Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Down to Single Digits!!

Thirty things I'll miss about Iraq...


  1. Omnipresent aerostat balloon watching over me.

  2. Free food.

  3. Free gas.

  4. Free laundry.

  5. Wearing body armor = free exercise.

  6. Walking everywhere = free exercise.

  7. Running for bunker = free exercise.

  8. No cooking.

  9. No cleaning.

  10. No utility bills.

  11. No cell phone.

  12. No commercials on TV – and the military infomercials are so entertaining.

  13. No grocery shopping or trips to the mall.

  14. No yard work.

  15. No pesky “What will I wear this weekend?” dilemmas.

  16. Every volleyball court is a sand volleyball court.

  17. Bronchial rattle of hooch air conditioner comforting, reassuring.

  18. Two guns and a knife make me feel like a bad-a*s.

  19. The Gator.

  20. The bat house.

  21. Random weirdness, such as abandoned open box of Q-tips at bus stop.

  22. That fresh bubble gum smell of a clean port-a-john.

  23. Cha Cha wetting his pants.

  24. Bugging the engineers.

  25. “Jambo jambo!”

  26. Can always depend on a good giggle from Australian uniform “camouflage” (It has lavender hearts, I’m not kidding)

  27. World’s most beautiful palm trees.

  28. Bird song saturating the hot mid-morning air.

  29. Feeling of contributing to history.

  30. The friends I’ve made.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Nuclear Fallout Day


I awake with a start when my roommate, Mouth, taps me on the shoulder.

“It’s Nuclear Fallout Day,” she says.
Shuffling to the trailer that’s our neighborhood’s collective female bathroom, I see what she means. It’s going to be one of those dusty, hazy days. The dust doesn’t whip around and pelt you, they way you would expect, the way it did in Kuwait. Here, it just settles in thickly. My boss calls it “Dirt Fog.”

Mouth slips eye-drops into her pocket as we shut the door to begin our 20-minute walk.

By the time we make it to work, my front teeth are gritty. The mosque across the street seems like it has a curtain of dust hanging in front of it. Some people are walking around with surgical masks, balaclavas, or even t-shirts over their faces. Inside, I rejoice that a group care package has a few toothbrushes left.


We have it easy, working in a building most of the day. I feel for the folks who will be out in the dirt fog all day, like the ECP guards.


Late afternoon is deep orange, like in the movie Total Recall. It’s eerie and indescribable. The mosque is now completely obscured. Our faces and eyelashes are coated with a light layer of dirt. Several of us drive to the next FOB over and visibility is about 100 feet. The lakes, chalets, and the palace that define this FOB are invisible. Vehicles have their lights on.


Here's the mosque across the street on a normal day:

The mosque on the morning of Nuclear Fallout Day:Here's the same view of the mosque on the afternoon of Nuclear Fallout Day:And we all feel it, the trepidation.

IDF (indirect fire -- mortars & rockets)) usually comes on days like this.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Update

Dear Gentlereader,

It’s important to realize that not only does the Pecanbon product feature a generous topping of chopped pecans, but an extra layer of caramel goo, slathered right on top of the classic whitish Cinnabon goo! This is critical information when deciding how to celebrate a promotion in absence of alcohol.

Calories in Pecanbon roll:

Fresh-baked cinnamon roll topped with pecans and smothered in sweet caramel frosting

Manufactured by Cinnabon

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 roll

Amount Per Serving
Calories 1100
Calories from Fat 504
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 56.0g 86%

* Based on a 2000 calorie diet


The regular Cinnabon is also scrumptious, of course, and has a mere 730 calories; it’s practically diet food.

These vital stats have come to my recent attention here in Iraq. It’s a strange place; indoor plumbing is a rarity, but you can get Cinnabon.

A quick update: I’ve moved to a new job teaching people who do my old job. (My new office building, a Saddam-era bungalow, has indoor plumbing.) I’m really enjoying this new job! I have always found reward in teaching. Plus, I’m back amongst my shipmates, at the heart of this organization. In a way, it’s like “coming home” to the Navy. The casual observer, upon entering the building, may not realize he is among sea-farers in Army uniforms. But, certain subtle design elements of the d├ęcor hint “nautical”:


It’s springtime in Iraq, and the birds are singing and nesting. One species, the ring-neck turtle dove, is especially familiar and even comforting because my family used to keep them as pets. They coo differently here, though. I guess they coo in Arabic.

