Saturday, October 2, 2010

October is a Lie!

I woke up yesterday and realized it was the first day of October. At least that's what my calendar said. I don't believe it.

October is supposed to be cold. The leaves are supposed to have changed/are changing colors. The air has a bite. Football is always on.

Here, there's no football, the leaves are still green (well, some are a little dark, but that's just because they've been burnt to a crisp out in the sun) and it's still triple digit temperatures.

I can't tell that anything has changed - ok, the temperature isn't 130, but it's still up there. There's no real discernable difference. I keep crossing off days, I keep flipping calendar pages, but I don't really know that time is actually moving. Folks at home tell me that it is - I know that school let out for the summer, and I heard about the summer vacations, I know that kids are back in school, and I know that some folks already have the fires burning at night. But I feel like the universe is just playing a big practical joke on me. I feel like I'm going to wake up one morning and find out that it's really the middle of July and everyone's going to be laughing at me. I wouldn't know the difference...
But if it's true, then: Welcome, October. Since you are my last full month here, you are indeed a welcome sight.

In other news, I was able to meet Randy Johnson, Dennis Haysbert, and Robert Patrick earlier this week. For those you don't know, Randy Johnson played in the MLB for 22 years and was known for 1) his height, 2) his gross mustache, and 3) his intimidating fastball. And it's all true. Well, I guess I didn't really see him throw a baseball, but I was intimidated when he was just standing there. He could have tossed a gumball to me and I probably would have dropped to the ground.
Dennis Haysbert has the voice that soothes (he's the guy from the Allstate commercials, as well as the tv show The Unit). I could have listened to him talk all day... But since all he said to me was "hi" it would have just been weird to stand there and keep listening.
Probably the least known is Robert Patrick, at least for me. He's also on the tv show The Unit and has made a career for himself playing the villain (he was T-1000 in Terminator 2 - others who have seen that movie probably know him better than I do). But I'll tell you what, he was the nicest of the three. He seemed genuinely happy to be there and was chatty when the other guys weren't. Not that I'm complaining - they spend days and days just standing around, shaking hands, getting their pictures taken - I appreciate it. But he just seemed really glad to be there. And we were happy to have them.

Just some guys, hanging out.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Birthday, a Going Away and a Cloudy Day

The past few days sure have been a whirlwind of excitment!

Saturday was the 63rd Birthday of the United States Air Force. I knew it was going to be Great Air Force Day when I woke up and there were clouds in the sky. Not dust, not smoke, not haze, not smog. Oh, and not just a blinding sun, beating down, with no relief.


Ahhh, clouds.

I want you to know that each picture takes about 10 minutes to upload over here. That's how happy I was to see clouds (for the first time in about 4 months) - it was worth waiting for three pictures!

The day continued with a celebration of all things Air Force. Ok, that's a little bit of a stretch. I'm surrounding by Army, so it was less of a "celebration" and more of a shrug of the shoulders (let's not forget, when it was the Army's birthday they had cake and birthday plates, and even allowed the soldiers to have 2 beers in celebration). And it was less "all things Air Force" and more - well, cake.

I've been trying to eat healthy lately, and generally avoid dessert, but I bend the rules a little bit for a birthday. I know that looks like a shout-out to my mom, but that's actually my slice of AF heaven.

To tell the truth, it hasn't been that hard avoiding dessert - they've been serving leftover Army Birthday cake for about 3 months now...
And to throw this in real quick - pictures from the Army JAG Corps Birthday celebration from July:

The Cake (with Iraqi icing decoration)

The Obligatory Chair Picture

On Saturday night, we also said goodbye to a JAG friend. She arrived a couple of months prior to us, so she gets to leave a couple of months prior (I hope everyone followed that logic). We found a bowling alley on base and went out for bowling and pizza. Wouldn't you know it, bowling was so much fun that we only got a few shots...

Strike that (get it - that's an attorney AND bowling joke), we only got one picture - it's hard when the lights are crazy. But look at that form - and look at the AF logo glow. Can't miss us in the dark!

But an even more important event has occurred (is occurring?) - today, Anna turns... Well, it's not like she's old, but I don't know if I'm supposed to say just how old. Let's just say, I saw a card that said it's the 'new 30'. But that card might have been a little messed up. Anyway, today is Anna's birthday and I'm obviously unable to be there. So instead of sending a bunch of lame presents (oh, wait, did that) or lame ecards (check) or a dumb Facebook wall post (uh, yeah) I offer a simple thought:

Yeah, we got a little carried away with the markers...

Thursday, September 9, 2010


Scouting. I remember it fondly. I remember working for the badges. I remember being impressed with how much my dad (usually Troop Leader, always heavily involved) knew about everything in the world. I remember the camping trips, the campfires, and just enjoying the outdoors. I remember the organization and how everything just flowed smoothly.

