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.


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:

If you have a moment, the photographs of the destruction at Pearl Harbor are well worth a look:


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


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. :)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why I Watch

Anyone who has been on a ship for any length of time can relate to the inevitable sensory deprivation. This is brought on by the sameness of endless grey p-ways, dirty ladderwells, and nightly Wardroom food offerings of brown on white. While my current sensory deprivation is nowhere near as acute and pervasive as on the ship, I can feel it starting to invade my psyche. Perhaps it’s my living environment:

View of my neighborhood facing North.

View of my neighborhood facing South.

So what to do?

  • Read a magazine. There’s practically a library in the women’s latrine trailer. But I can only take so much Marie Claire.

  • Try something new and interesting at the DFAC. Umm, problem with that….

  • Create yet another PowerPoint presentation. (Really, I don’t know how we won WWII without PowerPoint.)

  • Conduct an Army-Navy psyops campaign on my Battalion Commander!

Yes! I will tape tiny pictures of Bill the Goat all over his office, in places where he will, over several days, continually discover them, much to his chagrin and my sheer joy! I will tape these images in such insidious places as the underside of his phone receiver and inside his desk drawers!


Well . . . I was actually going to do this, but an Army battalion staffer warned me that might “push him over the edge.”

Sigh. I guess I don’t want to push him over the edge.

Well, at least we have the Army-Navy Game to liven things up!

I was treated to YouTube footage of the most recent Whoop goat-napping caper at our Battalion Update Brief (BUB). And the Battalion Commander showed up in a 2007 Army-Navy Game “Goatbuster” shirt.

So that shows some good spirit, even if a bit moldy and overused, God bless ‘em.

Best, I got an invitation, as a Navy of One, to watch the game in the battalion spaces.

I would have loved to have gotten you, Dear Reader, a photo of us all watching the Army-Navy Game together. But here is what happened.

First of all, let me be clear: I don’t give a flying rodent caboose about football. But I care about the Army Navy Game. I care because it is a yearly marker, an event, a milestone in life. I care because the rivalry is pure and not malicious --it’s something like sibling rivalry. The players are destined to be professionals in the military, not the sports-entertainment industry. The gridiron is a long-standing metaphor for the battlegrounds on which Army and Navy will fight a real enemy, together.

Also, I often have a wager on the outcome.

Sadly, I could find no West Pointers who would even discuss a possible wager. Could it be that they thought they might not win? Again, sigh.

Anyway, night of the game, I grabbed some animal crackers, a couple of Diet Cokes, and the Third Battalion EWO, Joker, who was up from PB Dragon (not a grad, but he is a Navy LT who works at the Academy when not in Iraq) and went over to the TOC.

What a great time!

There were about 10 of us or so, with Joker and I the only Navy reps, rooting and joking, pointing out patches the players wore, and generally feeling sympathy for the Army football team.

I even rooted for them a bit.

But the teams winning or losing isn’t the thing. It’s just that we were together watching The Game. How cool, I thought, to be sitting in Iraq, with a bunch of Army officers and enlisted, in a battalion TOC, watching the Army-Navy Game! I was stoked.

I thought, I need a picture. (That is how my mother best communicates with me —subconsciously.) I came back with my camera after half time, but the crowd was reduced by more than half.

By the fourth quarter, Joker and I were it!

Now these Army guys were still in the building, but they had abandoned watching the game to go back to WORK (it was about 1030 at night!) and were all in their offices at their desks. (I guess making PowerPoint presentations. )

So no photo.

But what I said above, about the metaphor and the kinship, that’s all real.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Lots To Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving was of course a little sad around here as everyone wants to be with family during the holidays. But, we’re all in the same boat, so there wasn’t too much moping around. The beautiful 78 degree cloudless day set a pleasant tone. As much as folks could, they made an easy day of it. But most people can’t completely take a break from the war. Patrols went as usual.