This pair decided our building’s overhang was ideal for a nest. Here’s Mama Dove looking down from the nest while Papa Dove keeps guard against weird chicks wearing camouflage.

Not all is Cinnabon, Sailors and doves, however. One afternoon the sky darkened, and everything turned orange – a stand storm. Thankfully there wasn’t much blowing sand like there had been in Kuwait and I’m sure there was in other parts of Iraq that day. It’s hard to describe what it’s like in a sand storm, but here is a picture of a nearby Mosque on a normal day and during the sand storm.


Also, I have a new plant, and I would appreciate suggestions for a name. Poor Spike has gone to the Big Greenhouse in the Sky, but this new one seems hardier. Thanks, Mom, for finding ways to bring green into my life.

On a last note, I have a request. Please read this article – it’s imperative.
You’ll see why. It is of much greater consequence than most “news” reported daily and far more important than anything I have to say. Note the difference between the terms “link” (could be financial, providing sanctuary, etc.) and “operational link.”

http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/014/889pvpxc.asp

Keep the troops in your prayers!
-Toonces

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

And Monkeys Might Fly Out of My…..

Assimilating into the Army has at times been hard.

Some days I truly feel like a squid out of water. Everything is new: acronyms, jargon, tempo, phone etiquette, unit organization, staff culture, acceptable jokes, the system itself. Anyone who has ever been a guest in someone else’s system can relate to how hard it can be to get things done. The division of labor among the battalion staff members is similar to the Navy’s, and just different enough to screw me up. The S-3 is kind of like a Squadron OpsO, but there’s nothing equivalent to a FRAGO in a squadron. The XO is an XO, but is also the head Maintenance Officer. The S-1 and S-2 are junior to the S-3. The S-6 is one of the most junior officers, but has about 15 people that work for him.

Having said all that, my Army comrades have been accommodating and forgiving of my blunders, and patiently answer my bewildered questions, such as, “Where is the convoy schedule?” (There isn’t one) and “What does ‘scunion’ mean?” (Still don’t know). They don’t really know what I do. Maybe that’s good because it’s less they have to worry about. I prefer to work behind the scenes anyway.

But it can all be isolating. After all, not only am I the weird Navy chick, I’m also the New Guy.

Forever.


And as the New Guy, I should not be surprised to find this affixed to the back of my IBA:
Ha ha, guys. As payback, you can clean my musket, because I suck at that.

So what does this have to do with monkeys? Well, nothing makes a person feel more remembered, loved, connected and anchored to reality than mail from home! Thank you to everyone who has blessed me with care packages, letters, and emails. They really help. I am really lucky to have such caring friends and family.

One particularly blog-worthy presento came from a good friend of mine who was also a Navy IA in Iraq. (Sherm, they still talk about you.)

He knew just what to send: A Handheld Flying Monkey Launcher!!!!





-Toonces

Friday, December 21, 2007

Music, Girls, Jokes

The EWOs who went before me said the experience would give me a sense of accomplishment.

They were right. This year, for the first time ever, I got all my Christmas shopping and mailing done early.

For you poor souls who must battle the malls, I feel for you. I honestly would rather be in Iraq than the local Best Buy parking lot.

We’re getting into the Christmas spirit here. We’re having a cold snap this week, and folks are walking around in black watch caps and gloves, with pink noses, drinking Green Beans coffee. This is a tree put up by another unit in my building.

I got this tree in a care package! Same for the stocking.

The day after Thanksgiving, Christmas music flooded the p-way; a sergeant told me that was his tradition -- to break out the Christmas music the Friday after Thanksgiving -- and he wasn’t about to miss it.

The care package flow is up and we’re enjoying each other’s favorite cookies and homemade fudge. Someone even sent baklava.

And, we got treated to a good ol’ fashioned USO show — just like you always hear about!

I have to say I enjoyed every minute of the 3+ hours mega show. Headliners were country stars Keni Thomas, a Ranger-turned-musician, and Darryl Worley, who effectively rhymes “forgotten” and “Bin Laden.”

Keni Thomas belts one out.

