Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Journey's End

The Final Months, Weeks, Days

I'd like preface this entry by explaining the excessive delay in this final post. Getting out of country felt like a very busy and rapid process. I admit it was and it wasn't for me. I had moments. Getting momentum to put to paper many of these experiences were rough because I didn't want to post raw feelings and emotions regarding some of the issues occuring around me and some of the relationship flare ups that occured. This was a pretty ugly time for us. We had a number of "Come to Jesus" sessions (one of which I will never forget) in order to get the staff working some what cohesively. It wasn't really a matter of our not getting along so much as it was politics was rearing it's ugly head and creating division and unnecessary hurdles.

The last bit of the tour consisted of wrapping up documentation (evaluation reports, awards, etc), training our replacements, getting personal effects and equipment loaded, packed up and there was some waiting. I was completely committed to losing a last bit of weight prior to exiting the country.

And the winner is...

Awards were an exceptionally political process. I'm glad it was managed the way it was managed because some people felt put out and some people didn't. There were moments of surprise (for some, shock, is a better word) and moments of truth with respect to awards and that's really all that can be said on that issue.

Big On Weight? Not Quite So Short on Awards...

Word came down the pike that if you were over the height/weight standards, expecting an end of tour award would be a doomed hope. A number of individuals, including me, managed to drop those last few pounds and we did manage to get our awards. This took, on my part, an excess of 60-80 minutes of running each day (rotation - 60 one 80 another), some dietary alterations, and lot of raw spots on my feet.

It was suggested a 'witch hunt' (deliberate effort to ensure some people didn't get awards) was in full effect, especially when everyone in the company was weighed once and then a "select few" were weighed again a couple days after without more than 1 days' notice. I'd like to stress, in spite of this, those of us that are overweight managed to pass the test and get our commendations.

Evaluation Reports

This took a long period of time for me, as the standards were never completely explained to anyone's satisfaction. So, this consisted of "trail and error". I knew that, again, politics were at work. I submitted my evaluations some 10+ times before they were accepted. I wasn't exactly sure why each time the document was rejected. I was told to change one or two words, rephrase or arrange some words, but apparently it passed the mustard after some light rephrasing and arranging.

I admit it was a hassle, but towards the end, I was able to get a sufficent explanation about what was unsatisfactory about my work to get the "gist". Thank goodness for small favors.

The Replacements

I initally didn't mind the replacement. The replacement seemed to be on the straight an narrow but over time I noticed a couple things. First and foremost, the person in question seemed more concerned about getting my building rearranged and less focused on tackling the training program my section developed. I took his previous experience into account, and figured it was the old "active army"-"national guard" kick. It was pretty clear this mentality was in full effect (especially when the rest of the replacements showed up). The situation escalated into a verbal confrontation when I noticed something was going on and it became very clear that politics were at work.

There was a flare up of emotion on my part. It was a culmination of some things being done behind my back, a general feeling of contempt being held against me, and I lost my cool. Unprofessional, but, considering the way I was being treated I felt it was somewhat justifiable. I've been amazed( on the two occasions I did loose my cool and got emotional) at how the individuals involved immediately became team players the day afterwards and wanted nothing more than to make me feel somewhat respected. It was nice that I had the support of my command and I learned a couple lessons from my side of the fence and the other side of the fence with respect to this situation.

  • Don't loose your cool. No matter how much that approach has been validated to me this year. It's unhealthy and it assists in the deterioration of your professional integrity.

  • Never behave as if you know more than the other guy. You probably don't, even when you do, don't go there. Take it in stride. Don't be/get self-righteous.

  • Always keep management notified.

There are probably a dozen of these lessons I could affix to this event but, it was a long time in coming.

I just *knew* you had secret internet lines!

I was accused of violating the policy for the commercial internet service. I had the feeling this was tied into the situation above in a more "holistic" fashion. In response to this, I defended my section and I took an internet cable placed it into a plastic bag, stapled the bag to a paper that had printed on it "Conspicuously Hidden Morale Internet Line". I then took this collage and placed it above my door in the hopes that the not-quite-so-tongue-in-cheek gag would at least crack a smile for whatever poor soul entered my building during this era of unrest.

We had some serious issues with equipment inventory/tracking. Additional lessons, some I learned the hard way, others by watching dramas unfold, consisted of:

  • Make sure the final name on the liability chain is notified of requests for equipment. It's their decision not yours.

  • Follow up on the dates for hand receipts. Regularly.

  • Conduct your own monthly equipment inspections.

  • Always notify management when something uncool happens with regard to equipment.

"Leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be home again..."

After mailing all my stuff home and getting the rest of my stuff into the connex, I moved from my trailer into an office building we had closed down. I was in there with 3 other officers (S2, and 2 S3 guys) and we had a pretty smooth ride after turning over our respective jobs to the replacements.

The last minute of the last day we were there - a "signal emergency" went down. It was more of an "I told you so moment" but, I kept the lips tight, did a quick fix with a stern warning about the way the fix was implemented and loaded onto a vehicle for my carting away to the airstrip.

We loaded onto the plane and during the flight down to our holding area near the gulf, the pilot gave us a roller coaster ride out of "dodge city".

In our holding area, it was particularly hot and sandy. I recall a day of sleep and food with a quick trip to the PX. We loaded up tractor trailers with our gear and then went to customs for our shake down. My part took quite some time because I loaded myself down with a lot of junk (another lesson I learned, travel light). After waiting another 8 hours or so for a flight we loaded on the plane, stopped by a european country to refuel and ended back up where this all started.

An Uneasy Holding Pattern

We were greeted to our outprocessing installation by officals of every type and feather. Suffice it to say, the drama didn't stop. Emotions flared up a couple times amongst our ragtag group. The two weeks that followed were long and again the political implications of what people said and did were rolling all over the place. I have to admit this was a pretty ugly time for some people - my group was not involved so, we kept to ourselves and stayed out of sight/mind.

Home Sweet Home

We managed to survive outprocessing and on the way back home, we were treated to XM radio (not bad!) and a nice solid sandwich/apple/cookie lunchbag. Once at the airport, we had a relatively quick rush to the busses and a full law enforcement escort to our release point. A couple hours of waiting for officals to arrive on site, a march into a gym, a formation, some speeches, and lots of cheering later, we were released from our tour of duty.

My parents had to travel down from their home a couple states away and they showed up, with a really old buddy of mine, after the festivities (most people dashed to the 4 winds). The trio picked me up and after a nice night in town, my family started it's the trip home along with the rest of my life.

I've more to relate in terms of my post-tour. I'll save that for my next post which will continue this weekend.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Last Adventure

Digging for truth

I was appointed last week to conduct a finiancial liability investigation for some "accountable gear" one of our subordinate units managed to lose a couple (7) months back.

When I got the word, I immediately thought "Alright! Now I can be like Vic Mackie from the Shield! I'll beat the truth out of them!"

We've been watching the Shield, at night, non-stop, for the past couple weeks.

I packed all my stuff for 2 days of travel into a backpack and caught a "Big bird" flight to one place.

When I got there I rounded up sworn statements from some "parties involved in the incident". I found out the other party was located in another place - I emailed the guy and he fired something back asking if I should speak with anyone else where I was...they gentlemen told me "nah, don't worry about it".

Remember this, "Keep your muzzle down"

I waited a day for a chin-hook flight. Had a pretty good time with the team I was staying with - late that night I managed to nab the flight I was keen on taking.

The flight crew was pretty aggressive. They were flipping people the finger for not falling into their respective places when we loaded the craft. I thought it was pretty funny until I was tapped on a shoulder to remind the captain next to me to point the muzzle of his A2 into the floor of the air craft.

Typically, people keep muzzles down in the event a round "goes off". Having a muzzle down for such an event tends to keep the propeller blades spinning and us from falling from the sky to our untimely doom.

After a little fuss, we managed to take off and I was amazed at how smooth the craft was moving. Given the time of day and the altitude it was friggin hot. Which came as quite a bit of a suprise to me.


I managed that night and 2 days in the location the gentleman I need to speak with was staying. I had problems getting a time together to meet up with him and when I did manage to meet the guy, he wrote a name in his statement for someone I didn't have a statement from...meaning, I had to fly back to my previous location and get a statement...Doah!

Back in the hot night skies

So, there I was waiting on another late night flight back to where I had "just come from". After about 3 hours on the flight line, hanging out with our property book officer - she had to go to some other place, and on the chopper waiting for take off, we flew back. I was smart this time and managed to bring water with me - though I downed the entire bottle in 5 minutes. The flight crew was more subdued. Which made for an uneventful, but hot, trip.


I made it back and the sergeant from the team I stayed with had only been holding out 15 minutes for me. He took me back to the house and after some talking about what happened with me, I passed out in their back room near a couple of our supply guys.

One of the woke me up while he was getting ready for breakfast and we nabbed an NTV in our PT's for breakfast, which turned out to be a "mighty tasteful one at that".

After getting a shower and changing back into my now super filthy uniform (I wasn't expecting a marathon mission), I claimed the final statement and tried scheduling a flight out of town - back to "office land".

From what the flight management teams were telling me, it was going to be about 2-3 days until I made it back to "office land".

I talked with the team leader about up and coming missions and he invited me to ride as an "extra gun" on a simple mission they had a following day.

We moved out really early and after the hottest and longest ride I'd been on this year, we made it to a compound and unloaded.

As we rolled back I noticed the places we drove through were more of the same scenery I've seen all year by plane and ground travel. Destitute towns and people huddled around small shopping areas in exceptionally hilly, and dare I say, mountainous, terrain.

We got a lot of smiles from kids and men as we quickly passed through a couple places that reminded me of strip malls. I did manage to catch 2 unveiled women, walking off through their morning routines. That seemed a bit bizarre considering the state and nature of female civil liberties and rights in this part of the world.

We made it back into the installation, cleared our weapons, and I moved out to grab the guys tacos from "the bell" on post. The night we watched The Meaning of Life, Brick, and The Inside Man. All great films.

The next day was a DONSA (day of no scheduled activities) and the guys worked on planning and reports for the following week.

I did a little bit of shopping at the local stores (keepsakes and cleaning supplies) and got my things ready for a flight. I was pulled over at breakfast for driving "5 miles over the speed limit".

Well, my vehicle is in kmph and the speed limit signs are in mph. Okay, so I should do the calculations in my head...well, at the time I was heading to breakfast and wasn't really paying attention to speed signs as I was going at (what I felt was) a pretty solid rate of speed.

I brought up the issue of meterics with the airforce MP and he told me kmph was posted...well as it turns out it is...on a sign the size of an index card! So they took my name and that was about it. I continued on my way slightly agitiated but, safety is a big deal - especially with my return home coming soon.

As it turns out the following morning I discovered there was another "Big bird" flight back to "office land".

The rest of the day there was a bit of "drama" - some feelings were hurt with a senior NCO at a local unit and after the fall out from that, they got me ready and I wheeled it out to the flight line.


At the flight line. I stowed my things and went over to hit up the restroom. As I walked to the door, a guy, struggling with his gear (looked like all new stuff, I figured he was new to town) looked at me, as I dropped my head to avoiding colliding with him, and yelled "TAYLOR!"

My eyes widened as I could recall the voice but not the name. The guy dropping his stuff had captains bars on and ran over to me. Lifting me up as he gave me a big bear hug of a crush with multiple pats on the back. It's been a long time since I've gotten this much of a greeting from someone I knew a couple years back!

"BENSUN! HEY-MAN!" was about all I could cough out of my lungs.

He gave me "the release" and we started chatting about his deployment and mine. I could tell the years had been great to him.

It's been about 4 since we last spoke. I grabbed his body armor as he shouldered his backpack and laptop bag, and a few minutes later I was in the parking lot sharing the past 4 years of travel and a little history about the AO.

The newly wed and I chatted for a bit about people we ran into from college and his last tour in Afghani-land.

I extended him all the courtesies I could come up with - which didn't amount to much more than promises to send him stuff from CONUS when I get back or to hook him up with the guys I knew in town.

It was great seeing him and it was good to know solid people like him were still working in the system.

I returned to the seating area and started working on my book The 10,000 when I heard another loud "TAYLOR!"

I looked up and saw Mass standing there sporting his body armor and boonie cap. I found out since he volunteered to extend his tour, they let him go to Qatar for a break.

We chatted about his trip, his extention, unit news, and exchanged our predictions for next year. I managed to find out he was planning to wrap up the next tour, go active and complete DS school. He figured it's in his best interest to wrap up the next 6 years full time since he's got 14 under the belt already.

An exchange of email addresses and hand shakes later, he was on the way back to his unit and I was getting all my gear on to catch my flight.

About 1 hour on the flight line later the plane was loaded and I was on the flight with a contractor - she was a bit peevish about the amount of time it took for them to load up the plane (we were wearing our body armor and she wasn't very comfortable with the situation).

I helped her adjust the k-pot she had loosely strapped on and after getting her armor in order, they had completed loading the "Big bird". We trudged up the ramp and after a quick nap, I was back in "office land".

I ran across two guys from my unit at the flight line and we walked to a bus station and caught a ride to our area. Apparently someone with a lot of rank took a vehicle to the gym at night...grrr.

The S1 NCOIC was still up working on NCO Evals and invited me to grab my mail. I told the SPC and SGT that rode the bus with me to tell the TOC guys we walked over here because we were "hardcore like that".

