28 December 2008

Weirdest Catch Yet

I woke this morning as my roommate came trooping back in from a trip to the porta-jon.

I don't want to make you sad, she said. But you caught something in a trap. Not a mouse. And it was the trap up on sandbags, so it's on your chair.

MMph? I pulled my head from beneath my pillow. Did I catch a cat?

Nope. Bird, she replied.

I got up, put on a jacket, went outside.

Yep. That's a bird. In a mousetrap. You don't see that every day.

25 December 2008

Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas from Abby, the whole Bad Dog pack, the World's Grumpiest CA Team, and our merry band of flies!

I was up late trying to move my soldier around, and then again up early to get him on a convoy. I went back to sleep after we loaded him up. And woke to a pounding on the door.

I stumbled out of the rack, opened the door, and...

Oh Come, all ye Faithful...joyful and triumphant...

The Boss, knowing my inclination to ignore all holidays that occur while I'm deployed, and my resulting intolerance for Christmas music, had rounded up a band of carolers (complete with Santa hats). Well aware that a long night probably meant I was still racked out, he'd decided that the best alarm clock is...singing TOC rats.

Lunch/dinner/midday meal was very nice (ham! We got ham!), and there was fruit. There was something that looked suspiciously like Army-issued eggnog in paper cups, but that did not seem like a wise choice.

In short, a pretty good Christmas in Iraq.

Here's hoping you all enjoy a wonderful day with your families and friends/

24 December 2008

Administrative madness

Is trying to push a soldier out on emergency leave on Christmas Eve.

We live with a battalion from the 4th Infantry Division. We support them, and they have operational control over us. Administrative control (promotions, leave, awards, UCMJ actions) is retained by the CA chain.

So, we can see how, when a distraught family member initiates a Red Cross message and sends it to the soldier's mailing address instead of command address, there can be confusion.

Now, just to make things more interesting, the battalion we work for has been chopped from 4th ID to another Division (25th). But elements of 4th ID are in Iraq. So the Red Cross message got...sidetracked.

But...you know what? Nothing on God's green earth will get soldiers moving like a Red Cross message. You can call the biggest asshole in the US Army and say, "I have a soldier with a Red Cross message," and he's suddenly helpful. The lazy sprecialist napping in a corner will wake up, get on the phone and start moving heaven and earth. The lost lieutenant gets a clue.

I used every one of those folks, and few more. Got the message, got my guy a ride. We'll get him where he needs to be, as fast as is humanly possible. It's nice to see this machine work once in a while, even if it's in the service of sad news.

22 December 2008

[grumble grumble]

I finally dragged myself out of my nice cozy rack around...oh, well, suffice it to say it wasn't early. Not even remotely.

With nothing on the horizon until a 1300 "chat," I made coffee and stood on my porch, surveying my (limited) domain.

Things appeared...hazy. I climbed up on a pile of sandbags and looked across the helopad. Quite hazy.

Things developed. The weather progressed from slightly hazy to downright dusty. It's nasty - the dust doesn't seem that bad outside until you look down and realize there's a thick coat on everything. You go indoors to escape it, and realize it's working its way around the door, in through the air conditioner, around the taped windows.

Dust sucks less here than it did living in tents, but it still suck.

To top it off, it's thinking about raining. A few drops, now and again. Yeah - rain in the dust. Mud-rain.

Love this country.

18 December 2008

Best Army Idea - Ever

And I'm not even being sarcastic.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is SFC Boe. She is a therapy dog.

Not just any therapy, either. Combat Stress Control therapy.

Iraq can make you crazy in a zillion different ways, whether you be the guy who gets griped at about PowerPoint slides or the guy kicking down doors or the gal flying medevac birds or the kid processing 10,000 leave forms. There's plety of stress and plenty of crazy to go around.

However, somebody got smart, and now there's something nice here that soldiers can pet, maybe talk to, maybe cuddle a little, and feel normal with.

That's good. Three cheers for SFC Boe the therapy dog, and two tails wagging for the Army for finally getting something right.

A note - yes, she was being handled by a CSC captain. Somebody please, please tell me how you get that job? I even have my own black lab who would be great at being a combat stress therapist.

You miss some things

when you're hanging out here. News, for one.

Oh, I was aware that someone had thrown some shoes at President Bush.

But I wasn't really aware that it was any kind of big deal. Until I was sitting, with one other soldier, in a meeting. And suddenly noticed something other than the normal traffic sounds. Something more like...several hundred people shouting in the street outside the building (they were, incidentally, the Free The Shoe Hurler faction).

Hey, New Sergeant, I suggested as quietly as I could. Why don't you stick your head out in the hall, make contact with one of our security dudes and make sure we're cool?

Did I mention this was New Sergeant's first mission?

The shouting continued. She came back in and gave a thumbs up.

All the same, we tied the meeting up and moved out, since being one of two in a building secured by four dudes is not my favorite place to be when there are large concentrations of people worked up about anything. I am getting downright cautious in my old age.

15 December 2008


We’ve reached kind of a confusing point in our involvement here. And by our I mean not only the Civil Affairs effort, but the Army in general. The Status of Forces Agreement is scheduled to go into effect 1 January. More changes will follow.

All of this basically boils down to the fact that the Iraqis are taking over running their own show in this area. Which is good. They’re pretty close to being ready, and there’s no way to find the flaws and limits of their systems without taking the training wheels off and giving it a spin.

So we find ourselves wondering…what do we do now? This has been a little confusing for us as CA since we arrived for this tour. Last time I was here, we were still at a point where the regular Army maneuver units (the infantry and armor guys who own battlespace) were killing people and breaking stuff. They were kept reasonably busy with that, and so there was a lot of room and need for people who specialize in the civil populace. We were busy, and it was the rare maneuver officer or soldier who had the time, experience or interest to get deeply involved with the “non-lethal” side of the fight.

Now, however, we’ve been in Iraq for closing in on six years. Most of the captains and majors are on their second, third or fourth tours here. They are fully engaged in the non-lethal fight (which is good, since we’re pretty much set with the large-scale killing of people and breaking of stuff). They understand the basics of relating to the local civilian populace, and of working with local leadership.

Which is, of course, a large part of what we (we as in CA) are out here to do. The days are behind us when we did humanitarian aid – we’re not dropping water and food, or bringing in medical aid. We’re not moving populations out of the path of advancing armor columns, and we’re not developing and maintaining protected target lists.

So we’re left with monitoring the tail end of the ICERP programs and engaging the persons designated as Spheres of Influence. Except that the projects only need so much monitoring, and really, all anyone has left to do at this point is engage the Spheres of Influence. Of whom there are only so many.

And, really, if the Iraqis are running Iraq, and we’re no longer empowered to go threaten people to make things happen (“start talking to the Ministry of Power representative about this issue or we’ll shoot you”), and we don’t have any money to run around handing out (“you need a road paved and can’t make your government do it? We’ll pay for it if you agree to tell people not to blow us up!”)…we’re slowly running out of things to engage people about.

There is an Iraqi way of doing things. Quite often, it is not the way we Americans would choose to do things. There is an Iraqi pace for getting things done. That pace often seems unacceptable to American military personnel. But the fact remains that the Iraqis are going to be here in three, eight, 25 years. And, as the plan currently stands, we are not.

So we’re slowly trying to figure out how to back off and let go. We have checklists for grading their local government meetings. But if they’re holding meetings, and nobody is getting shot…then who cares if they distribute minutes from the last meeting days in advance or if they print them and hand them out the day of? Or hang them on the wall? It’s a block on our checklists, but that’s really about all it is.
Since 2003, the US Army has been the Solution Fairy. Need water? We’ll get you water. Need medical attention? We gotcha. Sheik from the next tribe over picking on you? We’ll have him in to the FOB to talk about working and playing well with others.