The Dining Facility (DFAC) staff went all out and dressed the place to the nines. It takes a lot of effort to give what is essentially a warehouse any ambiance. But I think they did that. There were tables of fruit, carved and arranged, a life-size teepee, streamers, enormous cakes for each of the resident units and several giant cakes that were bigger than my desk at work. The highlight of the d├ęcor was a village, made of food items, and its centerpiece, an ornate white icing cathedral. (I wish I could have taken photos of all this but cameras are not allowed in the DFAC. See previous blog entry.)

The food was great, and below is copy of the program. (The “wine” was actually sparkling grape juice – General Order No.1 was still in effect!)

I was thankful beyond measure to have a great group of people to enjoy the meal with. Our whole office went and managed to get a table together, and one of my good friends from across the base drove down to share the meal with us. That made the day for me.

You can get through anything with your friends.


A Sign You Might Be in Iraq 2

Hope this finds you healthy and happy this Thanksgiving week. There is a lot to be thankful for. It sounds corny, but just living in America is a great blessing. Many people around the world would trade places in a heartbeat and can only dream of the privileges and lifestyle we enjoy. They would give a lot to live just one day in our shoes.

You only need to read of the great challenges we face in Iraq to realize how hard it is to build democratic institutions, to establish the rule of law, to protect human rights. It didn’t happen overnight in the United States, and it won’t happen overnight here in Iraq.

On a lighter note, here’s your sign.
Heat meter. (Not be confused with Fun Meter.) I told you it was hot.

For the culturally impaired.

Look at all the fun things to do in Iraq! It’s practically Club Med. Oh yeah, pool’s closed.

How far to the nearest bottle of Wild Turkey?

This one wins top honors because you have to know the policy already in order to interpret the sign. (You can’t have the first or the second line, but must have the third line, in order to do the fourth line.)

And a bonus sign for Turkey Day. I can’t speak to this tasty-looking bird’s origin, but I can guess its fate.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Concerned Local Citizens

Death toll in Iraq continues to fall

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD -- October is on course to record the second consecutive monthly decline in U.S. military and Iraqi civilian deaths, and U.S. commanders say they know why: the U.S. troop increase and an Iraqi groundswell against al Qaeda and Shiite militia extremists.
Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch points to what the military calls "concerned citizens" -- Shiites and Sunnis who have joined the American fight.

He says he's signed up 20,000 of them in the past four months.

"I've never been more optimistic than I am right now with the progress we've made in Iraq. The only people who are going to win this counterinsurgency project are the people of Iraq. We've said that all along. And now they're coming forward in masses," Lynch said in a recent interview at a U.S. base deep in hostile territory south of Baghdad. Lynch commands the 3rd Infantry Division and once served as the military spokesman in Baghdad. Outgoing artillery thundered as he spoke.

As of Tuesday, the Pentagon reported 28 U.S. military deaths in October. The toll on U.S. troops hasn't been this low since March 2006, when 31 soldiers died. In September, 65 U.S. soldiers died in Iraq.

Part of the trend can be seen in a volatile and violent band of lush agricultural land on Baghdad's southern border.

The commander of the battle zone, Lt. Col. Val Keaveny, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), said his unit has lost only one soldier in the past four months despite intensified operations against Shiite and Sunni extremists, including powerful al Qaeda in Iraq cells.

Keaveny attributes the startling decline to a drop in attacks by militants who are being rounded up in big numbers on information provided by citizens.

The efforts to recruit local partners began taking shape this year in the western province of Anbar, which had become the virtual heartland for Sunni insurgents and al Qaeda bands. The early successes in Anbar, coming alongside a boost of 30,000 U.S. troops in the Baghdad area, led to similar alliances in other parts of Iraq.

"People are fed up with fear, intimidation and being brutalized. Once they hit that tipping point, they're fed up, they come to realize we truly do provide them better hope for the future. What we're seeing now is the beginning of a snowball," Keaveny said.