The joke wasn't missed on the SPC, he likes to make jokes about how tough he is in comparision to the other guys in the TOC. I remember him saying once, "CSM, when I grow up, I wanna be hard like you."

Office Land

My NCOIC was still up wrapping up his evening DVD when I stumbled into the office with all my junk on. He paused it and we chatted about the trip and what happened while I was out.

I went for my mail, got back in time for his movie to end and we both called it a night.

The Morning After

It was pretty much the same as always here. So, my last adventure in this country is over. Now the next plane I get on should be taking me home...


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Plague of...Crickets

Loctus's my @$$!

Lately there has been a dramatic increase in the cricket population. It's grown from zero to a nearly infinate size! These little buggers are jumping all over the place in swarms and the screeching of their legs is enough to drive someone to the edge of madness, as if you were trapped in some type of twisted-Lovecraftian-pulp-detective novel!

Witness the Fitness

When I first came back into town, there was a lock of fuss about a duatholon. Basically, you swim 1/2 a mile in the pool and then jump out and do a 3 mile race. I was feeling a bit of the old wheaties spirit coursing through my limbs, so I gave it a shot.

I found out that it was a really bad idea to try this whole thing out, especially since I managed to dork up my right ankle so much that I had to loosen of the laces to accomodate the swelling.

I gave it my all. I was passed 1 time in the pool and, I think, once or twice in the road race. After escaping the water, I was greeted street side to some very tight hamstrings and quadraceps. My legs didn't loosen up completely until I was about 900 meters from the finish line!

It was a pretty sad performance but considering this was my first time trying something like this, I did manage to finish the race.

On the subject of lovecraftian-frog-people

About 3 weeks later, I was invited to a 56 lap swim in honor of the lead life guard's birthday. Coincidentally, he recently turned...56! Mr. Pepper really seemed pumped about the whole thing, as this was his first time swimming that far ever. Well, that made two of us...

The idea seemed like bit much to bite down on, but I didn't have a lot going on that Sunday, so I figured "why not?". Well, that ended up being 2 miles of swimming and we were taking a relay approach. So, we would rotate strokes. I managed to swim my portion of the race. Swimming through 3 cramps in my calves and in the arches of my feet. That seemed like an unusual place to develop a cramp but, I was encouraged to slam about 2 bottles of gatorade every 10 laps.

By the end of the event, I was completely "tuckered out" and the next 2 days consisted of some severe muscle pain in my triceps.

End of the Line

There's been a lot of "drama" lately. A lot of senior types seem to be bumping heads over what I would consider trival things. It's probably not my place to speak these things before the entire world but, I guess we are getting near the end of this trek and attitudes, agendas, and politics are starting to wear thin. Not much time is left and I really hope there won't be a lot more of the "mid day soap theatrics". We have come to far, and considering I'm not a part of it I don't forsee any of it effecting me in a direct fashion.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Safety Comes in Cans

I Can

It's been quite some time since I last posted. I've been on leave and since my return to the job, I have been busy trying to line up things for our return trip home.

You Can

Going home, I managed to get stuck in Kuwait for 2 days and the flight itself was about a day to a day and a half. I was pretty stinky most of the time, I managed to pack away only 2 days of undergarments.

The first day was a lot of shuffling and baggage dropping - then waiting for the flight. We flew a C-17 down to k-town, the entire flight was in body armor. I was the only guy in my chalk sporting D.A.P.s on my IBA. Daps stink!

We finally made it into k-town in the afternoon (1300ish) - the bus ride was short. I nabbed a quick bite to eat at the local DFAC and returned for my paper work processing. Processing our 2 leave forms took all of 4 hours of time. We then turned in our armor to a storage facility and nabbed our housing assignments.

That night I ran over to the local MWR internet cafe. The guiding light to that facility was a huge McDonalds sign (in arabic), it was really weird seeing that display out in the middle of a make shift shopping area.

I wrapped up some email and waltzed over to the USO building on the installation. It was practically next door. Inside I was treated to a Ben & Jerry's-esque display. This place had a large wooden bus that was painted in 70's "hippy" stylings. The stylings included the ever-so-famous etchings of Greatful Dead Bears holding hands, frolicking across the neon green and purple trim. The manager for the site was a lady who worked behind this large deco of a by gone generation that served as her desk.

The USO offered video games, DSN phone access, desktop computer access and movie viewing stations. The entire place was very very relaxed. Some type of Yanni or Chanting music was rolling in the background. The furniture consisted of cushion cubes for sitting, soft floor matts were conveniently placed near the video game and movie stations.

After awhile, I slapped my boots back on (there was a no-boot policy in the building) and made my way back to the tent area.

We Can

The next morning, I was up early, grabbed breakfast and picked up a shaving kit. From there we had a "formation" and moved to the briefing tent for a days worth of briefs covering "what you can/can't take home" (don't bring weapons back), "how to re-integrate with your family", etc. That wrapped up around noon. I had lunch and then we formed up and moved through the customs system.

I spent a lot of time talking with a medical flight chief that works in an area where we have people stationed. I had a great conversation with him about his job and the demands/requirements that come with that territory.

It was tough for me to pull that off because I managed to lug 2 duffle bags full of stuff with my day pack that was loaded with books and things I wanted to leave at home.

After customs, we were placed in "lock down". Basically we were placed in a tented area that had access to a "Green Beans Coffee" cafe but all around us were retaining walls and barbed wire. The idea was to keep us isolated in order to prevent us from violating customs laws.

We did a role call, got onto our buses around 5 and then off loaded our busses because there was an inconsistancy with the role call. We did another and re loaded the busses. After a 3-4 hour long drive, we made it to the flight line, moved onto the plane. And did another role call on the flight.

At this point, I figured we were free and clear! I was sitting next to two marines that were taking up asile seats. We chatted about home. I recall one was from St. Louis and the other was from Indiana.

The guy from missouri was a vehicle driver and the other marine was a signal support guy (much like myself). We had a couple of great coversations about the differences between our organizations and I was amazed at how very similar they are in form and practice.

At this point a very attractive, blond, stewardess came by to pass us drinks and snacks.

The marines to my left...well, let's just say he thought she was attractive. In anycase, she came over to our section and I reached for my cup. Well, I managed to "fumble" for my cup and it dropped onto the marine's lap and then to the floor.

She made a statement to the effect of "Well, I'm not reaching for that!" So, he picked up the cup and I nabbed my share of drink and food.

Afterwards, the marines both looked over at me. The one on the right asile seat said to me, "Thanks sir! That was awesome!"

"I don't know what you mean?"
"Dude, that made my leave!"
"Oooooh, ok. Yeah, well what can I say? I do what I can for the enlisted folk."

The marine to my left chuckled a little bit, and mentioned that I needed to keep up the good work. Apparently, he picked just the right guy to sit next to on his way back.

I seriously didn't intend for all that to happen, and I felt pretty bad for those stewardices. Some of these guys were acting like total dogs!

Just when I thought I was on easy street

We were on that plane for 6 hours before we were told the commercial airliner was experiencing "technical problems". Basically, the "reverse thurster indicator" was on when it wasn't supposed to, we off loaded the plane, stumbled on to the busses and returned to our lock down site after another 3-4 hour long drive.

It was about 7 in the morning when we came back. We were released to get cleaned up and I shuffled over to the little PX to pick up more shaving supplies.

After cleaning up, I went back to the DFAC where I caught up with one of my 1SG's. We grabbed a quick breakfast and then hussled over to the lock down area.

The entire day was spent in lock down watching movies on tv and trying to catch up on sleep. For some reason, I was completely exhausted and faded into and out of my book.

By night fall, we reloaded onto the buses, and rolled to the airport. A quick pit stop later, we were on a different air liner and we were on our way home. These stewardices were a little older and for some reason they kept bungling up the head count.

I was sitting near a NCO that helped me a couple months back schedule flights to a place I was visiting. He looked at me and said, "Get on it LT!"

I guess he could tell from my facial expressions that I had enough of it. So, I stood up and tried to talk the stewardess into letting us take care of the head count. She insisted they manage that and it was suggested I take a seat...

Downtrodden, I stuffed myself back into my chair. I was sitting next to 2 other guys that were pretty buff. The flight home was uncomfortable to say the least.

When we got into the skies above k-town, everyone let out a cheer and we made a stop in Ireland to refuel.

I had to run through customs again once we hit Atlanta, and with 15 minutes to spare, I made my way through security, customs, etc and made it to my flight. I was running through crowds of people, doing the old "Duck, Dodge, Dive, and Duck!"

On my flight, a lot of people picked up on where I was returning from. I was offered a 1st class seat (which I turned down) and the lady next to me spent the entire 1-2 hour flight asking me questions.

In VA, I picked up all but 1 bag and called my mom. She was hussling over to the airport. While she was on her way, I went to the delta desk to ask about getting my other bag shipped to my parents place.

That took a bit of time and as I made my way back to the empty baggage claim I saw my mom crying her eyes out. She had been looking for me and was worried I was at a different airport. I gave her a big hug and tried to calm her nerves when some woman came by and with a very serious tone said, "You stay safe over there!"

