscene how many commercials resemble regular military recruitment ads. Like, we are all ALREADY IN THE MILITARY, who are you trying to sell yourself to?? Yes, I know sometimes we do neat things, we also know the the cool stuff is inter sparsed with plenty of the asinine, you aren't fooling anyone, buddy. Boo, I only watch the Super Bowl for the commercials, especially after that heart-wrenching Packer season finale, I especially don't care about the actual game.

Alright. My time here at the cyber cafe is up. Over and Out.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

ShowerCon Delta

Greetings.

Somehow the base is managing to run out of water even thought it's the winter, this is something that in three deployments i have never been unfortunate enough to witness. Several days ago they reinforced "combat showers", a method that always stood by it was kind of an unspoken rule that no one actually followed. A "combat shower" basically means you get wet, turn off the water, lather up, turn on water, and rinse. At max, you are to use 3 minutes of running water. Try shaving your legs in that, it sucks. Then toss in the fact that the water alternates scalding and freezing, so 90 of those seconds are spent pressed up against the fungus filled shower wall trying to stay out of the unpleasant spray. Well, no need to worry about that now, ALL showers have currently been suspended until further notice. That means NO showering! For anybody! ShowerCon Delta. Oh, no laundry either. LaundryCon Delta.

I suspect this won't last long. What I am afraid of, however, is their plan to reintegrate showers on a bi-weekly basis. Tuesday and Sunday showers just isn't going to cut it! The ONE time out of three deployments that I fail to bring baby wipes from home. Blast. Of course the BX/PXs sold out approximately 3 nanoseconds after the email went out. One of our girls was fortunate enough to get her hands on some waterless shampoo, even if I could track some down, not really sure if I trust that stuff. It just sounds suspicious.

Speaking of -cons that we are in, we are also in MudCon Yellow. That means there is mud everywhere. You have to take two pairs of shoes to the gym (not as relevant now that we can't shower, I suspect gym usage shall be dropping shortly).

In other war-related news, I volunteered at the hospital tonight. I don't think I am allowed to give details on this, but there was a whole slew of American GIs there. I volunteered in the ICW (intermediate care ward) which is a step down from the ICU. There is an Iraqi side and an American side, but they are all in the same area. Basically these folks in the ICW are more coherent and are on their way out to Germany in a short while (the American ones, not the Iraqi ones..they stay at the hospital until they are better). The ICW injuries are not as substantial and they are not unconscious. To me, it's not quite as depressing because they don't seem as near death as the folks in the ICU ward. And they're not as bloody as the ones in the ER. Being in the ICW and not the ICU or ER is my way of retaining my sanity while still volunteering. It's my way of lending a helping hand while not losing all faith in humanity. Some of that stuff from the ICU and ER last time really threw me for a loop.

So these Army guys, a good number were in good spirits because they were getting out of Iraq. Also some were not as badly off as others. Some guys were pretty ok and other guys were not so ok. They hadn't eaten in over 24 hours, because they had been out on a mission all day and then got hit on their way back. So we brought them food. But it was only like 500 calories and of course they were still starving. So me and this other AF sgt go to requisition some more calories from the DFAC. Well of course this has to be an ordeal. KBR has come under a lot of fire for inflating their numbers lately. So when one person comes in and asks for 50 meals, you can't just do that. Even though it's like a all you can eat type system, you can't just grab 50 meals. Not even in the hospital. So the poor SE Asian guys running the DFAC don't have the authority to give us that much. My Sgt starts to get real pissed, and goes up to the translator to see if he can help. Except, the translator (Also an Iraqi M.D.) obviously translates ARABIC. And the DFAC workers ARE NOT IRAQI, but this point was lost on the SGT who asked the Iraqi to translate. A lot of raised voices in broken English ensued. Eventually we requisitioned some sandwiches, muffins, doritos, and gatorade, all in bulk. Like I rolled pans of roast beef back to the ICW to feed these poor bastards. So I spent a good while making up sandwiches for the Army guys and dishing them out. It was kind of fun, they joked about the full service hospital and said they wish they could spend more time there.