They were backed up by the Army Band and vocalists, and spiced up by a small contingent of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. Two comedians came out and told off-color jokes, in the tradition of Phyllis Diller. These performers gave it their all! They will miss Christmas with their families to tour Iraq and Afghanistan with the show.

The Army’s rockin’ vocalists brought down the house with “Purple Rain” and “Living in America."

What I found most enjoyable and satisfying was the idea of the continuing tradition of the USO show and its elements: music, girls, jokes. (In the Navy, we find comfort in tradition, and look for it.) I found a few great original photos on the Web, for kind of a “then and now” presentation. Today’s USO performers follow in the shoes of some entertainment greats.

The historical narrative and some of the photos are from the USO website. My thanks to those who posted their personal photos from Viet Nam on various websites.

“During the peak of action in 1945, USO Camp Shows were presenting 700 shows a day, with more than 300,000 performances overseas and in the United States, to an audience totaling more than 173 million. From 1941 to 1947, more than 7,000 performers put on 428,521 shows of all kinds.”
Carol Landis and Martha Tilton in New Guinea.

“Touring Camp Shows were discontinued in 1947 but were revived in 1951 with the approach of the Korean War. Some 126 entertainment units put on more than 5,400 shows in Korea. Stars included Jennifer Jones, Jack Benny, Errol Flynn, Danny Kaye, Robert Merrill, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, Marilyn Maxwell, Paul Douglas, Jan Sterling and Al Jolson. Such stars as Paul Douglas, Ray Milland, Molly Picon, Walter Pidgeon, Jan Sterling and Keenan Wynn also went on tour. Celebrity units drawn from the USO Hollywood Coordinating Committee brought 866 performances to Korea. Among other stars were Rory Calhoun, Piper Laurie, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney and Frances Langford. Stateside visits included such stars as Jayne Mansfield, Jerry Colonna, Bob Hope and Anita Bryant.”


“Bob Hope took his USO Christmas show to Vietnam for the first time in 1964; the shows continued into the next decade. Some 5,559 USO performances took place during the Vietnam years.”

Raquel Welch in Viet Nam, photo taken by a soldier.

Bob Hope and Raquel Welch on stage together.
Ann-Margaret in Vietnam, taken by a soldier.

Soldiers cover a mountain side to watch the show.
Trying to see the show. A Christmas USO show in 1971.
A USO show band rocks some remote area of Viet Nam.

“USO entertainment in the 80s retained its stellar reputation while increasing its range. Superstar rock groups KANSAS, the Doobie Brothers, Cheap Trick; jazz legend Louie Bellson; movie stars Kris Kristofferson, Brooke Shields, Chuck Norris; performers Ann Jillian and John Denver; MISS USAs Michelle Royer, Courtney Gibbs and Gretchen Polhemus; rhythm and blues group Atlantic Starr; a host of country music stars, including Loretta Lynn, Randy Travis, Ricky Skaggs, Lee Greenwood, Mickey Gilley, and the Judds; and even Jeopardy! Host Alex Trebek became involved with the USO’s celebrity entertainment program.”

And now, in 2007, The USO Christmas Show closes with “Free Bird” and the guitar solo segues into “America the Beautiful.”

Everyone joined in.

-Toonces

Friday, December 7, 2007

Remembering the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor

American dead numbered 2,403. That figure included 68 civilians.

The following poem and photo are from the Naval Historical Center website:
http://www.history.navy.mil/index.html

If you have a moment, the photographs of the destruction at Pearl Harbor are well worth a look: http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/events/wwii-pac/pearlhbr/pearlhbr.htm

-Toonces

PS: If you are blessed with a WWII veteran in your life, please give them a hug for me.

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941
Official U.S. Navy Photograph.
Photographic montage prepared for the 30th anniversary of the attack, 7 December 1971.

It is accompanied by a poem by JO3 Jim Deken, USN:

In the darkest of moments
a nation is wounded,
rights herself
and pushes on.
Her wounds give her strength
and urge her on to victory.

Time passes,
the wound heals
but leaves a mark.
The mark is her reminder
of what has been and could be again.
She does not forget.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Comments

It looks like the comments have not been working for a while, so I've turned off the moderation to see if that helps. The "funny letters" verification is still on. Let's see if it works better now. :)