That’s behind us now. And that’s hard for Americans, particularly Americans in uniform. Soldiers see problems and immediately look for solutions. But our solutions aren’t worth a whole lot at this point. We need the Iraqi solutions, and quite often they’re not the ones we’d have chosen.

Sometimes, the writing on the wall isn’t as nice as we’d like it to be. We’re surrounded by barely-above-subsistence-level farmers in the desert. There are lots of nice theories and bits of technology out there that would enable them to produce more, but it doesn’t seem to be a high priority for their higher levels of government, and not a lot of the farmers themselves are particularly interested either. So we have to let our American fixation with progress go by the wayside. The people don’t want to change everything about their lives and their world to become Iowa. They would like for the US government (or any government) to come by and hand them large stacks of cash. Absent that, they’d really rather just sit around and be barely-above-subsistence-level farmers in a country with a sufficient social safety net that they won’t starve in bad years.

And, at the end of the day, that’s probably about all they’re going to get. Not everybody gets to live in Iowa. Not everybody wants to. And even if you’d like to live in Iowa, you won’t get to if you don’t pack up and move your ass to Iowa. Metaphorically, of course.

It’s a hard thing to realize. Americans, at least most Americans in uniform, really dig America. We think America is super, and that everyone else in the world should be exactly like us. Then they’d be super, too. And doesn’t everybody want to be super?

Apparently not. And, as we’ve learned, it ain’t easy to become awesome. We didn’t start out half as screwed-up as Iraq, and we didn’t decide to stop being jerks about letting black folks vote until 1965 – 177 years after we ratified our Constitution.

The American drive to make this place as much like the US as we can isn’t, I don’t think, a reflection of hatred for other, different cultures. We’ve probably all read or seen interviews with Soldiers where they’ve talked about Iraqi children, how those children made them miss their own, how they came home and hugged their children and thanked God they were born in a land of endless, boundless opportunity. Well, the American soldier is softhearted, and the urge to make this country like our own comes partly from affection. You see an Iraqi kid, and he’s not starving, not sick, just hanging out in the road begging for a soccer ball, looking at a lifetime of chasing sheep around or standing at a checkpoint on a road, or guarding an oil tower. Or she’s looking at a life under a headscarf, lucky to finish sixth grade if she’s a farm girl.

And you wish everybody on earth could have been born in Afton, Wyoming or Middleville, Michigan or Tyler, Texas. You wish every town ran like Stillwater, Minnesota, with somebody happy to make a living driving a garbage truck. You wish there were systems to encourage entrepreneurs, so that one of these small cities would be the home of the Iraqi equivalent of Steelcase.

American soldiers look at Iraq and see a nation that we wish could have all the benefits and freedoms we’re accustomed to. We’re fast approaching the point, however, where we need to back off and let the people of Iraq take their nation as far as they can in the direction they want to take it.

And so we sit on the FOB, slowing down our missions, waiting on guidance from Higher about what life after the SOFA is going to look like. We know there’s more mentoring of governments and processes, and we know there are NGOs to pull into towns and situations. But we also know the end is getting closer, and that the vast majority of what the US military can and will do for Iraq has been done.

Chasing Soldiers

Time doesn't stop once you get to Iraq, and so one of the things we (and by we, I mean I) have to keep track of is my Soldiers' career progression.

As deployed Reservists, administratively controlled by our parent company (which now reports to a totally different CA battalion than the one that owns us stateside) but operationally controlled by an active-duty armor battalion, this boils down to a tremendous amount of chasing paper and generating paper and trying to transmit paper.

We're trying to get my senior buck sergeant promoted. This means we need to get a "packet" to the CA brigade conducting the "board" (packet screening and selection) somewhere else here in Iraq. My sergeant needed a current Army Physical Fitness Test.

Here's how that works.
1 - I take a thumbdrive and go to an unsecured computer so I can download DA 705 (PT card) and FM 21-20 (Army Physical Fitness handbook).
2 - I then take that thumbdrive to one of the two people on the FOB who have a printer that's connected to a computer one can plug a thumbdrive into. I print the objects.

(this is whole entire additional nightmare. Thumbdrives, which are pretty much what the modern deployed Army runs on, are now pretty much forbidden)

the order to stop using flash media was issued by U.S. Strategic Command, which is responsible for operating and defending the .mil and .smil domains.

That memo, directed at Washington, D.C., Air Force offices and dated Nov. 17, ordered “immediate suspension” of the use of such devices on all NIPR and SIPR networks

You have no idea what a pain that makes everything.

3 - We measure a two-mile run course, the sergeant runs the PT test. We fill out the card.
4 - I find the only scanner on the FOB, scan the PT card, put it on my thumb drive, email it to Higher (company HQ).
5 - Higher emails it to Texas so my sergeant's 2a can be updated.
6 - Texas emails the updated 2a back so it can be printed out, put in the packet, and sent to the board.

And active Army guys (who appear, in person, before these "boards") say Reservist promotions are simpler.

All the running around notwithstanding, my sergeant looks good for the January board, if everyone else holds up their ends and his papers get updated. If not, he's a shoo-in for February.

In the best news of all, my high-speed corporal is no more. His packet made the cut last month and we promoted him to sergeant him this morning. He's a very happy camper right now.

I suppose, as a good NCO, I should ensure we get him in front of a retention NCO before the promotion afterglow fades. As I recall, we've got a couple of weeks.

14 December 2008


I shall simply say that it has cooled off even more. We fixed our heater, so now we have a nice warm CHU. It's a happy thing, to walk in from the cold, dark, trash-smelling night (we burn our trash here - it's really tiresome) to a bright, warm CHU.

The only thing better than a bright, warm CHU on a cold, trash-smelling night is a bright, warm CHU full of flies.

I walked back in last night and, no-shit-there-I-was, killed more than twenty flies. Just stood there and whacked and whacked and whacked. When I was finished, I had to swab our table with anti-filth wipes and cart the little carcasses out. And still, still, there was a cloud of flies.

Rather than pull my sheet up over my head to keep them off my face until I could fall asleep, I instead sprinkled bits of broken cookies across my roomie's side so they'd choose to hang out with her instead. Ok, I didn't really do that. But I wanted to.


I hate flies.

09 December 2008

Blinding flash of the obvious

At least it wasn't US tax dollars spent to figure this one out - Dogs Get Jealous!

Researchers in Austria, after what seems like a rough stretch of playing with dogs and giving them treats, have come to a startling conclusion.

Scientists noted that dogs hate to see their owners being affectionate to other dogs...

And, in other earth-shattering news, dogs prefer steak to lettuce.

Why I'm not allowed to go anywhere fun

It's Eid right now (the week of feasting after Ramadan), so there's not much going on in the Civil Affairs world. We could go out and annoy the locals during their holiday, but decided that would be unsmart. Instead, we packed up our MRAP and headed out on a two-day vacation to Camp Comfy - where our company headquarters is located.

We were packing up yesterday before we hit the road. The Boss lives over near me, and the boys were pulling the truck around, so my front porch was a staging point. The Boss and I were having smokes and discussing my recent mouse-killing spree.

Yes, sir. Look in that box right there. There's like six in there.

I waved toward the trash box into which I'd deposited the night's mice.

The Boss looked. Pondered a second.

What are you going to do with those?

I explained that the box was destined for the trash. Unless, sir, I added, you know anyone who needs six dead mice. Like a gift.

Our eyes locked. He grinned. I grinned. A gift of dead mice? And we were going to Higher?

Hey, roommate! I shouted. Do we have any Ziploc bags?

She popped out the door with a sealing plastic bag and a matching evil grin. Taking the mousies to the first sergeant? You guys are bad!

I used my mouse tweezers and stuffed the little corpses in the bag. Sealed it up and put it in the front of the truck.

We arrived at Higher, and I went off to have the normal NCOIC chat with the first sergeant. We covered all the necessary business first, of course.

Hey, first sergeant. Last time we talked you asked about our health and welfare and, in line with that, I brought you something...

You can learn a lot about a person by the way they respond when you hand them a baggie full of dead rodents. Without any warning.

The first sergeant, for instance, is not a big fan of rodents. And he has a bit of a gag reflex when he realizes what's in the bag he's holding up to his face.

The company commander will try to refer a team leader and team sergeant to Combat Stress Control when he realizes how much the dead mice amuse us. (We couldn't stop giggling. My stomach hurt from laughing so hard)

Our private from a nearby patrol base (we're all taking vacations this week) will ask if he can have the dead mice, since he sees opportunities to torment his team leader.

The infantry platoon leader who rides in our truck and sees the mice will accuse of being "sick, sick people." Coming from an infantryman, this might be a cause for concern.

And, at the end of the day, the company commander will seize one's mice. Because Higher exists to kill fun.

07 December 2008

Small victories

It's been dull here.

Until this afternoon. After returning from another trip to look at Things That Weren't There, the boss and I were sitting out on the porch. I was having a cup of coffee and a cigarette, he was enjoying a phenomenally stinky cigar.

"You've got a mouse," he said, gesturing at a crack in the boards by our door.

I whipped out a trap, grabbed my trusty chocolate Rice Krispie Treat, set it up, and...SNAP! Less than ten minutes, and it became Abby 12, Mousies 1.

And folks, that wasn't the end. I got three more. I'm at 15.

I occasionally wonder if we're accomplishing anything worthwhile out here. At least, if nothing else, I am putting a hurting on the north-central Iraq mouse population.

I wonder if there's a medal for that?

04 December 2008

There's a lesson

in here somewhere...

'Cause I'm kinda accident-prone, and I do have a fair number of firearms around the house, yet I've never managed to shoot anyone (or get shot) while having sex.

Timothy Havens, 38, told Springfield police he was reaching for something on the nightstand when the pistol went off, hitting his estranged wife Carolyn in the upper chest.

I'm just thinking that perhaps this may not have been an issue so much of poor firearms handling skills as a reminder that one should not have sex with one's estranged spouse.

03 December 2008

This is not a job...

it's an adventure.

Or something.

So it rained here. Which brought fog, which brought everything to a screeching halt. Eventually, of course, the fog lifted and we had to start doing stuff again. Being CA types, we've found ourselves tasked with assisting a guy who has the super-fun assignment of finding all the water purification projects the US funded in the first five years here, and checking on their status.

(Well, I can tell you their status. 90% of them are broken. Because Iraqis don't do maintainance. And their budget process somehow doesn't allow for hiring people to keep things running. It's a bit of a problem here)

But apparently, there needs to be more verification than simply my grumbling. So we took off with a list of grids to find us some water purification facilities. In MRAPs. On clay. When it had just rained.

It is MUCH more fun to get an MRAP unstuck when you're riding in the PSYOPS truck. Because those trucks have speakers, and you can play Brad Paisley's Mud on The Tires. And the guys pulling the MRAP out really seem to see the humor in that.

Today when we went out, we were bound and determined to avoid the whole giant-heavy-vehicle-stuck-in-the-mud thing, so we drove way out until we were a little over a kilometer from the water project grid.

And we started trudging.

The trucks are out there. Waaay out there.

It's not a long walk that sucks (I am, after all, in the Army - walking is not a big problem for me). It's not the stupid heavy outfit we have to wear (although a little walking in that goes a long way). But please take note of the terrain. Yeah - the ground is entirely covered in baseball-sized rocks.

Those of you who've met me in real life know how coordinated I am. You can just imagine how much fun that walk was.

And no - we never did find a water purification facility. Would you have put one out there?

30 November 2008

You've heard the term....

now see the pictures!

It's as old as the military - in some polite circles, you hear the term goatrope. In some, goatscrew. And, more traditionally in salty company, it's a goatfuck.

No - it wasn't what it looked like. The sheep was NOT violated. At least not in that sense.

Suffice it to day there was a special occasion, and a man who thought that a sheep would make an appropriate gift.

I tell you, this is the strangest place on earth.

27 November 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Here's to all of you and yours! Enjoy your dinners (I certainly enjoyed mine after I finished serving) and your families.

Although I miss my given family, I'm thankful for the soldiers I'm with this year. If it weren't for the quality of the people I get to work with, I wouldn't do this.

26 November 2008

Another day...

another Big Adventure.

I did something today that although I've never done before, just about every woman in Civil Affairs does at one point or another - I attended a Women's Council meeting. With another female NCO in tow, and an interpreter (male) who'd been cautioned that he was severely outnumbered and should behave accordingly, I made my way into a room full of the Women In Black.

It was something else. On one level, meeting with the women was great. Unlike those in attendance at a lot of our other meetings, the women had no sense of entitlement. They did not sit and explain why Coalition Forces should give them stuff and money. I don't think much of anyone has ever appeared like a Fairy Godmother and given rural Iraqi women (all of them mothers, most of them widows) a damn thing.

The things they asked us to look into were smart - can we get some sort of vocational training? How can we get a loan that complies with Islamic law that would allow us to open a beauty shop? Why can't we have better OB/GYN coverage in the district?

I have read, and it has been true in my (limited) experience, that engaging women and boosting their standard of living and productivity is a very good way to raise the quality of life for an entire community.

But, it is difficult, when we are in the phase of this conflict where we are turning control of funds and programs back to Iraqis, to belive that these women and their needs will become a priority. They make up more than half the country's population, they have paid their fair share of the country's debts in suffering and misery, but they are a too-easily-overlooked population.

Fortunately, "Women's Issues" were one of designated "priorities" from Higher. So perhaps, with some diligence, there's a slice of the pie out there for them.

My grandmother was in Columbia with the Peace Corps when I was born. She told me there was a little girl born there on the same day I was born in Michigan. Nearly every year on my birthday, she mentions that baby girl and reflects that, even then, she had considered the Columbian infant, thought of her new granddaughter, and realized how fortunate I was to have been born in the United States.

I realize that, too. Being born an American doesn't make me a better person than anyone else in the world. But I do realize that it makes me a very fortunate person. And as I see more people and places, I realize that being born in the US makes me an incredibly fortunate woman.

24 November 2008

The future of Iraq

is in excellent hands. Those would be, of course, my hands.

Yeah. That's Your Author, with a cigarette in one hand and an Iraqi child in the other. And, yes, if you look closely, that Iraqi child is carrying a gun. Yes, it's a real gun, a .25 of some sort. And no - it wasn't loaded.

I swear, sometimes this is the weirdest place on earth. I am certain that the fact they arm children for special occasions (this picture was taken at a grand opening for a training program) means something, but I can't figure out what it is.

22 November 2008

Killing time (*WARNING* graphic mouse photo at bottom of post)

Sometimes, it's exciting to be in Iraq. The past few days have NOT been one of those times.

The last mail run brought joy in the form of some outdoor hanging lights.

Those are flamingos and chili peppers. The table we stole from my boss, and it's been one never-ending spades game ever since. Although Soldiers, unlike Marines, do stop playing for sleep at a certain point.

So the past couple of evening have been sit, shuffle, toss cards...*SNAP*...then I jump up to go check my trap. Sometimes...I get lucky.

I've been using peanut butter, but on the advice of my PYSOPS buddies, am trying chocolate Rice Krispie treat. I wouldn't have thought of it, but the PYSOPS sergeant is the undisputed King of Mousewhacking around here.

Current Score - Abby 6, Mousies 1.

18 November 2008

Updated Scorecard

I shall, in deference to the possible range of sensibilities among my readers, refrain from posting trophy pics (although, of course, I took trophy pics). I shall simply say...

Abby 2, Mice 1.

Let's hear it for old-fashioned snap traps and peanut butter, shall we?



17 November 2008

Quick note to any local readers I might have...

If the US Army in your immediate area is being friendly, driving carefully so as not to knock down powerlines and, in fact, walking around your city to check things out, it is not in your best interest to start shooting at those walking Soldiers.

Further, if you live in a neighborhood where you think you'd like some stuff - like, oh, say, new powerlines, or a park, or new sidewalks, or whatever - it is really not a good idea to allow people to shoot at the Civil Affairs element as they walk by.

In addition to really moving your area down on the list of places that get money, that behavior attracts the attention of different Soldiers with a focus on activities other than improving your quality of life.

Thus ends today's public service announcement.

14 November 2008

I have seen the enemy

and he is tiny and furry.

We've known there were mice. My dudes, in fact, have a rather robust and interactive population in their hooch (interactive as in they're so visible it was like having additional roommates). It got bad enough that my sergeant has taken to trapping them in water bottles using peanut butter and a string. He's gotten ten. In three days.

But the infestion in our hooch has been more understated. Oh, I've seen a couple from time to time while I've been drinking coffee at night. And I've heard them in the walls. But out of sight is out of mind. Or it was. Until last night.

Mom sent me, among other things, a bag of those little Snickers bars. Of course, I'd opened it and sampled a few. Then I closed the bag and set it on our table.

Long about 0100, I was racked out with a book and flashlight. When from the table, I heard a rustle. A mouse rustle. A mouse rustle among my goodies.

Like a ninja in Army PT gear, I hopped out of bed and turned the light on the table. Sure enough - I had movement in my Snickers bag. Some sort of blunt force was in order, so I survey the whacking potential of object I could grab without making any noise.

Axe - overkill. M4 carbine - plastic. Full can of M240B ammo - would definitely wake the roomie. Loaded 30-round PMag - that's the ticket! So I snatched up the magazine and hurled it, from a couple of feet, at the Snickers bag.

Being the ninja I am, it was a direct hit. There was sporadic movement, then stillness. Being kind of wimpy ninja when I am barefoot, I stepped into my combat boots and reached for the bag.

Which promptly tore, releasing a dazed-but-truly-terrified mouse. Which promptly ran away through a hole in the wall.

Mouse - 1, Abby - 0.

But, ladies and gentlemen, now that my candy has been threatened and my space invaded, it is on. There can only be one species eating from our Table of Snacks.

Stay tuned - I'll warn you if the pics are too grisly.

12 November 2008


The best day of any given period is mail day.

Letters from family...letters from family with pictures... That's the good stuff right there.

I brought a laptop, of course, and these days most of my pictures are digital. So a real highlight of today's mail call was a note from my grandmother in which she enclosed a picture of me and the Mister.

Further, I have noted that my mother and my husband (both Virgos, and both displaying several of the associated traits) share an approach to taping boxes. That is, there is no chance, under any circumstances, that boxes they pack will come open. Ever.

So I'm good on candy and soap and candy and trash bags and candy and razor blades and candy and all that stuff. And, best part about mail day, all my Soldiers got stuff, too. So we all feel loved.

09 November 2008

More daily living

On those not-outside-the-wire days, I knock out NCO bidness. I wander around and talk to the guys who have stuff I need, shoot the breeze with the other "attachments" (those of us not assigned to this particular battalion, but who are nonetheless here to help), struggle to make phone calls (DSN to VOIP? VOIP to cell? Cell to DSN?) and generally handle the small stuff.

Once that's done, I drift back to AO Abby, fire up the coffeepot, dig out something I haven't read yet, and settle in.

Yep. That's my chair, on my porch. In front of it is my coffee cup, and immediately to the right is my ammo can ashtray. I like my porch, which is fortunate, because I think I shall be spending a lot of time there.

Of course, there are some drawbacks. Those of you who've been there know what's coming, right?

Yeah. Those are my pet flies, just chillin' on my clothesline. Ugh. Please note that I do not soak my clothesline in sugared water, or any other substance to attract them. They are simply that friendly.

08 November 2008

Army humor

There's still a lot of bitching going on about the Army Combat Uniform. It wears out too fast, it doesn't blend in with anything (except that one guy's couch and possibly gravel parking lots), the zipper sucks, etc etc.

A special point of emphasis for all that bitching has been the Velcro. Excuse me - the hook and pile fastener. Sticks to everything, wears out, makes too much noise...

There is a positive side to all that, though. It means we get patches. You got your standard unit patches, you got your morale patches, and then you got your sarcasm tabs.

I saw this one on, of course, a gentleman of Mexican descent, the other morning. After some further observation, it was on several gentlemen of such descent.


You gotta love military humor. Given the somewhat...indelicate nature of how we address things, you can only imagine how the recent election has played out.

06 November 2008

CA Stuff

Another day, another excruciating meeting. Today's focused on a local contractor who appears to be building a water purification station in a location and manner utterly divorced from those specified in the Scope Of Work.

This is, of course, a no-go.

These days, we spend Iraqi dollars (through the Iraqi Commanders Emergency Relief Program - ICERP) through city councils, but we still provide contract and procedural oversight.

So when we heard the contractor was not purchasing actual real filters, but instead building them himself with his own two little hands, that required visual inspection.

So off we trudged. Up the road, through the market (abnormally tidy), through the critter-slaughtering part of the market (only mildly disgusting, through the machine shop part of town (where they did not appear to be manufacturing IEDs).

Until we found the "filters."

That's one of our terps (interpreters), serving as a size reference.

So, yeah. Giant, rusty, badly welded, slightly misshapen pipes.

So guess who came back to FOB, got an interpreter and phone, and arranged a little meet-the-bitchy-new-CA-sergeant meeting for Mr. Substandard Contractor?

Sometimes, I love this job.

05 November 2008

So...about that election

Well. That was a little more...definite than I had thought it would be.

I spent most of the morning in a room full of Sons of Iraq leadership, watching Al Arabia's coverage of said election. Explaining the electoral college through an interpreter is, in case you've never done it, kind of an adventure.

03 November 2008

The Daily Routine

So there are two kinds of days here - there are days when we go outside the wire, and days when we don't.

You all know that our "official" mission outside the wire involves hanging out with the civilian populace, trying to ensure they're using decent local government practices and trying to teach them to do stuff for their communities without just stealing all the funds available. That's the official mission.

In truth...

Mostly we just go outside the wire to feed dogs.

That's Daisy. She lives at one of our regular stops and actually seemed pretty excited aout MRE Jambalaya.

On days when we don't go outside the wire, the mission remains home improvement. We finally found nails and a hammer.

And no - I did not tumble from the beams. Although my roommate did suggest perhaps I should don my helmet.

02 November 2008

Just saying...

Have you ever been to a municipal meeting? A city council type of thing?

I sat through one of those today. With a less-than-motivated interpreter and the usual representatives from all 37,429 district-level Ministry offices. Water, Water Sourcing, Irrigation, Youth, Culture, etc etc.

And, unlike almost every other meeting I've been to in this country, nobody smoked during this meeting.

War is hell, I tell you. Hell.

In good news, fruit tree saplings will be available in January, at probably a little over 2,000 dinar per. This was, I kid you not, the hit news of the meeting. I guess everybody really likes fruit trees.

31 October 2008

Things NCOs hate

My boss is gone. An emergency in the family forced him to take emergency leave almost as soon as hit theater. So Yours Truly has been in charge during the RIP/TOA process (Relief In Place/Transfer of Authority).

This isn't really all too bad - we fall in on the outgoing guys, learn what they do, follow them around, and then they leave and we're here. Pretty simple, eh?

Except for the other little part...the part where we sign for their equipment. Or, in my case, the part where the Team Leader signs for their equipment. If, of course, one's Team Leader is absent, that duty falls on the Team Sergeant.

And we're not talking about signing for little stuff either.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an MRAP. Pretty big, huh? And it's full of stuff. Expensive stuff. All which I had to officially take possession of. Not the best feeling for someone who considers herself the reason they invented the dummy cord.

Losing an MRAP would probably have negative career consequences. But that wasn't the end of it.