(Entire article here.)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Not All Graffiti is Bad

PS: Thanks for the awesome ideas for plant names. They were all so good, I need more plants! I tried out the suggested names to see what the plant would answer to. He (it's a boy) responded best to "Spike." Thanks again!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to My World

Dear Folks,

Happy Birthday, US Navy!!!

I’ve been requested to write about my everyday surroundings and routine. I’ll do my very, very best to make this interesting.

The way the Army runs things, there is no separation of male and female, officer and enlisted housing (roommates are of similar rank and gender). So I am surrounded mostly by guys who were born in the late 80’s. People are up and about all hours of the day and night, playing guitar, smoking, surfing the internet, talking on Iraqna cell phones, hauling their laundry. We live in a neighborhood that is a maze of giant blast walls and trailers. There is no grass; we trudge through gravel and dust. It will soon be mud.

There is a string of beautiful palm trees near my hooch.

The rows of trailers are punctuated by bigger latrine/shower trailers and drop-off points for the ubiquitous plastic bottles of water, produced on base at a purification plant.

Getting up is the worst part of the day; it always has been for me. Here it is made almost unbearable by two things: having to walk outside out in the open among God and everyone to the latrine -- and boot blousings.

There is no sink in our hooch, and in this way shipboard life compares favorably. Also, on the ship the walk to the head is usually short and relatively private. Not so here. If I could just wash my face before returning all those salutes….

For reasons I cannot explain, I hate blousing my boots every morning. (For the unfamiliar, this involves hooking a piece of elastic around your boot and tucking the hem of your trousers underneath it, to make a blousing effect.) But I may have found a work around for this. Recently, a salty petty officer showed me how he had elastic sewn into the bottom of his trou for $3 a pop.

I hoof it just about everywhere, which I like. Our group of EWOs has two NTVs (non-tactical vehicles) at our disposal, but I am worse at driving a HMMWV (“humvee”) than a regular car, if that’s possible. I figure I won’t hurt myself or anyone else while walking, probably. Plus, it’s free exercise. So I walk about half a mile to work. If I stop by the DFAC (dining facility) on the way, it’s about ¾ of a mile all together. I pack heat wherever I go.

Pimp my ride!

On the way to work, I hike down a major thoroughfare, and I get to see all sorts of Army vehicles rumbling by: Strykers, Bradleys, HEMTTs, etc. Frankly, if I were a bad guy, they’d scare the snot out of me.

Recently, this sign was posted.

I am extremely fortunate when it comes to where I work. Some of my compatriots work out of conex boxes and/or plywood shacks out at the patrol bases, but I’m in a real building, reportedly built by SeaBees. My office has a working TV and mini-fridge, and is big enough for everyone to have their own desk. We are mostly Navy, but we have a couple of civilian tech reps in our office as well. These guys are attached to Army units and have, in some cases, worked with and deployed with the same unit for years. They extend right along with their units, too.

The building is pretty ghetto compared to US standards: uneven asphalt floors and no plumbing. But you get used to porta-potties and Purell. (And porta-potties can’t really break.) The power goes out just occasionally, taking with it phones and internet. The A/C, when powered, works extremely well. The “O’Reilly Factor” comes on the Armed Forces Network (AFN) at 1300 local Baghdad time and we tune in religiously.

We have to keep our body armor and Kevlar helmets nearby. Before I got here, some industrious soul built these little trees for the purpose.

We use the bottled water to make our coffee several times a day. And we never settle for sub-par coffee. After all, we are in the Navy!

Thanks for reading.
(If I get positive feedback from this posting, I’ll continue to write on this theme.)


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Exceptionally Heroic Conduct

Today, I'd like to share with you the Silver Star Medal citation of a soldier in my battalion. The citation description is much longer than many; you can see that it was not a single moment of decision for Master Sergeant Gagne, but his entire conduct, the totality of the way he fights and lives, that earned him the award. Unlike many awards of this level, it was not awarded posthumously. The narrative describes the kinds of challenges this battalion's soldiers have faced daily for the last 14 months.

These are the types of guys and gals I have the privilege of serving with every day. And the way they conduct themselves, the way they protect their ideals, and the way they value life, make them unique in history.

Citation: The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star Medal to Eric Gagne, Master Sergeant, U.S. Army, for exceptionally heroic conduct in the performance of outstanding service to the United States as the Reconnaissance Platoon Sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment, 2d Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Camp Striker, from 28 October 2006 to 7 March 2007, during Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, 06-08.

His gallantry in the days following the Battalion's seizure of the Yusufiya Thermal Power Plant (YTPP) and subsequent offensive operations greatly contributed to the establishment of a foothold in the highly contested Euphrates River Valley (ERV) tribal lands and the Brigade's success in eliminating a former Sunni extremist safe haven in Al Qaeda's self- declared Baghdad Southern Belt.

On 28 October 2006, Master Sergeant Gagne led the Reconnaissance Platoon on a screening mission in support of a series of cordon and search operations with Company A, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry in vicinity of Qarghuli Road and Route Caveman. At approximately 0500 hours as his team moved into a palm grove, he noticed a copper wire, halted the patrol, and used his tactical aim light with infrared filter to trace the wire to a choke point on the southeast side of the power plant's wall. The choke point was on Company A, 2d Battalion, 14th Infantry's planned ingress route. Having discovered a possible improvised explosive device (IED), he continued into the palm grove as a guide so the company could avoid being engaged in the insurgent's planned IED kill zone. The other end of the wire led into the palm grove where it was tied to a palm tree in an area littered with fresh foot prints and matted grass indicative of an active IED site.

Maximizing the use of micro-terrain and camouflage, he established a hide about 15 feet from the trigger point for immediate interdiction if the triggerman arrived. At 1309 hours, a local national male moved toward the trigger point. Master Sergeant Gagne noticed a boy following the man and decided against the use of deadly force to prevent traumatizing or injuring the youth. He waited for the triggerman to divert his attention before exposing himself, overpowering, and detaining the man and boy at great personal risk to himself.

As the patrol continued movement, Master Sergeant Gagne discovered a white grain sack containing an IED initiation system, a video camera, and a black mask. The triggerman indicated the presence of more "Koombalas" (bombs) in the area. The triggerman drew a map in the dirt detailing the location of another IED that Master Sergeant Gagne deciphered to be the intersection of Route Malibu and Qarghuli road. He immediately notified the Alpha Company element already en route and had them halt their patrol and change their route to avoid the possible IED.

Master Sergeant Gagne's recon team moved to the intersection and verified the presence of a command wire. They then moved to an overwatch position to cover Alpha's withdrawal. After the mission, an Explosive and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team determined the first IED to be three 155-mm. artillery rounds and the second to be a forty pound directional charge.

On 6 November 2006, Master Sergeant Gagne led a patrol to overwatch the container yard to the east of the YTPP to deny its use by Sunni insurgents. At 1930 hours, the team entered a building whose balcony he intended to use as an observation post (OP). The patrol halted in place when a pressure plate was found at the foot of the stairs. The element exited by retracing their steps while he interrogated the pressure plate. He led them to another building to set up the OP, but they were forced to conduct a deliberate clearance when numerous IED components were found scattered throughout the building.

In the midst of the ensuing search, an IED composed of five artillery rounds was found atop the building's "false ceiling". The search also yielded numerous chemicals, scales, mixing devices, and a fair amount of hair clippings. The Combined Explosives Exploitation Cell (CEXC) assessed the location to be a "suicide bomber's lair" yielding the name of a known Al Qaeda member amidst pervasive insurgent propaganda and graffiti.