Well, for the past few months I've been able to volunteer for a Scouting program here in Iraq. It's for boys and girls ages: very small to pretty tall (I'm not good with guessing ages of kids of any ethnicity). A few years ago a soldier thought it would be a good idea to create a Scouting program for the kids here - we're currently working on turning it over to the Iraqis, but as with everything (including the gov't that's still being set-up), the turn over is slow.

And it's NOTHING like what I experienced growing up. But it's Iraq, and things are simply different here. I think it's a great opportunity for the kids to get away from it all. It's not easy living here for 6 months, I can't imagine what it would be like to grow up in a third world country. So, we give them an outlet.

The night begins by getting the kids to flagpoles. This generally includes a lot of whistle blowing and yelling "Yella!" to the kids (that's Arabic for "hurry!"). Since I have a dedicated terp, I've been able to take my game to the next level. I'm often found telling the kids "Im-she" which technically means "walk" but I think roughly translates to "get your butt in gear." I'm so native.

Once rounded up, the children are in charge of raising the center flag and then they repeat/scream their national anthem/saying (is it an "anthem" if they don't sing it?). We clap for them and then follow with our National Anthem. They clap for us and then run off.

The kids are usually split up by gender and then by age group. But that usually only lasts for about a half an hour - after that all sense of organization disappears and it's just time for the kids to have fun. Before that chaos, some groups will head off to play sports (Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, etc.), others will head to the Chess Tent (to, well, learn and play Chess), while others will go to the tents to do a project/learn something. Sensitive to the local customs, I usually end up helping the young boys. And each week I regret that decision. They're fun, but very... energetic. We start off with a project and then the volunteers spend the next 18 hours (ok, it's only 25 minutes, but with all those kids it sure feels like a long time) trying to keep the kids focused.

For example:

Here are some kids working hard:

While this kid tries to hit me in the head with a frisbee:

We're currently learning about planets. Last week we inflated plastic planets and the rotated and revolved around the sun. Teaching the kids about the planets is hard when you speak the language, but it's extremely difficult when you don't speak their language. Oh, and when the terp isn't nearby. I guess my "hurry" and "walk" knowledge only gets me so far. I'm not a native.

But the kids liked rotating and they liked revolving, so that was good enough for me. You can see how excited they were:

Ok, that's not fair. He actually was really excited, and enjoyed the exercise, he was being told to give his moon back. Oddly enough, he didn't want Venus (is that what I'm holding?), just wanted the moon.

Other than the planet fun we've been having, we've also made masks:

Had handstand contests:

Did jump rope push-ups:

Ok, the kids just did regular jump rope...
And (thankfully) just chilled.

I'm not sure if this all "works" but it sure is a lot of work. And enjoyed by all.

Friday, August 27, 2010

When the Wind Blows

When the wing blows in Iraq, it's like trying to breathe with a hair dryer on high blowing right into your face.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Keep on Truckin'

So, a few folks have asked me about the vehicle I'm driving to and fro (yes, "fro") work. I've actually enjoyed the images they've presented me. Anything from a dinky little pick-up, to a Humvee, and to what I think amounted to a semi-truck. Well, none of them are completely accurate. Especially because I've had a variety of conveyances. And like so many things in Iraq, only the pictures do them justice.

Here's my first whip, The Digger. I don't know how it picked up that moniker - I have a few guesses, but would rather not submit them for the world to see.

It was a smooth ride - good transmission, but little to no a/c. The folks in the front seat got their fair share, but only room for 2. Any more than that and you had to crawl into the back. There was a bench that ran the length of the truck, but its cushions never made up for the heat in the back...

After a few weeks, I was allowed to upgrade to the Turtle. Now, this nickname I get. And I hope it's not too hard for you...

Do not ask me why it was painted like that. She performed well - decent a/c but not too trustworthy of a transmission. So, they gave me another upgrade, and another wacky paint job. I give you the Cow (and no, this isn't just the same truck with a different color scheme - they actually had two trucks painted like this). Can you tell how proud of her I was?

The cow was a mix of the first two trucks - it had neither good a/c nor a good transmission. She got me where I needed to go, but she handled like a bovine and put out about as much methane. I was happy to have her, but I was happier when I heard I was going to get upgraded with a "professional" paint job. I guess the boss's boss wasn't too impressed with his troops driving around in a cow and asked Motor Pool to give it a less embarassing paint job. I was told it was going to be blue (I think in honor of Air Force), but one of the painters must have been colorblind and I'm now driving a purple grape around town. Not regal purple, more Barney purple. I'm told that when a new shipment of paint comes in, they'll give me that professional paint job I'm waiting for - until then I'm the operator of happiest bus in the world

(this is how I imagine people see my truck when I drive by...)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

All Gummed Up

My friends -

Thanks to each and every one of you who has sent me a package. I can't tell you how exciting it is to receive a new surprise in the mail. I tear at the box and relish everything that is sent to me!