Today I signed for all the team gear. That's another vehicle, pistols, radios, night vision and a pile of other crap. Including mystery boxes of ammo. Although those didn't require a signature, they did require sorting.

Yes, I did sub-hand-receipt as much of it as possible as quickly as possible, but there's still a pile of crap and two trucks in my name. I may lose my Sergeant Card for saying this, but I cannot wait until my officer gets back.

30 October 2008

Interfacing with the locals

I've got one phrase for those of you who've been in this part of the world. Let's see what sort of imagery it conjures up:

Turkish shitter. In an Iraqi Police station.

For any of you who ever doubted my devotion to what I do, not only did I use that awful "latrine" a couple of days ago, I did so and then did not run screaming all the way out of the Middle East. Which isn't to say that after straddling a crap-filled trench in a small, urine-soaked closet that - by the way - did not seem to confine said crap to said trench, not to say that after that I did not want to run screaming. Because I did want to.

Alas, Civil Affairs sergeants cannot run screaming because the host nation is icky.

And today, at a city council meeting in another town, I used a "latrine" that, although of the same fiendish design, was not horrifying. And they fed me. So...win some, lose some.

28 October 2008

Getting down to business

Not being the sort to let grass grow around us, we plunged headlong into wandering around our new AO (area of operations), looking at stuff and talking to people. Until I do a little more research, we're not going to talk very much about that. However, I can and will say that:

A - this area is significantly more permissive than the one I was in 2005-2006. This is obviously a Very Good Thing, but it does take some getting used to.

B - MRAPs are big and tall, and driving them through street across which the locals have hung a rat's nest of electrical wires is recipe for causing blackouts. Which is a great way to convince the locals not to kill us...I guess.

After a meeting with a local mover and shaker, we returned to base to start the truly important stuff - home repairs! We live in CHUs (Containerized Housing Units). My roommate and I were not fortunate enough to inherit one with a porch roof, and so we're slowly "acquiring" material to build one.

You can see the initial bits and pieces here.

Only in the interest of giving you all a concept of what "home" looks like here would I ever publish such an unflattering picture.

27 October 2008

Another move

And now we have reached our final location. It's dusty, sandbagged,
has Army cooks, and is FABULOUS. Mostly because it's NOT co-located
with our headquarters.

Coming soon, to a spottily-updated blog near you...tales of hilarity
from First Convoy and First Real Mission.

25 October 2008

Love this place

The only thing better than Iraq is Iraq in the rain.
That is all.
Well, hold on.  The only thing better than Iraq in the rain is Iraq in the rain when, apparently, any time mortars impact within a zillion miles, one has to spend an hour in a damp, urine-smelling bunker with a bunch of squirrely young Soldiers who want to sing popular hits of Journey.
I love this job.

22 October 2008

Your Tax Dollars

are, apparently, being put to shocking good use in Texas - Military hospital opens for dogs wounded in war.

It sounds like a highly spiffy new place, and quite an improvement over the previous arrangement.

Before the center opened, veterinarians treated and rehabilitated dogs in a cramped building that opened in 1968, when the military trained dogs for work in Vietnam.

This is obviously nothing but tail-wagging news. In addition to the fact that I like dogs, we know the contributions they make and the lives they save on today's battlefield.
To treat the trainees and injured working dogs, the new hospital has operating rooms, digital radiography, CT scanning equipment, an intensive care unit and rehab rooms with an underwater treadmill and exercise balls, among other features. A behavioral specialist has an office near the lobby.

That's good stuff.

21 October 2008


We've got this guy.  He's a staff sergeant in his mid-to-late 40s.  He's been in the Army since Christ was a corporal.  He seems to get out from time to time, so he's held a bunch of different jobs.
He's a wiry dude, white, with thinning hair, leathery face and a nifty little mustache.  There's a little bit of the surfer or stoner in his speech and posture.  He chain-smokes and consumes somewhere north of 30 cans of Dr, Pepper a day. We will, when feeling cheery, refer to him as "The 'Stache."
I was sitting at chow last night with a sergeant, a corporal and a specialist, and the talk to turned to The 'Stache.
He's like the smartest guy in the world, said the specialist.  He knows everything.
I don't think he sleeps, I pointed out.  Does he?
The dudes shook their heads.  The 'Stache, apparently, has been witnessed sitting down and leaning against something, and once even pulling his hat down over his eyes, but never actually sleeping.
This one time, remembered the specialist, when Ace left that SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) in that class?  I saw him get mad, and it was like, whoa...he barely even raised his voice and I felt bad.  I didn't even do anything wrong!
Discussions went on until we'd established that nobody has ever seen him trim his mustache, get a haircut, or engage in PT.  Of course, he's entirely within regs at all times and has never failed a PT test.  He's always got extra cigarettes to hand out, and we'd trust him to perform neurosurgery with a lighter and a pocketknife.
One of those guys that, with just a slightly different personality, you could hate.  But because The 'Stache is The 'Stache, you love him.  You see a lanky figure strolling up in the dark with a can of Dr. Pepper and a pack of smokes, and you hear that west Texas accent starting out with, "well, isn't that some bullshit..."

17 October 2008

Kuwaitin' Around

Wow. I'm sure there's a point to the time we're spending here, but what it's really accomplishing is turning us all into nocturnal chain-smokers. This is how the day passes in the Giant Chick Tent:

At night we smoke cigarettes and, wearing our absolutely-no-kidding-required reflective belts, trudge around the camp to the 24-hour coffee places. During the day...well, there's a lot of napping.

15 October 2008

Not a bad morning

I finally woke up rested. So I made my way to the shower, where I have to admit I took more than the allowed 5 minutes. I hand washed some underclothes, since the laundry turn-in process here is rumored to be cumbersome.

I got back to the tent, and it was New Uniform Day, which is always awesome. I had a brand new pair of UnderArmor hot weather boots socks, so I dusted my feet with some Gold Bond Medicated foot powder (the stuff in the blue container) and pulled them on.

Taking a can of coffee, I wandered out the smoking area, where the shade was over the benches and the people didn't suck.

I don't know, folks. There's no body armor scheduled today, and things are looking good. It's almost enough to make me nervous.

14 October 2008

More fun than

a barrel of camels. Which we saw, by the way, while standing out on a range in the middle of the godforsaken desert yesterday. Well, camels at least. No barrels were observed.

In fact, let's just not talk about yesterday. We shall simply point out that yesterday went from 0300 until 1800 and all we did was fire 18 rounds. 'Nuff said.

Today, on the other hand, was reasonably useful. We trooped over to yet another big brown tent/building thing for the body armor upgrade. This is the part where we swap the IBA with Outer Tactical Vest for the IBA with Improved Outer Tactical Vest. Here's the money quote on that subject:

...the IOTV has several advantages over its predecessor. It is three pounds lighter; it provides more coverage in the small of the back; it sits higher around the armpit area; and it sits lower on the torso...

All of which is awesome. And I tried one on. Although on my last deployment I wore a small IBA, this time I've been working a medium. It hasn't fit very well, and rides out on the shoulders. These new vests, though, they're great. They fit snugly, feel lighter, don't chafe the bade of the neck...

And apparently cannot be made fast enough in Medium, Small or Extra-Small.


Eight of the not-quite-thirty of us will be continuing to rock the less-comfy IBA for the time being. Although the vest people swear more are coming, and, in a few months, when they arrive, the vest will find their way to us at our final destinations...

The little Soldiers, the slight, short and generally compact Soldiers, sighed, rolled their eyes and trudged out in the dust. Disheartened, they filed onto the bus. One of the big Soldiers followed, climbing happpily aboard with his spiffy new vest. Then he stood up too soon, and whacked his big, tall, head into the door frame. The little Soldiers laughed.

13 October 2008

I really don't understand this...

I think I somehow posted the last entry several times as a direct result of either jet lag or a jacked-up internet connection.  I think we'll blame it on the latter.  I whacked the duplicate.  I think.
Anyway, here's the photo I attempted to upload.  I think it adequately conveys the beauty and joy that is Kuwait. (This is also a test.  My email is working more smoothly than my internet, and I can't get the image to upload.  Let's see if it goes through the mail)


12 October 2008

It Lives!

I was sitting by a guy today in the chowhall.  He's from another CA unit, but we've somehow crossed paths pretty frequently throughout the last few years.
"Well," he said, "this blows."
"Yep," said I.  "It seems like a lot of the moments when I say maybe this wasn't such a great idea seem to happen in Kuwait."
We have made the big leap to a country that someone, somewhere, probably in a national publicity office, probably refers to a The Jewel of The Middle East.
[OK - so the image upload isn't going to work tonight.  I'll try again soon]
Fortunately, we'll move along from here after an appropriate length of time.  And I don't think there's any OPSEC violation at this point in saying that Kuwait is making Iraq look good.  And that ain't cool.
Our movement was uneventful, but let me just say this - from the time we dragged our bags outside until we got on the plane, it took sixteen hours.  And folks, that wasn't bad compared to some other trips.  The flight was long, punctuated by one of those random and anonymous military stops at some flightline somewhere where we could smoke but not buy beer, and then another flight.  Ugh.
Weather report - days are hot, but not oh-lord-kill-me-now-because-I'm-already-buring-in-a-fiery-pit hot.  Night is nice enough.  The dust level is not high by middle east standards.  The sun, as usual, is bright enough I wonder if somehow it moved several million miles closer while we were on the plane.

07 October 2008

It just keeps getting better

So here we are. We sit. We smoke. We go get coffee. Once a day there's a meeting, and the poor soul we designated as the "movement officer" shares some vital piece of military information.

Ummm..the duffle bag that was called the A Bag? Now that's the C bag. And the rucksack? That's the new A bag.

All the team leaders and team sergeants nod, make a note of the change (or perhaps just draw a stick-figure unicorn) in our little Rite In The Rain notebooks. The movement officer continues.

Also, on the packing list, it says four pairs of socks in the C Bag. Two of those have been moved to the B Bag.

A hand goes up. Hey, the question is offered, is there going to be any kind of inspection of these bags at any point? Like, is anybody going to count how many socks my Joes have in each one?

The movement officer glances up from his clipboard.

No. Actually, they're not.

Another hand goes up. I know you said the sharps have to go in the belly of the bird, but are we doing to TSA liquid thing?

The movement officer flips pages. Ummm...yep. Little bottles in the carryon.

An officer mutters. We're hand-carrying rifles but we have to bag liquids?

Seriously, people. I am continually amazed we do not all speak German. My Grandpa went to war on a troopship. Today's Army, given that much time to screw around with Soldiers, would disembark the most confused but best-packed troops in history.

A note: There is an exception to the no-sharps, no liquids over three ounces rules, but I still can't believe anybody publicized it with a straight face, so I'm going to let it go unaddressed.

05 October 2008


It's funny, isn't it, how long six or eight hours can be. When you're in school in late May, or driving across the midwest to get to a family get-together, or watching the clock on a Friday afternoon. A thousand years.

And it's equally funny (yet godawful depressing) how fast six or eight hours can fly by when you're comfortable at home and there's a plane ride in the afternoon.

This part, I will point out, is the worst part of this whole process. I don't care who you are, nobody wants to get on the plane at this point - you just want to dive back under the covers with your significant other and hide.

03 October 2008

Just a note

I'm just sayin'... 'cause I was at the VFW and there were beers...

If the election was held today, these guys would make Sarah Palin Goddess of the Universe.

Which may or may not be a second-order effect of her being hot. Again, I am just sayin'.

02 October 2008

Here's to

bloody wars and sickly seasons, as the British Navy says.

It appears the US Army is good and desperate these days, as I finally procured a copy of the most recent Senior Promotion Board results, and, lo and behold, it appears I am to be moving up in the world and will soon be SFC Abby.

It appears that I shall remain SSG Abby for a while yet, as there's some sort of identified-vacancy promotion system in place that means that, eventually, someone will send us a set of orders. When they get around to it.

Nonetheless, it's happy news. Alas, since we'll be falling under General Order 1A, I won't be able to spend a bunch of money on beer for my comrades.


I woke up this morning in my own bed. On the grand scale of nice, with 1 being "okay" and 10 being "super!" it was right around 11.5.

We've got Tango the Licky Hysterical Dog at the house right now. Remember Tango?

I woke around 0230 for a bathroom run. My feet hit the floor before I remembered I was in the land of Licky Hysteria. I hurtled into the bathroom, swatting at dogs, and hurtled back out, leaping from the bathroom door to the bed.

Where I found Sparky had moved onto my pillow in my brief absence.

Of course, all the excitement had led Tango and Jack to start playing, which required snapping, growling, yowling and tag jingling. Whimpering, I poked the Mister in the side.

Do you sleep at all around here?

Now you see, he grumbled, why I drink.

Nonetheless, it's good to be home.

30 September 2008

I got nuthin'

We've reached the End of the Late Beginning. It's nice. Uncle Sugar has seen fit to afford us an opportunity to spend a last small bit of time with our families before the Very End of The Beginning and the Beginning of the Middle.

Once home, I look forward to sharing some more imagery with y'all that I didn't have time to upload with the hamster-powered internet connection here.

26 September 2008

Debate Fun

I'm catching just a little of the presidential debate in the dayroom.  It is, incidentally, standing room only.
This part where the candidates are playing "who can pronounce more obscure Russian names in one answer" is pretty entertaining. 
That's all I have to say about that.

25 September 2008

The weird random cool stuff fairy

passed overhead and took another dump on us today. Look what rode back to the barracks with our supply PFC.

ACU pattern? Check. MOLLE attachment system? Check. Weird lanyard dummy cord thing? Check? But what is it?

Duh. It's an axe. A combat axe. In fact, it's an Ontario SPAX.

That was the weird pinnacle of the supply drop that included an ACOG per team, binoculars, slings, backup iron sights, M4 rails, and some weird gay vertical foregrip/bipod thing.

Things you really only see in the Army

(okay, well, maybe the other services, too)

The other day we got to run around do Advanced Combat Pistol (mostly drawing, weak-hand firing, etc) and transition firing (that'd be the transition from M4 to M9). This is good stuff. The first part was about 250 rounds of Uncle Sugar's ammo, and the transition fire was also a good armload of pre-filled magazines. Pre-filled mags, free ammo, and a sunny day. T'was fun.

And then it ended, and we did the Brass Police Call.

This is kind of like...an Easter Egg hunt that's not much fun. After you run four or five relays of twenty shooters walking up and down the range firing, you get everybody out to dig through the sand and pick up all the brass. You separate the brass by caliber, and collect the live rounds in another pile. You can use boxes, or hats. Either way, it's a hoot. Extra fun bonus points if you do it at night.

It hasn't all been fun shooty goodness, of course. The vast majority of military activity is routine and dull. And nothing is more routine and dull than a chow hall that is serving eight bazillion mobilizing people a day.

The food's not awful, but it's not very good, either. They really hit a new hit in crappy and weird the other evening, though.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is fried ravioli.

I know. I was not aware that such a thing exisited. Here's a hint - if you ever have the opportunity to enjoy military-issue fried ravioli - don't. I ate half a piece, then shared up another hunk with the guys at my table. We all eyed the plate suspiciously.

It's like a cheese stick, one sergeant said, but with no flavor.

No, corrected another. There's some flavor. It's bad, but it's there.

But the sauce, I asked. It doesn't have any flavor, does it?

In the end, I enjoyed some red jello and a cup of coffee. Thank god for jello and coffee, and the reserve of candy I keep in my cargo pockets.