On 30 JAN 07, Master Sergeant Gagne led a five-man interdiction team in support of TF 4-31's Operation Polar Ice in vicinity of Route Caveman. They established an overwatch position near a presumably abandoned house that in fact contained 24 local nationals, including women and children. At 0958 hours, five armed individuals in a Bongo truck arrived at the apparent insurgent safe house. Master Sergeant Gagne audaciously attempted to detain the gunmen, resulting in a brief but fierce firefight. Two of the insurgents managed to escape, however three insurgents were detained with various weapons, ammunition, and fraudulent identification cards.

On 7 March 2007, Master Sergeant Gagne again led the recon platoon on a long-range reconnaissance patrol and screening mission in support of Operation Avalanche Landing. He covertly infiltrated deep into openly hostile territory rife with infighting among rival insurgent groups vying for supremacy. En route to their final overwatch position, he encountered two groups of insurgents engaged in armed combat near Route Trailblazers. The recon element sought cover and concealment in hopes of remaining unnoticed, but then became engaged by a three-man insurgent machine gun team. Master Sergeant Gagne gallantly exposed himself to the withering machine gun fire, neutralized the enemy position, and forced the enemy withdrawal. After capturing the enemy machine gun, he then occupied an abandoned house south to overwatch the Task Force main effort during the interrogation and removal of two semi-trucks and trailers suspected of being enormous VBIEDs.

Master Sergeant Gagne continued to provide timely aid when they were unexpectedly called upon to secure a 13-vehicle logistics patrol that was halted on Route Mustangs by a massive IED destruction of one of their vehicles. Master Sergeant Gagne and a small element interrogated and marked two potential IEDs ensuring the safety of recovery assets and the safe extraction of all coalition forces off the objective and the heavy IED-laden Route Mustangs.

Master Sergeant Gagne's superb execution of reconnaissance and sniper operations ensured he was always at the forefront of the battle against a very elusive and determined enemy. While leading the battalion's initial reconnaissance effort around the YTPP by personally locating and marking numerous IEDs, his gallant actions prevented significant U.S. casualties. His numerous exploits of marked distinction and courage in support of various Task Force missions greatly contributed to the permanent presence of U.S. forces in the former Al Qaeda safe-haven and to the Task Force's success throughout AO Dragon.

Born: at Francestown, New Hampshire
Home of Record: Francestown, New Hampshire

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Sign You Might Be In Iraq

There are a lot of signs around here -- I mean the placard type, not the divine type. I don't know where they come from or who makes them. But something about them fascinates me, perhaps the thought that the sign poster was oblivious to the humor or irony. Or perhaps it's the uniqueness of these signs to Iraq. I've selected a few for your enjoyment. I didn't get a shot of the sign said, "Potable Water, Do Not Drink." There are a few more out there I'm targeting for a Part II.

Someone had to explain to me what this meant. I thought it was just a gung-ho hooah thing.

From an Al Faw Palace terrace. I guess this was a problem.

Not what you want to find posted on the office bulletin board.

You'll know if you're authorized.

From inside a porta-potty. I like this one for the apparent universality of disapproving smiley faces. (For an explanation of why this sign is necessary, I'll have to email you off line -- it's too disgusting for public consumption.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Welcoming the Navy’s Newest Chief Petty Officers

Friday, September 21st, was one of those special days when you feel good about what you’re doing, where you are, and privileged to be part of something greater than yourself.

Friday was the day when all the Chief-selects in the Navy, all around the world, were pinned and officially inducted into the fraternity of Navy Chiefs. Iraq included.

Several dozen Chief-selects in the Baghdad area where able to go through the Chief indoctrination process, which takes about 6 weeks. It was all on their own time and with considerable effort, as transportation is not a given around here. Friday was the culmination of this process.

In a formal ceremony in the rotunda at Al Faw Palace, the Navy was center stage. The Chiefs were pinned to thunderous applause from all services. What an amazing setting! A live band played Anchors Aweigh and other standards. A huge American flag served as backdrop. People came to the surrounding balconies to watch. My entire shop and chain of command turned out for our EWO who pinned on Chief.

