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