21 September 2008

MORE cultural awareness

We spend so much time studying the way "They" like things that you occasionally have to wonder whether, assuming this is a clash of civilizations, they might already have won.
We were having the Ramadan discussion. 
They abstain, the instructor droned, from food, drink and sex from sunup to sundown for a month.
Hell, we've been abstaining from booze, sex and decent food 24/7 for closing in on a month now.  It's making all of us pretty cranky, so perhaps that explains the ongoing rage problem from the Islamic world.  Food for thought.

20 September 2008

Camping (again)

Sorry for the relative silence - this time we ended up in the ghetto block of the Big Army Campsite, and we don't get wireless. Our MRX (I actually have no idea what that stands for, although I'd guess Mission Readiness Exercise) has kept us quite busy the past several days, and so this is the first evening I've had time (or energy) to walk around with an open laptop and a hopeful expression.

I guess I got lucky in that I didn't have to be out here running missions on the first day of the MRX. The downside? That was because I was attending UPL training.

My Army folks out there just started laughing. See, the UPL is the Unit Prevention Leader. Basically, the Urinalysis Czar. The job is nice in that it means I won't have to be an observer for a pee test for another year. Bad because it means I'll have to handle warm and slightly damp plastic jars of warm piss.

You win some, you lose some.

After that wonderful day (yes, we did conduct a training urinalysis. Yes, I did have to handle pee. Yes, it was warm), it was all high-quality training, all the time.

No, seriously. It was, of course, an organization not part of the yahoos mobilizing us that provided said training.

Lots of good civilian role players, lots of pyro (devices that make smoke and noise and fire), etc etc. I got whacked once and injured once. Yesterday's injury was a testament to how difficult it is to move a 140-pound woman (me) wearing combat gear. My "body" only needed to go about 75 feet, and between the armor, helmet, and my "dead" status, it didn't even have to be gentle. It's not very hard to drag someone six or eight feet to cover, but sclepping someone who's dead weight, while packing a lot of extra gear yourself...well, it'll kick the ass of pretty much anyone.

Today's wound resulted in a field IV for SSG Abby. The specialist sticking me hit the vein on the first try, and although there was blood, there was no real pain.

(I swear, by the time the real Big Trip starts, I'll have possesion of the normal digital camera so you all aren't subjected to cell phone photos anymore)

Alas, the same cannot be said for the gentleman I had to stick on the following iteration. I got the IV going, but it was more of an adventure than my poor "casualty" probably would have liked.

And, a final note to any female NCOs who may read here. I think - by which I mean I suspect but am not certain - that my male soldiers lie to me more because I am a woman. So, gals, if your boys ever nod and tell you they know how to work an M240B, that they've done it a million times, that they are damn proficient to nth degree...well, have them demonstrate. Or you will find yourself on the hood of the truck during a test fire explaining the concepts of "open-bolt weapon" and "brass to the grass." Using a lot of four-letter words.

15 September 2008

Highly efficient

yep - that's us.

We actually had a down day yesterday. Now, since we've all volunteered to be here, we obviously deserve to be treated rather like especially dull privates. Thus, we are not permittd to leave the post, to consume alcohol, or to wear civilian attire. Nonetheless, we embraced our day off, jumped through a few hoops, and went fishing.

We even caught a few.

I caught a lot of fish, but that one is about average. Oh well - it beat doing anything for which there are sign-in rosters.

And now it's back to regular grind, which started with more shots in the hours before sunrise, and now seems to be set on "do nothing" until a class which - I kid you not - is scheduled to run from 2200 to 0600.

And no - it's not a class that involves doing anything in the dark.

That's obviously pretty high on the stupid scale, and our Leadership is out driving around asking (for the third and fourth time), if that block of time is typo or simply a really dumb idea. But forcing logic on the mobilization process is like trying to teach Sparky to land the space shuttle.

Yeah. I'm thinking it's going to be a long night.

On the positive side, we have a crack team of guys who've made it their mission in life to ensure we've always got a five-gallon coffee jug at these training evolutions. We might have to write those guys up for Distinguished Service Crosses after this.

13 September 2008

More fun

than should probably be legal. Yep - we recently had NBC day! Of course, it's not "NBC" (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) anymore - now it's CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear - pronounced Sea-Bern).

Anyway, it's the same old routine. Mask on, mask off. Suit on, suit off. Suit on, help your buddy change suits.

The buddy part, of course, was a hoot.

That's me, of course, having my trousers removed in the Army-approved manner. This was not as amusing as when I had to remove my buddy's. See, practice suits are just handed out without regard to size. I had a giant one. My partner, who is a little more sturdy than I am, got a smaller one. And did I mention there's an elastic strap on the back of the jacket that one pulls up through one's legs and fastens at the bottom of the front zipper? Yeah. My partner's was pulled tight as a fiddle string.

Dude, brace yourself. I'm going to try to unhook this gently so it doesn't fly loose and snap you in the balls, but...

It's one of those things that's funny as can be in rehearsal, and yet you hope you never, ever have to do in real life. Because if my buddy's worn out one chemical suit, and we have to do team suit changes because the environment's still poison, well...that's pretty much the definition of really bad day.

11 September 2008

The reasons why we're here

We had a formation at 0700 today. Not much to look at - around 15 of us standing in the dirt with our rifles, getting ready to start the day's classes. 
The company commander took charge of the formation, put us at ease, and started to talk.  He reminded us of the date which, I'm ashamed to say, had slipped some of our minds.
That day, that attack, all our dead countrymen, he reminded us.  That moment, that morning, was why we were standing in a formation, preparing, saddling up again.  Ours not to wonder at the method, but to apply ourselved to our appointed tasks in response to that day.
Then the mood lifted, and we promoted a PV2 to Private First Class.  E-2 to E-3.  The PFC is 19.  He was 12 when those buildings came down.
The difference between sixth grade and a soldier.  That makes it seem like a long time.  It doesn't feel that way to me.

10 September 2008


In the wilds!  OK - so the tents have wood floors, bunkbeds and wall lockers.  And electricity.  And there's a PX (trailer).  And internet connectivity.  But the connectivity is spotty, and the tents are tents, so it's the field and we're roughing it.
We aren't going to be out here for very long, but I suppose it's a box that must be checked.  And we all know that those boxes will be checked.  Boxes get checked, or Soldiers die.
Sorry - I let the mob' bitterness win for a second there.  I woke up with a case of the chapped heinie this morning, and never really got my false motivation level where it belongs.
One interesting thing they've done with the "FOB" (forward operating base) concept here is play a recorded "call to prayer" over loudspeakers at the appropriate times.  One of those occurred as we were dragging bags into our tents.  One of our specialists, another recovering jarhead for whom this will be the second Big Trip, looked and me and shared his opinion.
"I really didn't miss that at all."
Sometimes, when I was in Iraq, the sun would be going down.  Dust would hang in the air, and it would be a thousand degrees.  The whole country seemed to smell of burning trash, human shit and rage.  And then the mosques would start up with the prayer call.
I don't speak Arabic, but I know what it always sounded like to me - You're about as far from home as you can get.  This place might as well be Mars, for all you understand about it.  Learn fast. 

09 September 2008

Thinking Martha Stewart thoughts

So there we were, sitting around bullshitting. I know - Soldiers sitting around bullshitting - who'd'a thunk it? It may even have been raining.

We were talking about that coolest of military toys, the real reason we all stay in - the chemlight.

(Seriously - there's the next generation of Army recruiting right there, even with a war on. Heck, especially with a war on. Join the Army, go to Iraq, and get armloads of chemlights for free! All the chemlights you could want! Even the special high-intensity bright ones!)

Somehow the conversation drifted to kitchen applications for the mini-chemlights. The ones that are like two inches long.

It first occurred to us that one could use them in Jell-o. Like fruit, only better. One doesn't want to eat chemlights, so it would be more of a centerpiece sort of thing, but still unique and eye-catching. We thought it would be a particularly groovy look with grape Jello and a Halloween theme.