As the uniqueness of the experience started to sink in, I got a little choked up, thinking about what the military has accomplished in Iraq, and how far we’ve come, to a point where we can feel safe enough to pause for a ceremony such as this.

I didn’t think it could get any better, but the guest speaker turned out to be none other than General Petraeus! I admit, I’m a huge fan. He gave a great speech, and I’m guessing every heart was swelling with pride to serve with him, and those pinned.

Here are a few photos of the event. Congratulations to all the new Chiefs!The General puts the finishing touches on his speech.

The General and the new Chiefs.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

It's Alive!

Today I will take the opportunity to brag about my mom.

Mom enjoys a challenge and thrives on finding creative solutions. When I suggested to Mom that she might, perhaps, if feeling up to it, try to send me a plant, I was betting on a cactus. Instead I got the lush, verdant beauty you see here. It transforms my hooch completely. Mom managed it with packaging consisting of a plastic 2-liter Coke bottle, Saran Wrap, and wet paper towels.

Since this is the closest thing I'll have to a pet over here, I'm taking suggestions for a name.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Life on the FOB

FOB stands for "Foward Operating Base." These are essentially Coalition bases in Iraq. Some soldiers live and work here full time, like I do. For other soldiers, FOBs are the headquarters/service places that they may visit or pass through. For these soldiers, the FOB is a resting place, much more comfortable than the smaller Patrol Bases, which are out and among the populace. I have not been to a Patrol Base yet, but from what I've heard, life there can be pretty rough.

FOBs vary in character and size across Iraq, but the FOB where I live is one of a series of connected FOBs. Each FOB is like a town. In addition to the sometimes vast work and staging areas, there is a gas station, a place to eat (DFAC) a small general store (BX), a gym tent or two, a post office, a clinic, and a tiny coffee shop. As my officemate, who is a veteran of the first Gulf War says, "I'm not going to war without a latte ever again."

Living conditions are spartan, but you can usually count on a real bed, a hot shower, and a flushing toilet. The BX stocks necessities as well as a few comfort items. All in all, it's not a bad place to be. In many ways the FOB compares favorably to an aircraft carrier, starting with the food.

Here is a photo of my half of our third of a trailer, called my "hooch." As you can see, it ain't half bad. More room than on the ship for sure. (Note that the bed isn't stacked 2-3 high.) One of the lockers on the left is mine, and the other faces opposite, to my roommate's side. The nightstand makes it down right homey. Just out of the frame is a small desk which can accommodate my portable DVD player or Zune and mini speakers while I write home or read a magazine. The inflatable mattress and sleeping bag combo works well for me. The A/C died twice when power went out, but when it works, it works GOOD. The shower/latrine trailer is about a 90 sec walk away.

Here are some photos of typical FOB neighborhood. The hooches are behind the blast walls. Those white things are generators. The palm trees near my hooch are in some strange way a morale booster. Maybe I just like palm trees.

Thanks for your interest in this blog. It's humbling that so many folks out there are logging in to see what I have to say. I will endeavor to write entertaining and informative posts to keep you in touch with daily life over here, at least as I see it, so you know what life is like for your soldiers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering 9-11

We all have a memory of where we were and what were doing that morning.

I had already been in the Navy for several years, but today I considered this: Some of the soldiers here were in junior high when 9-11 terrorist attacks occurred. How many of them could have conceived that they would one day be fighting that same war?"

General Petraeus' testimony to Congress

Friday, September 7, 2007

Unintentional Haiku

(Discovered on latrine stall wall)

My husband is the
Worse #$%* man in the world
Low-down, #$%* cheater!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Recommended Articles

1. Wall Street Journal, 04 Sep 07, "US Shifts Iraq Focus as Local Tactics Gain"
2. New York Post, 03 Sep 07, "What Exit? Fallujah!"
3. Washington Times, 04 Sep 07, "The Surge is Working"
(That last one has a great use of the word "discombobulated.")