Home Again, Soon Enough I'll be on the Road Again

My parents took me out to a couple of movies. I picked up some clothes and spent most of my time just trying to decompress.

Every morning I would spend walking with my mother and we would usually spend time out nabbing lunch at a new paneras up by the local university.

I was able to catch "superman" with my dad and we went to see the new "pirate" flick the day before I came back this way.

All-in-all, leave was pretty nice. I lot of people asked me if it was surreal. Considering my job is probably not the most dangerous thing you could do, especially if all I have to concern myself with is a random mortar striking near me, all I could really say is "not really".

I've also spent the past 3 years traveling to and from the middle east, so for me, this is almost business as usual. Even the impact of seeing the trees and the lushness of east coast vegitation wasn't as much of a shock as my first time back from S.A. to Georgia.

I managed 2 weeks at home, spending time with my parents, I managed to attend a great wedding, went to D.C., research the cost of scuba equipment, and I made a couple of purchases (books, video games, and music) for my remaining time here.

The wedding was excellent! It was a very interesting event, as it was a Jewish ceremony. I finally managed to meet all of the people that couple had mentioned in previous conversations and I even managed a dance or two with a Miss Ohio.

My sister was up in DC, she held a 4th of July party for myself and some friends. I brought up drinks, a grill, music, and a stereo - she's got a great apartment - we spent the first day prepping for the party and the next day walking around DC before the fireworks display on the 4th. The party was a big success - we held it on the roof tops.

Some of her friends came by and we watched fireworks with most of the apartment residents on the roof top - the explosions echoing through out the DC skyline was a little unnerving for me and while I enjoyed the display, it seemed as though the sounds were punctuating that I was going to be returning to my "other home" with in 3 days.

When those days burned out, I was saying good byes and back on a plane. I spent 1 day in Atlanta. Where I ran into the NCO that helped me line up flights over here. We chatted a bit, and ended up watching episodes of "the shield" and "smallville".

After doing another customs/security run, we were back on a flight and after another short stay in Germany, I was in Kuwait for 1 day. After getting my body armor and my temporary tent assignment, early that morning, I was back in line and waiting on my flight to my area of assignment.

One particularly long flight later, I was back in Iraq waiting to pick up my back pack and the bus to take me to my office/trailer area.

So, that was leave.

In a day or so, I'll comment on my time back here! Later and thanks for reading!


Monday, May 29, 2006

As the heat rises so do our spirits

Team Porky

The base I'm stationed at held a marathon race about a week ago. I found out about this event from the duatholon event and I became inspired to share this experience with some of my fellow soldiers at headquaters. After messing with Mr. McMuffin about how he was going to be on the team, I managed to draw together 12 people for two marathon teams.

I had a rough weekend to say the least. Prior to turning in for the night, I requested a soldier on the night shift to wake me up at the crack of dawn to prepare for this race.

That night I managed about 4 hours of sleep but, as it turns out, the solider kept to my request and I was up before the sun.

I made it to the competition about 5 minutes before they started letting teams an individuals sign up for the event. No one I knew showed up for forty some odd minutes.

When they did arrive, only three soldiers from my unit showed up and we were able to pick up another two from a swimming group that I am now share membership in.

I ran leg 4 and, to be quite frank, my legs were very tight up and until the 3rd mile of my 4.something-or-other leg of the race. Hearing encouragement like "way to go man, you've got 2 more hours left!" did do much for my motivational level but, we did finish the race and I was pretty excited with the experience.

I managed a photo after our teams run and a t-shirt.

Pre PT Test Run

We were warned about 4 months ago that we would have to run as a group three times before our PT test. No one thought that our leadership would wait until the week of the PT test to call us out.

The first run was a distance event, which wasn't too horrible. Two something miles. No sweat.

The second event was for "speed". That consisted of eight laps around the local track/field and then a 100 meter dash resulting in one casualty.

After the eight laps, our leadership said something about how we'll be doing 100 meter dashes until someone beats him. Needless to say that the "speed" training he had been doing for the past couple months wasn't enough to withstand the speed of one officer in our group. So, we did one of those but, not before our fifty-something supply officer tore his calf muscle after 6 paces down the run-way.

After completing that we did some stair sprints and everyone vanished from the scene. Our supply guy was hobbling his way to the medical clinic and I was a bit ashamed that no one was helping the poor guy. So, I joined him in his waltz and managed to get both a vehicle for him and breakfast.

The Mourning Of...

I spent the rest of the week swimming with my new "collective". I managed to survive about 3 workouts with them, one of which was a very humbling experience.

We held our fitness test and I managed to do exceptionally well on all events. One soldier was pacing off me in the run and managed to pass me at the last 200 meter marker bringing me to "second place" in the run.

I was humbled again to find out that I've only maintained my weight and I've yet to actually drop the pounds I've spent the past couple months working so hard to lose. It's obnoxious. I've altered my diet and I've increased my exericse - even cut back on serious weight training - only to find that I'm "stuck".

In any event, the chaplain approached me after the fitness test and convinced me that running a 5K road race about an hour after the fitness test was a great idea! So, I nabbed about ten bucks for registration and we knocked out the 5K. The registration fee was to support a YMCA back in Oklahoma.

Slow Daze

It's been very slow out here this week. Not much expectation wise besides running coax-cable into a bunch of buildings for AFN television service. I met with some people conducting the installation project on post and will be attending a meeting with them sometime soon. I hope it's worth while.

The heat is picking up to 106F-110F daily now. The nights cool off to a balmy 80F. You feel the heat coming off of every surface. The day time heat is oppressive and sweating out the litres of water consumed in doors is not a problem. The nights are steamy and usually at 4-5 am, things are back to "normal", preparing to cook for the next day.

We've had a couple of power issues but, new gear has come into town so, that's no longer an issue.

I've about 2-3 weeks until I go home on R&R. I'm pretty excited, to get the heck out of here for a little while, even if it's for two weeks.

Well, time to return to the grind.


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Post Haste

Today is my birthday. I've managed my third birthday away from the country that I call home. I decided to do something interesting for this day.

Typically, my coworkers would have a special cake prepared for me and we would drink what passes for real beer in this part of the world. Distilled near beer, gratis French or British contractors.

It's a harh drink. Requiring a type of patience...or desperation...not normally witnessed in America. Men do strange things when they are far from home and in pursuit of a cheap buzz.

Unfortunately, General Order No 1. states that, as a soldier, I am not permitted to partake in distilled alcoholic beverages. I'll have to settle for O'Douls.

In the past, I was exempt from this policy due to my contractor status. In any event, I heard there was a "duatholon" to take place a day or so prior to my birthday.

This event entails an 800 meter swim and a 10k run. A captain in headquaters mentioned doing a team version of this contest and he needed a runner.

At the time, I was thinking "What the heck! I used to do 5 miles a day in high school and 4-13 a day my junior year of college!" - has been almost 4 years since my junior year of college.

The Rat Race

The race started off with the captain completing his 800 meter swim in, roughly, 12 minutes. I waited his finish at the starting line for the run...two gentlemen passed me as I stalled for the captain.

He appeared, tagged my hand, and with a loud hollar, I sprinted off after the two men who were, quickly, leaving me in the dust.

I passed the first one at the half mile marker. He looked to be in his fifties. I later discovered he was 53. This guy was in superb shape and as I passed him, it would anchor my pace and place in the race.

So I thought.

The man in the lead was a exceptionally lean individual who, by the end of the race, would have a whole 10 minutes on me.

I kept, what felt like, a good pace. By the mid-point of the run, a lady about my age passed me with a strength and confidence that told me she wasn't giving an all out effort and was saving her energy for this last half of the race.

She would have a good 400 meters on me by the time I finished.

My final time was a rough, 47 minutes and we completed the event in just over an hour and 4 minutes.

Keep in mind, we were the only team effort in the event. Making us first place for the team competition and 4th in the real race...if you counted us as contestants.

I was shocked at the atheletism displayed by the top three competitors. These people swam 800 meters and ran t0k (~6 miles) in less time than it took me to run my part of the race.

Oh the Pain!

I'm now writing this journal log and my legs are exceptionally tight. I stretch them every 30 minutes or so but there is some pain in my mid and lower back (poor posture, running long distances always corrects that for me), my quads burn near my knees, and behind my legs by the ham strings, there's a deep muscular pain.

I've learned a valuable lesson from that race. Treadmills and lunges can get you far but...sometimes not far enough.

It was a refreshing way to celebrate my birthday and I plan to spend more time at home training and participating in this type of contest.


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Have radio? Will travel...

I've spent about a two weeks getting back into the groove of life at the big FOB. Fobbit life takes a little adjustment. Especially when you've been traveling as I have for the past three or so weeks. I had a pretty incredible experiences, some I will definately note forget.

My first week out took me to another super FOB. At this location I was helping out some people and attempting to get a very complicated radio system functional. I ran into a couple of problems as each and every possible variable involved in this setup went wrong.

The result involved my having to take an additional convoy to a location that is now...relocating. This mighty effort to gather up crypto that expired ended up being more pointless as the very keys I was collecting expired again.

Upon my return from this convoy, the officer in charge of this group recommended I take a break from this problem and collect the final components, at another location further north, and get them shipped back so I could reach completion with the task at hand. The idea was that the relocation would be completed and I could score some serious points for the team.

It took us roughly a week to leave the FOB. It appeared that every possible flight north was cancelled for rough weather or low visibility. This situation only solidified my personal opinion that the crashes from this past winter have significantly impacted FOB travel.

That week was a bit rough, I couldn't get access to a good laundry facility so I ran around "stinky mcgee". Catching up on my recreational reading as the hours tolled onward.

I did manage to complete some tasks for the group which was just a fraction of my inital plan. They recently had some new personnel move from another location and I assisted with some additional communications problems they were facing.

Eventually, the OIC and myself made it up north. It was a series of hops in a chopper - an experience I've had many times before but this was more unique for a number of reasons I can't really get into in this particular forum.

The Monkey House

At the end of our trip, we were welcomed into the "Monkey House". The soldiers staying there offered us a "stinky room" to stay in - they managed to be assigned an old office building and each soldier had his own room that would be about two to three times the size of my trailer.

The "stinky room" managed to get the better of me, and I moved to a couch that was in the living area these soldiers shared.

They had incredible access to AFN and the local FOB was running a streaming movie and music server off the network that tied into a closed circuit tv station. So, all day, every day, movies were playing in a very large rotation.

My nights on the couch were more comfortable than the one evening in the stinky room, but the mosquito bites that would great me in the morning probably weren't worth it.

I was encouraged to take up a bed in local soldiers room as he was on leave and not making use of the space.

I gathered my equipment together. The weight of this freight was roughly 350 pounds and my new quest to leave that FOB began. I was unsuccessfull for a week.

During this time, I did manage to find my way on to a couple of convoys in the area. It would be the second time I was off FOB during this tour. The invitation was extended to me more for a force protection issue than anything else - I was to take the place of the soldier on leave.

The missions I joined were very refreshing experiences and reminded me of how much I took my civilian job for granted - in the civilian world, I sometimes conduct international travel and the restrictions imposed upon my work team are almost non-existant.

I had have the opportunity to witness a religious gathering and it was very...unique. To put it lightly. I did manage to run security for another mission and I received a lot of positive feedback from the soldiers I was working with regarding my planning, briefing of the plan, and execution of the duty.

Each day I would wake up, check the flight scheduling, make a series of phone call rounds to every available form of air travel with out success.

I finally managed a sherpa flight gratis a Citadel alumni. It's amazing how far the South Carolina connection can take you.

My flight took me back to the FOB where I'm normally stationed and I was a very hesitant to return, I had a suspicion that if I came back now, even for a pit stop, my superiors would cancel the rest of my mission out of annoyance for the amount of time it was taking.

I spoke with the OIC I traveled up there with about the situation and came to the conclusion that I would have to take the flight - it was the best I could do.

Back in town for just one night...yeah right!

The sherpa flight was spectacular! Unfortunately, another officer on the flight had a serious case of motion sickness and spent most of the flight with his mouth in an air sickness bag.

When we landed, I notified my superiors that I was in town and in thirty minutes I was back in the old office.

My superior held a meeting with me, during which I became painfully aware that my emails regarding the situation I was facing with this mission were not being read throughly. This was a bit obnoxious because it was mandated I make this trip and it was mandated I see it through to completion.

The course of the conversation developed into my worst fear and as it happens a VIP was due into our area and I had to be there for the visit. To hell with the mission!

As it turns out the visit was cancelled two days later and the last leg of my flight, the one that I fought so hard to get, was long gone.

So, I was stuck at my main post. Mission incomplete. It was a bit of downer considering I had placed so much energy and time into this trip.

We were able to get a soldier back this way to pick up the remainder of the gear and my section trained him on the appropriate skills and tasks needed to operate the equipment. He should be ready but, support up at this location is very mediocre and I fear it won't happen cleanly.

By the time we had the soldier coming down to my location for training, my superior told me I could continue my travel but I had to be back for any other up and coming VIP visits. When I inquired about when that would occur, I was told that "we don't know but you have to be back for it".

With that type of constraint placed upon my ability to travel, I thought it nearly impossible to accomplish my mission and I was glad that we had a soldier making his way to our locale to complete what I had started.