Tuesday, January 29, 2008

ShowerCon Delta


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


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.