LA Times
Washington Post

The Closest to Political Commentary That I Will Ever Come

I had the dubious pleasure of watching America's evening news this morning at 5 am Baghdad time. It makes my heart break. It makes my heart break because, in my view, the major news networks do whatever they can to minimize the accomplishments of our troops here. The soldiers are not victims; they are highly successful and victorious warriors. I can only tell you what I see in my corner of the war. But it has been overwhelmingly positive!!

  • I see the number of attacks on US Troops reduced to virtually nothing here in Southwest Baghdad.
  • I see US soldiers providing medical care to hundreds of Iraqi men, women, and children .
  • I see an area formally known as the "Triangle of Death" transformed into a normal, peaceful, secure neighborhood where average Iraqis can get on with their lives.
  • I see that contractors are able to bring clean water and electricity to poor villages because these villages are no longer Al Queda havens.
  • I see Iraqi Armies stepping up to the challenge of securing their own country.
  • I see normal Iraqis taking back the streets to stop murder and insurgency.
  • I see hundreds of Iraqi men -- and women -- responding to Iraqi Police recruiting drives.
  • I see fewer and fewer signs of chaos, and more signs of order.

This is what the war looks like to me, in my neck of the woods. The troops here are up-beat, not beat down. Most impressively, they are filled with goodwill and a sense of greater purpose. I have never heard a soldier make a disparaging remark about Iraqis.

I think you’ll agree that these positive stories are underreported in the news. And watching the news, I can understand why many Americans have a negative view about Operation Iraqi Freedom. But my advice is: take everything you see on TV with a large grain of salt. Nightly news is designed to entertain.

(Toonces now steps off of soapbox.)

PS: I read today that "Chemical Ali," one of the most anti-humanitarian men who ever lived and responsible for killing at least 100,000 Kurd civilians with chemical weapons, will receive the death sentence after going through the appropriate legal processes and institutions. Unthinkable 5 years ago. The world is a better place.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Saddam a Pleasure Dome Decreed

Today I spent the morning running around the Victory Base Complex in a humvee for various errands. One thing I find very interesting here is the architecture of the Saddam-era military and government buildings. Many have Bath Party star motifs, or other politically symbolic ornamentation and facades. Coalition Forces have set up shop in many of these buildings, but from what I have observed, they have taken great care to not damage them in any way. Keep in mind, all troops must follow General Order No 1, which strictly prohibits looting or defacing any Iraqi buildings or stealing anything from Iraqi citizens. Violations could lead to jail time. We were briefed on this the very first day in theater.

Al Faw Palace is one of the most prominent palaces here. From what I've been told, Saddam built it as a personal hang-out. (I read in the Atlantic Monthly that Saddam built over 100 palaces during his dictatorship.) Hardly damaged at all in the fighting, it now serves as a Coalition headquarters of sorts. The philosophy seems to be to use the palace for office space, but protect it for return to the Iraqi people as a national treasure. I heard some of the rooms are inaccessible for this reason and most of the furnishings are in storage. Great care seems to have been taken to not permanently alter or damage the palace while it is being used.

The palace is not exactly historic -- it is only about 16 years old -- but it is exquisite. A cavernous front entryway leads to giant marble and intricately-carved wood rotunda with ginormous chandelier, now fitted with energy efficient bulbs. Picture three-story arching ceilings over numerous white and green marble corridors, marble spiral staircases, sweeping plaza-like balconies and broad outside causeways. It's surreal at first to see the temporary office cubicle walls poking out and around such grandeur. The palace sits on a lake, graced by other palatial structures and lake-front mansions. I guess it was kind of an evil paradise.

PS: No Iraqi chandeliers are used in US dining facilities...didn't mean to suggest that!
Outside my "home" at Camp Virginia, Kuwait

My group of Navy IAs getting ready to head off to Udari Range, Kuwait. It is blowing sand and hot!
Camel crossing during training at Udari Range