But then we realized that although glowing Jell-o would be cool, we could do better. Chemlights in a festively-theme hunk of ice (probably formed in that same Jell-o mold) bobbing in a bowl of punch. At night. For a party.

Because let's be honest - Jell-o and punch are both already cool, but they'd be waaay more cool if they glowed.

It was enough to make me wish I had access to my kitchen.

[pauses, thinks]

Hold on - they are sending us home on pass in a few weeks...

08 September 2008


It was one of those 0415-wakeup mornings, and last night was a sleep-after-midnight thing.  So I set my alarm carefully, knowing that oversleeping was not an option.
In the hours so dark they really aren't even "pre-dawn," I lurched out of the rack, stripped off the shirt I sleep in, got halfway into my uniform T-shirt, and realized I couldn't hear any of the guys hurtling around in the hall.  So I glanced at my watch.  0315.
I did enjoy that "extra" hour.
It was a long day of IED lanes, and frogging around with vehicles.  The whole thing culminated with a stirring hour on "Sexual Assault Prevention."  At 1900.  The poor instructor must have thought we were ruder-than-average students, since even the guys standing in the back of the room were falling asleep.
I just topped off the day when I went in to move laundry from the washer to the dryer.  Only to realize that it washes much faster if you turn the washer on.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen.  Your tax dollars pay me to be at the pointy end, and I had my ass kicked by a washing machine.  Be afraid.  Be very, very afraid.

06 September 2008

Slow day

We finished off our Combat Lifesaver training today.  That was actually a quality class, which we made sure we communicated to all involved.
"The part where you had instructors with recent combat experience in the subject they were teaching?  That was great."
We stayed a little late so our PFC, who is a nervous little dude, could do one more live stick on a sergeant we now call "Mr. Giant Veins."  The PFC is a great kid, but he's the second junior man in the company, eager to please and, as is to be expected, prone to tripping over himself in his eagerness to do good.
Immediately following the conclusion of that evolution, we returned to the barracks just slightly ahead of the outer rain bands from Tropical Storm Hannah.  A quick evaluation of the weather convinced us that it was a perfect afternoon to conduct practical exercises in rack ops.  I am pleased to report that with the sole exception of a specialist who's assigned as Overworked Headquarters Slave, all the Soldiers received a "GO."  Seeing as rehearsals are key to success in any battle drill, we may still have to conduct more rack ops in the near future.

05 September 2008

Info request

Ok, this is an odd one.  I know that at some point I saw a picture of an AR-15/M-4 on which someone had mounted a cupholder.  I'm not kidding - a rail-mounted cupholder.
They gave us rails. 
And so now I want the cupholder.  No, no, no.  Not for any sort of real-life use.  But it's a long year, and at some point, I think my whole team will probably need a laugh. 
So if any of you happen to know where to find such a thing, or, really, any other TRULY RIDICULOUS rail-mounted accessory, drop me a line in a comments or with the email button.

Commence Scam Operations...

Time - now.

That's what we've got going on this afternoon, after we all successfully made it through the "live stick" portion of CLS. I'd never done it before, so I was mildly concerned about damaging one of my soldiers, but I hit a nice vein on the first try and all was well.

This evening promises to be a hoot, with another fascinating COIN (that's COunter INsurgency, for anyone who isn't aware) brief on the schedule. The Army has decided to renounce all its prior religions and affiliations, it seems, and offer our total devotion to the philosophy of General Petraeus. The Army has decided to wholeheartedly embrace COIN with an enthusiasm not seen since they embraced Velcro.

Which is fine, really. I mean, hey - it seems to be working better than whatever we called our prior strategy.

But really - the briefs. Now, remember, all our predeployment training is run by a specific organization that exists strictly to mobilize and demobilize soldiers. A lot of the folks who hang out in that specific organzation...well, they've been hanging out there for a while, and have no actual deployed experience. And there doesn't seem to be any...umm...any requirement as far as an area of expertise.

I would say that 80% of the Civil Affairs folks here have at least one deployment to either Iraq or Afghanistan. I'd venture to guess at least 50% have two.

So I'll stipulate that there is some population of deploying soldiers that really benefits from having a series of briefs wherein a random soldier with a random background reads verbatim from a set of slides boiling our national counterinsurgency philosophy down to a few easily digested phrases. I'm sure that helps some people. Really.

But...having stipulated that these briefs are very valuable in their own right, I would think that we could enhance their value to deploying civil affairs soldiers significantly. Since we're required to have several phases of COIN briefs, it would be vastly more useful if we had someone who had recently worked in CA, PSYOPS or SF in the theater of operations come down here and discuss how the Army change in philosophy is effecting the way we (CA) "support U. S. national objectives by assisting the government of a host or occupied area to meet its peoples’ needs and maintain a stable and democratic civil administration."

But that's just one gal talking. Since I doubt my proposed solution will be adopted in the next several hours, I'm going to cease and desist bitching. My immediate priorities include a nap and a little PT.

03 September 2008

Awkward AND Annoying!

The past 18 hours have pretty much revolved around people peering at my crotch. The day started with a 0445 pee test, continued into a CLS class in a hot building, and was broken up only by the mandatory pre-deployment PAP smear and GYN checkup.

I escaped that room as quickly as possible, and found my sergeant (who'd driven the truck over) racked out. Apparently, he adopted this particular napping posture to express his solidarity with his fearless leader.


The bright side is that I fully expect to be allowed - in fact, encouraged - to keep my trousers firmly pulled up and in place for the remainder of this mobilization.

02 September 2008

The party just never ends

I haven't had much for y'all the past couple of days. We were on the range with our trusty M4s and shiny new M68 CCOs over the weekend. Tell you what - only the Army could make new toys, free ammo, sunshine and range time suck.

Got my team qualified without any major drama, although one needed a couple of tries and the other one will have to return to the zero range once they get him a front sight post that's, like, you know, straight up and down.

We did something today, but it was such an irrelevent check-the-box evolution that I've already forgotten what it was. Something with a sign-in roster.

The fun part after that was the retrieval and dragging upstairs of our unit's Big Black Boxes.

That's the ever-popular Stanley Mobile Job Box. The trusty old-school wheeled Contico is also popular. These make a fabulous sound when you drag empty ones up three flights of barracks stairs. We did have to call the entire operation to a halt so we could rustle up the officers who'd packed theirs full of crap, as we are not dedicated enough to schlep field-grade officer knick-knackery any further than required.

I have no idea why anyone would have packed one of those full coming here, since we'll probably need the space to pack all the not-really-necessary crap out of the piles of gear they keep issuing.

Highlights of this week are anticipated to include Combat Lifesaver training, the issue of more crap, and plenty of last-minute changes. Hilarity may well follow.

30 August 2008

The upper body workout of Satan

The Interceptor Body Armor is good stuff. I've got a couple of wicked chunks of shrapnel at home on a shelf I pulled out of mine last tour. I am a believer. There's always word of something newer and better out there, but this stuff is nothing to turn up one's nose at.

However...in the ongoing attempt to make even combat as safe as is physically possible, and, in fact, to let nobody ever die for a lack of equipment, the Army has added, by my count, six pieces of additional crap to the IBA since the last time I had one. And, since they are new to us, and since this is a training environment, we are staring out by wearing every single piece of the system.


When I last did this, we wore the vest, plates, collar and throat pieces (well, gunner wore the throats). There was some other arm stuff I wore when riding in the turret, but most of our guys opted for mobility and skipped that when they were dismounted. And pretty much nobody ever wore the much-maligned "pecker protector."

It's a fine line between protection and agility, and it gets sorted out as time goes on. But as for the first day back in this system, attaching all available bits and pieces had us all grumbling this morning. Well, wearing all available pieces had us grumbling this morning. Attaching all the pieces had us grumbling last night.

"How the Hell does this..."

"What in the fuck is the supposed to be for?"

"How many damn pieces are there here?"


A bitching Soldier, they say, is a happy Soldier.