I spent the rest of the time changing beds and helping take vital signs. I measured an Iraqi guy's blood sugar levels. I talked for awhile with an Explosive Ordnance Disposal guy from Illinois. The only thing he knew about Madison was that we have the Oscar Meyer factory here, heh. Some other stuff happened but I guess we aren't supposed to really talk about what happens at the hospital. Also I think some bad pictures must have leaked because there are signs all over that say "NO PHOTOGRAPHY!!!!" Interesting. At any rate, the hospital no longer resembles M*A*S*H. It's a hardened facility now and from the inside it doesn't even feel like Iraq, it looks like a real ward in a hospital.

Katy and I made the mistake of counting down our days. If you look at how many days have passed and how many are left it feels unreal. But can't complain. Our Army gate guys (the ones who run the gate into our MSA, munitions storage area) are here for a year. If I was an Army gate guard for an entire year, I would start slamming the gate down on top of vehicles to spice up my day.

Feel free to send me baby wipes :)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Settling in.

H-6 (Air Force compound) is an isolated oasis in this war. Coffee shop, Air Force friendliness, no Humvees tearing around. Organic soymilk in the DFAC, I'm not even kidding. Basically there's no Army here in H-6. It's quiet, except for the C-17s, whose pilots I can basically wave to out my front door. This trip feels entirely different than last time. I think this is because of several reasons..the premier reason being the fact that I am here this time with people I actually really like, who all have good attitudes and are hard workers.

It also feels different because it's cold here. You'd be surprised how much of a difference temperature can make in this place. It somehow feels a lot less sinister with a chill in the air. It's not stifling, it's not so foreign. Currently t's kind of like Wisconsin, actually...only more dirt and less snow. Picture Wisconsin at the end of October. With more dirt.

Everything is "bigger and better" this time. Flushing toilets everywhere. More hardened facilities. Renovated rec centers (WITH flushing toilets inside?!) I dunno. Lots of improvements I guess. We cruised around in the middle of the night the other night in search of midnight chow and seriously outside of H-6 is like the ghetto. Apparently us sweet Air Force girls are not supposed to venture outside H-6 alone. For real. Because the Army will eat us for breakfast. Anyway I have not actually had that briefing yet but that's what I heard word of mouth. 95% of the sexual assaults are committed by the Army, about 5% by the Air Force on this installation. No one said if that had anything to do with the fact that 95% percent of the troops here are Army and only about 5% are Air Force.

We've been busy here. Just to give an idea: in 2006 (when I was here last) we dropped 229 bombs the entire year. Last year, in 2007, we dropped a whopping 1,447 bombs. I read that in Stars and Stripes. They said its going to continue into this year and let me tell you, it has been. Last time I was here we didn't actually build any bombs, just broke them down and inspected the stockpile. This time we have been building. There's a lot of pressure to make sure we do a good job. If we build duds people die. If we screw up, people die. Our guys, the good guys, not the bad guys who die when we actually do our job right. Not only do I not want to get in trouble for screwing up something, I also don't want American blood on my shoulders.

I've eaten dirt a few times since I've been here...appears I was a little premature in calculating that the numbers of mortars have declined. Our base got hit over 900 times last year. I don't know. It just doesn't seem as scary as last time and I'm not sure if that's because I am more used to it or if it's because my BFF Katy has been with me during each one. Like we were walking along to work the other night and we got attacked, so we dove behind these concrete barriers while the mortars dropped (really far away) and then had to chill out there and wait for the all clear to sound. And it just wasn't scary, it was more of an inconvenience than anything. So I dug some Sour Patch kids out that I had brought from home and we munched on those with a pilot stuck there next to us.

Anyway, the people you share these kinds of experiences with make all the difference in the world, and I think anyone in the military would tell you that.

I got to watch the Packer game. Boy that was a heartbreaker. Rough. Sad :(

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Here.

I'm here. I'm safe. I'm tired. And I think I'll be just fine.

I have access to blogger here, so now I'm sure the DoD will be crawling all over this thing...in the meanwhile I will try to update when I get the chance.

I haven't started real work yet, but the SUPER totally awesome news is that I have a great crew, with people I really like from Wisconsin. That makes all the difference in the world in a place like this, let me tell you.

I'm also in the Air Force compound this time, which also makes all the difference in the world. They've got us all isolated from the Army here, with wire and locked gates. It's almost hard to remember there is a war raging outside these gates. Everything is "bigger and better" than last time...it sure doesn't look like we're leaving anytime soon, but if we should, rest assured there will be a ton of waste in our wake.

Anyways, I'm slowly recovering from my zombie like state (due to four extremely sleep deprived days) and so far I am doing pretty good at having a good attitude. I think my time here should zip by. I hope. I really hope...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Profound words from the younger sister

My sister and I were talking the other day/week, and she turned to me and said "you know, there's no soundtrack for Iraq like there was for Vietnam."

Sittin' on the docks of the bay. We gotta get outta this place. What's goin' on, Fortunate son?

All those songs resonate with Vietnam era vets...but what resonates with Iraq vets? Did Soulja Boy resonate with veterans like it did with UW students during the homecoming parade? What brings back that flood of memories for vets that brings back that flood of memories for others in our generation?

I would suspect that with the advent of the Mp3 our tastes are as varied as they could possibly get. I mean, how many other people listen to the same stuff that I do? I'd say maybe 5 percent of the population. Back then all the music was piped through the same outlets. Have we lost the common soundtracks of our experiences because of technology? Does that mean we have lost that haze of shared experience that music blends so effortlessly?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

On a long drive home from Chicago (I was coming home from the first organizational meeting of Student Veterans of America, a coalition of student veterans organizations from across the country), I realized that my past few entries have been entirely focused around complaining about little things.

Therein lies the problem with online journals during a time like this. I can't really talk about anything important, like any of the real work I will be doing. I don't really want to go real in depth about my true feelings, because then I just feel vulnerable and silly. So what's left? The little stupid stuff. Stuff like issued t-shirts being slightly see thru. I mean it's not like I can't just wear an undershirt. These t-shirts are not my main priority at this point in time. In all honesty, I feel nervous, scared, and incredibly excited about this deployment. It's a kitchen sink soup of emotion rolling around in there. But going in depth about feelings leaves me feeling like I am hanging out to dry. So I'd rather write about getting issued rape whistles and see-thru t-shirts.

I don't want there to be any misconception about how much I care about my mission over there. Most of you all know that I work with bombs, and that's about as detailed as it's going to get in this journal. It's a relatively stressful job and I'm really excited about doing it well. I really care about doing my job well, and helping out my fellow (wo)man while being in Iraq. If I can do little things each day to make someone else's experience more positive, easier, or safer, then I believe that day is a success.

But in all likelihood that's not what's going to come to mind when I sit down to write in this thing. The asinine is going to come to mind, the mildly infuriating and mostly irritating kind of stuff. Who knows. We'll see. That's just my prediction.

I found out that one of my most favorite..how shall I put this..."person I have deployed with twice before" is going to be on this trip!!!! He's this random kid from Kansas that I have deployed with, coincidentally, twice. This kid (he really is a kid, like 21 or 22 or something) has the ability to tell the most ridiculous stories. One time we sat in the sweltering sun for over 4 hours waiting for housing. Just sitting there in the sun, burning to a crisp. And this kid starts telling this story about how he was in a car accident, fell into a coma, woke up, and promptly sneezed out his tracheotomy tube. Like can you imagine anything more traumatizing?! Waking up from a coma and sneezing out your trache tube?!

People like this are really valuable assets in this type of environment. They make anything tolerable because they always have a crazy story to distract you with. I can't wait to see him again.

Oh, the irony.

My uniforms came in! They fit surprisingly well. The shirt actually comes down to my wrists and doesn't look like a maternity top, and the pants fit questionably high on my waist meaning I look kind of silly but I am not going to complain too much about that.

However. Our neat little 100% POLYESTER issued t-shirts...are about 85% see-though. Meaning you can tell what kind of bra I'm wearing, and even what COLOR is is. Does the Air Force not know that they don't make flesh colored sports bras? And even if they did, would that mean I would have to discount my 15 perfectly-acceptable-in-a-normal-world black and white ones? Geez.

I guess that rape whistle may come in handy after all. Seeing as I am practically on display for everyone to see. Luckily it's not that hot outside, so I can keep my blouse on...this would be a much larger dilemma if it were July. I would like a few words with the brass that decided this uniform was acceptable, please.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Personalized safety devices

So awhile back I decided to quit swearing. It's been something that I just decided I needed to give up. I don't really cuss that much until I put on my uniform, and as the saying goes those of us in uniform tend to "curse like sailors". The fact of the matter is that whenever an eensy thing goes wrong in a military setting, people just tend to cuss about it. It's what we do. For the most part, we have filthy mouths. Given that I am going to be entering the professional business world (hopefully) after this deployment, one of my major goals is to restrain myself from swearing and come up with more creative ways of dealing with B.S.

(*&@$&Q!@$#. That went right out the door about five minutes after I got to the base this morning.

Five minutes after I got to the bomb dump I was handed a plastic whistle. A personalized plastic whistle. Yep, my entire name and even the last four of my social. What the *#$((*@#$ is this? DANGIT I wasn't going to swear today! But seriously, what the (*#(*&@$ is this?

Well, remember how the Army girls got issued rape whistles during my last deployment? Now we all got issues them. Boys and girls. Everyone was equally confused as they were just handed to us by one of our guys with absolutely no explanation. I'm sure one will come eventually, no doubt embellished with all kinds of graphic details. We all muttered about how they don't issue us Air Force POGs any sort of weapon, so instead they give us whistles. We couldn't help but laugh, but part of me was genuinely pissed off about it. I know it's for a reason...but they couldn't come up with anything less ridiculous than a personalized plastic whistle? The thing is huge. Seeing as the whistle is obviously for protection against our own dirtbags, and the Army and Marines carry loaded weapons, they could at least give us a switchblade or something!

I feel so much safer. Whew.

Monday, January 07, 2008

The first bump in the road

As departure date draws ever near, I am pretty sure I am the only nitwit in my entire unit that does not have the new uniform. We were all issued the new ABU (airman battle uniform) and I'm going to tell you the little story of why I am the only person without a uniform.

Firstly, I put off filling out the order form because I was hoping they would get example uniforms in. You know, where you can like, try them on before you pick out which size fits you. No go. No example uniforms. We must guess. So in my rush to fill the form before the imaginary deadline they gave us expires, I forgot to fill out my boot size. When I got to supply to pick up my new boots, there were of course none waiting for me. While at first I wasn't totally certain that I was the one that FUBAR'd this up, I was in fact the person that did not enter my own boot size and I screwed this up. I only have myself to blame for this. See? I can own up!

However. While I was at supply trying to argue about my boots, I asked for the rest of my new uniforms. You know, the whole pants and shirt bit is kind of important. So the guy (whom I already pissed off with the boot ordeal) comes back and says we don't have your uniforms. What? WHAT! I need those! "You didn't fill out your sizes, that's why you don't have uniforms," he informs me. Now granted I did screw up the boot thing so I can't entirely blame him for being snide. But he was way more snide than he needed to be. I snatch the paper out of his hand. I distinctly remember filling out the sizes. I distinctly remember pitching a fit when one of my guys told me to order the size 40 belt ("40 runs small," he says. How can 40 run small? It's measured in INCHES! I am not a 40! It turns out I am a 40, as a matter of fact, the belt was the only thing that came in and he was dead on).

I stare at the paper. Sure enough, my sizes are all listed. Under the "female" column. The "male" column is appropriately left blank. I hand it back to him. "I am a woman," I informed him, half thankful that I was not the one that jacked this up, and half panicking because now I am the only individual out of hundreds that does not have a single piece of my uniform besides my belt. And time's a tickin'.

Rumor has it that my shirts came in. It sounds like they at least spelled my name right, which I know they did not do for others. However, I have no idea if this new uniform is going to fit. Odds are I will try it on for the first time mere hours before I leave. I am not going to lie, I am more than a little concerned about the fact that a)I will look like a giant dump truck or b)I am going to look like a fat girl in a little coat.

All of this could have been averted if they actually let us try on things before they made us order them. But alas, you go to war with the uniform you have, not the uniform you wish you had.