I'm never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I'm certainly NOT complaining, but I thought y'all would appreciate my gum collection. I have many goals while I'm over here. 1) Don't go crazy. 2) Fix the legal process for the entire country. And my newest, and maybe most daunting goal: 3) Enjoy every piece of gum that I've received so far.

Sorry, jaws...

Speaking of packages, we had our first failure a couple of weeks ago. A well intended glass jar of salsa broke and its contents spilled out onto the rest of the package - there's a disagreement as to the "how." One argues that it was due to the heat while the other contends that it was probably due to the rough handling in transit. No matter how it happened, the salsa got to cook in the heat for a fair amount of time. It's too bad the smell can't be captured in the pictures...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deployment Doldrums

During the time away, I passed the my two-months in theater mark (and am creeping awfully close to the 2.5 mark). It came and went without any hurrah. We're in the doldrums of the deployment. I've been here long enough that the excitement is gone. I've been here long enough that nothing really surprises me anymore, but not long enough that I can think about going home. I wouldn't call it mundane, but it's become repetitive - my own Groundhog's Day. I wake up and see the same bright sun in the cloudless sky. I feel the same heat (although after a respectable June, it heated up quickly in July. I drive the same truck, to the same office, I eat the same food. And sadly, I seem to be spinning my wheels in the same Iraqi ruts (figuratively, not literally).

But do not despair, my fellow JAG personnel and I have devised a way to keep things moving. Ok, I devised a way and I'm dragging them along with me. We've created themes for each day. Monday: Movie Monday. Tuesday: Table Tennis Tuesday. Wednesday: Breakfast with Joe. Thursday: Take-out Thursday. Friday: Fast food Friday. Saturday: Sather/Stryker Saturday. Sunday: Ice Cream Sundays!

I wouldn't say that we're really committed to this entire schedule, but at least it gives us something different. For example, we've NEVER done Table Tennis Tuesday, but every Tuesday we talk about it. Something new to think about. And we've only watched one movie together on Monday. Although this one might pick up as we increase our movie selections.

Our favorites are Wed, Fri, and Sun. Joe is my terp; he has been over here for over a year and dreams of returning to the states to start a restaurant. To pass the time, he cooks out of his CHU. It's amazing the types of food he can create with a microwave. Dolmas, hummus, tabouli, and all kinds of other exotic foods that are created with I-don't-know. Every Wed morning we get together to sample Joe's weekly fare. I keep hoping it'll turn into a Tuesdays with Morrie deal, but I think Joe is too sarcastic for me to find any material. Unless you might think people want to read his response when I asked him to impart upon me some wisdom he's gathered over the years of living in so many different places: "Capt M, I don't think, I just translate the brilliant things you have to say."

On Friday, we all order fast food type food at the DFAC (dining facility). We're all trying to eat healthy over here (some more than others), so Friday is our day to pick up a burger, corn dog, french fries, etc. from the line. Thursdays aren't really "take out" as much as "go out" Thursdays. There are a few restaurants around VBC that we're going to start hitting up when we run out of patience with the DFAC - that includes some local fare, but also the BKs, Popeyes, Subways, etc. that are on base. It's just nice to have something different.

Sather/Stryker are two other bases contained on VBC. I have to work by them, so I try to make the other 2 leave the comfort of RPC and join me. It hasn't happened very often. The other JAG here is trying to turn Saturday into "Soft Serve Saturdays" and I'm not sure if it's because he likes soft serve that much or hates going to Sather/Stryker that much.

And finally - the absolute favorite - Ice Cream Sunday. As I've said, we're trying to eat healthy, but there's always free Blue Bell ice cream! For the first few weeks we were all eating it every other day or so. Probably not the best way to do things - so in an effort to cut down on the bad habits as well as to celebrate another week gone by, we (I) limit ourselves to ice cream only on Sundays. I'm really the only one truly committed to the principle, but the others are pretty good at limiting themselves. I really think it helps the week go by a little faster, and I know that I get really excited for the indulgence on Sunday - I think it even helps the ice cream taste better.

In a fit of perfect serendipity, my paralegal's birthday was last Sunday. We decorated the office with supplies sent over by her husband and celebrated with a DFAC dinner on "Happy Birthday" plates and ice cream for dessert. Here's a picture of her blowing out her "candle"

And the card I got her. They didn't have a "Happy Birthday to my Paralegal" card at the PX so I improvised: