Thursday, October 15, 2009

Back again

Well we all go home sometime, and my time in the sun has come and gone. Back in the world, and thinking about where to go from here. First a word of explanation, why did I become all mute and stuff? The answer is simple, first it is anonymity and the second was personal.

The army in all its infinite wisdom has a pathological fear of the uncontrolled word. Partially this is a reasoned and logical belief that one’s plans should be “As dark and impenetrable as night” This makes sense in a military and kinetic world personally I believe that in a world where we must practice non-kinetic warfare the ‘Death to Blogging!’ approach of the Department of Defense makes poor sense. The second reason is that the Big Army wants to control the message, to be able to shape a what people think and believe about the military, war and all things national policy.

I would object to this except all special interests try to do the same. Across the spectrum people with agendas like to control the message. For the reasons below I felt the world could do without mine for a while.

You see, I could have gone along and entertained the folks back home without fear of specific discovery except that two things happened. The first was a ill advised pissing match with SSG Moto. Not that I was wrong, more that I should not got into a fight I could not win. Moto knew of this blog and if he waned me to lose a stripe or two could have gone to higher and had me crucified. So I shut up. “You could have claimed it was not you.” Someone might say. I really couldn’t because higher got a nice writing sample from me.

These guys in New York have this news paper. Personally I like it because it Thomas Friedman is an editor there. Then this really hot girl told me that if I was a real man I would submit a piece of writing to this paper. So I did. On June 7th I got paid for my first published writing, and because I had to sign my name to it, I had to get it approved. More on that later.

Shortly after that I also started a pretty intense electronic conversation with the girl mentioned above. There is only so much time to write in a day, and I think the time spent chatting with her, was worth it. At least she has not smothered me in my sleep sense I got back.

These are all excuses, and I apologize to anyone who worried that I had become a statistic instead of a story.

The real question is where do I go from here? Believe it or not there are still some stories from the kitty litter box that need to be told if for no other reason then I will fell better with them in print. That will come later. As time and an exhaustive search of my hard drive allows. If my loyal readers (both of you plus my mom) are interested I will take a lint from Tolkien and chronicle what comes next. Specifically I am focused on taking my savings an riding the Americas. A wild idea generated over more than a few bottles of wine has now become a reality. I know I have said this before but this time I mean it. Watch this space. Besides if you thought I was a wig nut in body armor on an MRAP just wait to see the tom foolery I can get into with a motorcycle and no adult supervision.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Watch this space

Last time I looked I had a grand total of 5 followers. Well for my legion (closer to a fire team but never mind that) More to come. Just need to get settled in the US before a much more exciting trip.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bullet Point Pt 2

Without chow, we head to the local restaurant. When I say ‘local restaurant’ I mean an ARMY approved, establishment, inside the wire, run by Turks. They serve a mixture of US and local, or rather Turkish fare. It turns out that we had all sorts of passengers on the way up. In addition to the battalion safety officer we had one of the two brigade ‘Fraud, Waste and Abuse’ investigators. The last one we had was a major, this one was a captain.
Sitting at the tables, all 20 some odd of us, I end up near her. She sits next to Doc Pusher. They look like sisters. The conversation floats around, and my dream trip comes up. Turns out the captain likes backpacking. We chat, then she says it…
“You don’t seem like you belong in the guard.” It is one hell of an insult. It isn’t the words, but it’s like some people, even in the army, think smart people shouldn’t enlist.
It wasn’t the words, it was the tone. Well, I am right where I should be. We finished dinner and I paid for Mighty Mouse and IT. A Sam Topps Memorial purchase. Then it was over to billeting.
We were told to go and ‘hang out’. The route status would keep changing. Then wanted to change this from staying over night to turning around and heading home. I tried to get a nap in the billets, listening to my music. At 0100 someone walked in and said.
“SP 0140, no bullshit”
We grab our stuff, meet the trucks and head out. Just in time. As we are getting ready I realize the temperature is dropping, it is beginning to rain, and I forgot my snivel gear. I dig around into the truck and find a fleece vest belonging to SGT Big Nasty. I pop over to his truck and ask to borrow it. The blank look on his face gives me the answer I could never give the captain. Here, on the line, it is inconceivable that Nasty wouldn’t loan me his jacket, or that I wouldn’t drag the last ten bucks out of my wallet for Linebacker. She will never understand.
As we leave the gate, air is not flying, it is raining, and I am wrapped in a scarf and a borrowed jacket. The road is dangerous, hadji knows when we are not flying.
The sun is fully up before we make the main gate at COB Allahlone. I am pissed. I take a nap.
When I wake up I wander over to battalion to get some answers. The reason I respect CAPT Bean Counter is that he shoots strait. So I ask, why do we not just stay the night instead of rolling with no air support, in crappy weather where I can barely see the road.
There is no reason to push through the night… except…
Every military career is dominated by the annual Officer (or Non-Commisioned Officer) Evaluation Report. In order to get an excellent rating you need a quantifiable bullet point in the comments section. On time mission completion can be expressed as a percentage, thus is quantifiable. Excellence bullet points mean you are more likely to get promoted.
Thus the reason I can’t make this life a career. I can’t imagine putting soldiers lives at risk, for a bullet point.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Bullet Point Pt 1

A sand storm doesn’t have the awe inspiring force of a thunder storm, or the drenching violence of a desert gully washer. It starts with a strong breeze. Then the horizon goes a little blurry. Sometimes there is a wall of dust that darkens the sky making the sun fade to a pale shadow of the moon. Once the dust arrives the wind drops a little, sometimes it will become calm. You walk around in a world of orange, noon cane bee too dark to take photos without a flash.
What is impressive about sand storms, is the penetration of dust. It gets every where. Through doors and windows, carried on the bodies of soldiers, or blown in. A flour fine layer of dust begins to settle on everything. A computer left for a few hours can look like it was just pulled from grandma’s attic. Soldiers look a little more tan, and windscreens a look fuzzy.
The army doesn’t like to fly it’s expensive whirly birds in sand storms, something about chewing up engines. Given a choice they prefer to let the birds sit under tarps during a sand storm, rather than flying around until the turbine chokes with dust and stops working. So the mission is cancelled. This doesn’t worry me.
There is nothing so critical about my job here that I want to risk a pilot, or his aircrew’s life. There is always tomorrow. The mission pace is such that we really don’t have to push through. If the visibility is low, we still have to prep the trucks, and get ready to go. Then wait for six hours to see if the storm clears.
The storm was forecasted to last for three days. SSG Moto gathers us up, and breaks the news. There is a forecasted break at 1500 the next day we will be leaving during that break. It takes four hours to get to the next stop, the clearing should last that long. Then we stay the night, and come back during a break the next day. It is a sane and reasonable plan.
1445 finds us leaving the gate, 43 civilian trucks, and 7 gun truck escorts. Today I am in the lead truck, the mine roller/ polish mine detector. We used to use a 5-ton truck for this role. It survived two blasts and kept rolling, well the second blast meant it had to get towed back home. Now we have an MRAP, with a mine roller. (Think big wheels pushed out in front of the truck to set off any IEDs.)
I should say that our weathermen have the historical accuracy of a Magic 8 Ball, A broken Magic 8 Ball. Oh, and two days ago an IED took out one of our armored trucks, killing the Truck Commander, making the Driver a quad amputee, and putting the gunner in intensive care. These guys weren’t from my unit, hell they were active duty engineers, and were due rotate home in a month. The next day, our other squad found anti-tank mines on the same road.
Little stress anyone? We roll north. This is the first time I have been looking forward and not seeing the south end of a north bound truck. My sister has a great line about doing this job. “Keep your head about, ride easy in the saddle, and keep your eye on where the horizon meets the sky.”
Where the horizon meets the sky is a little dark. There are massive thunder heads blowing in from Iran. Why does all the crappy stuff come from Iran? In front of the thunder heads will be a bit of dust. SPC Sancho drives, and SGT Bulldog sits in the TC seat. As I see the dark brush strokes of rain falling from the clouds, I get a sinking feeling. You see I took my rain gear out of my bag months ago.
I dig out the Brigade Quartermaster expensive knock off of an Arab headress out of bag, and wrap up. Then the sand storm hits. Change is painful, at least that is what the shrink says. From clear air, into a forty knot head wind, at 30 miles an hour, means facing forward into a 70mph sand blaster. Then the fun really starts.
We only spend a few minutes in the dust, it briefly blots out the rest of the convoy until we slow enough to make out their lights 100 meters behind us. Then the rain hits.
It is that beautiful desert phenomenon, brown rain. I mean literally the rain is brown, it makes mud on the windows and goggles, then when you wipe them off, they are muddy again in a few minutes. The mine rollers kick up a bow wave every few minutes. Chunks of mud fly up and fight the windshield wipers for dominance. Mostly the mud wins.
A jack knifed Iraqi truck blocks our road for fifteen minutes until about a dozen locals PUSH the truck with a busted front axel, back onto the road. Then through the rest of the storm. Lighting begins to arc, sometimes across my entire field of view. Sometimes it hits the ground, sometimes just up in the sky. Here I am soaking wet, on top of a metal vehicle, on a flat plain, in the middle of a thunderstorm.
We push through to the next post. Wet and tired. Chow closes 2 minutes before we get there.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Six Day Tour: Day 12

A final run back home. They guys are out shopping. I volunteer to hang back and watch the weapons as some guys go to the gym or hit the shower. This is an opportunity to get my vehicle in order. After Tooth did his key breaking trick, and I was forced to take a quick look inside the ASV, I knew it needed it. Now I am not the neatest of people. I have been known to annoy more than one person with my ‘cluttered’ habits. SSG Lifeguard keeps a hand broom and dust pan in his truck (that is going just a little far).
The back of this truck was just beyond imagining. First there were PX bags. Those plastic bags that you get at the store, then use as trashcan liners? There were dozens of them, and they were everywhere. Empty bags? An opportunity. But these are not empty. They are filled with every imaginable kind of junk food. Bags of Whoppers, Mike and Ikes, candy bars, sodas, and energy drinks. It looked like a sugar junkies dream.
I will just take this empty ammo can and fill it with all the junk food. Bad Idea, the ammo can, correction ammo crate, designed to hold two hundred rounds of .50 cal, is full. Instant Gatorade, and muscle milk, supplements and bits of MRE’s than have been rat fucked (Ripped open to get a single piece out). It is packed like someone has been stomping on it.
I look around, and find a dumpster. A little muscle work and I push it within throwing range of the ASV. Right now, people who have shared a car, house, or part of my life are going to be laughing. I go into a cleaning frenzy, probably the first one of my life. Gatorade and MRE bits… Into the dumpster. Junk food… if it is opened, also gets tossed. It is like digging through a teenagers bedroom. There are LAYERS! Empty ammo cans are piled on top of full ones. In theory you want the bullets up top… where you can get at them.
Empty cans are piled by the truck, full ones stacked on the floor. If Lifeguard could only see me now. Mighty mouse would go into shock, he complains I have to much stuff on the truck as it is. Once all the loose crap is out I look at the floor. You should remember that the ASV (M1117 Armored Security Vehicle) has the interior space of a VW Bug, the old ones. There are candy rappers and empty soda cans, someone spilled a giant ziplock bag of jellybeans.
Two hours of cleaning later, it looks like soldiers might once operated this vehicle. Four days of getting into and out of the truck through the commanders hatch has taught me a valuable lesson. Kind of a growing experience.
The next step is organizing. I have a nifty new toy to make it easy. The Bungee net, that marvel of modern technology. It holds stuff in place, straps things to ceilings, walls or what ever. I had a couple of these shipped out. All the gear gets bungeed to the back wall, ammo is stacked. It looks like Spiderman had a seizure back there, but all the spaces we need to work in are clear.
About this time the first wave of guys gets back from shopping. It would seem that there is an active Hadji Mart here. Hookah pipes, and glassware in boxes. Big nasty and Dozer have gone a little crazy before remembering that they are in 5-ton trucks. Great for space, but not the smoothest of rides, about a 6.5 on the Richter scale. The MRAPS are a little better, like a 27ft sail boat going through white caps.
So as we roll back home I have the compulsive purchases of an entire squad, bungeed to the floor and walls of my cargo compartment. It was designed to be an ‘escape hatch’.
Rolling back through the gate at home, 13 days on the road (it is after midnight) the HET commander comes up on our radios. “MOTO, thanks for escort, it has been a great trip.” Hawaiian Punch comes up and says the same. A chorus of Hooahs from the gun trunks are returned. Soon we will be back to escorting people who don’t speak our language, or make twice what a Staff Sergeant does. That is tomorrow, after a round of ritual grab ass at the fuel yard, we go unload and conduct face plants in our racks.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Interlude: The War Story

It may surprise you, but I am not the best of in person story teller. I can type for days, but my delivery is just a little off. Standing behind the circle of lower enlisted the last night of the OPMOVE I watched SPQR show off his mastery of the War Story.
It is a simple game, always start with something small and easy. A kinda funny thing. The story should be either self deprecating or bizarre. If it is about how cool you were, then it is called boasting, an automatic disqualification. Then you play ‘one up’ following the theme of the last story you tell one that is stranger, dumber or more bizarre.
The story should follow the general lines of what really happened, but some…. Dramatic license is allowed. But I digress SPQR is talking.
“She was like totally digging on me, grinding one the dance floor. I’m doing my normal impersonation of an epileptic and she is like all over me. Now I don’t get much action… come on… with a grill like this amnd my fuckin’ alien shaped dome? We get all close and hot, and she kisses me. And I am all like wow… then she speaks… and I shit you not IT WAS A DUDE!!!!! I kissed a DUDE! But not all a dude, like going through the surgery, the top half was girl, but the bottom was still… well hanging there….”
The laughter is rolling as he goes into how fucked up his love life is. One of the HET drivers goes on abut finding out her boyfriend was bi… the hard way… coming home early from work. I wander off before SPQR lays down the War Story smack with his story about the buddy, a candle and a woman of negotiable virtue.
At the other end of the court yard is the War Stories about previous tours. Here is where we laugh about the back end of trucks disintegrating, or friendly fire, or helicopters that can’t tell the difference between a Toyota and a 5-ton truck.
It is the last night we will be hanging out with this group. This is how you bond. Like tribes have for as long as man has had the power of language. You gather around a fire and send out your story tellers. You learn where the other guys come from, who they are. It is also the only way to vent sometimes. One of the HET guys tells one about getting hit by an IED, and falling down in the back of his hummer. Then dragging his ass back into the turret. Wondering why the world seemed to be shaking until he realized he was dragging himself up by the triggers on his .50 cal machine gun. That gets a good one.
It is getting light in the sky by the time the last guy heads to his room. I take a wander to stare at the lightening horizon. My throat aches from the cigarettes, but I light one anyways. All the hardship, the pain… Every fucked up thing that happens to us, makes us tighter, as a squad, as soldiers, as members of the military.
Back home they don’t even know, this place is so removed from that. As soldiers leave the army over the next dozen years, and re enter civilian life, will they change our society? I know we will all miss this family of convenience. Vets from previous wars, those I knew when I enlisted, did it. Built families around their friends, they found hobbies that provided opportunities for night like tonight. Fraternal orders, SCA, Boy scouts, the American Legion or the VFW, all meet this need, when we miss it later. 2 million soldiers have rotated through Iraq… how much of an effect is that going to have on our country?
I ponder until the cigarette is finished, then turn my back on the sun and go crawl into my sleeping bag.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Six Day Tour Day 10-11

Heading back out from home base we roll up a familiar road. Passing one of our regular stops we keep rolling. We are now in VBIED alley. The hot spot of Iraq. A new road, where craters force us to weave from one lane to another. Everyone is on edge. At a halt for the HETs to change a tire, I am sitting in the back of the convoy. Angry has been moved up to a front truck, Playboy has replaced him. We sit, blacked out and watch for cars. Sure enough, headlights. Playboy hits him with his spot light, he keeps coming. He keeps flashing until the lights are 300m away.
“Pin flare him.” I say, standing up in my hatch and looking over his shoulder.
Playboy drops the pin flare cartridge into the turret, the vehicle keeps closing. I am reaching down for my M4 as he announces he has put a new cartridge in.
The burning chunk of phosphorus flies through the air to disentigrate next to the truck 200m away. The driver figures there are better ways to make a living and turns around. The better for both of us.
Another two hours and two more stops bring us to the new FOB. FOB Round Top. This is the war I remember, no reflective belts, armored vehicles all over the place, and a sense of purpose. They still take mortar rounds here, and someone tries to hit the gate about once a month. Heading to the fuel point we get lost. Once we unfuck ourselves we have to find billeting. And so it begins again.
Our mini convoy goes up one street and down another. I spot what looks like traffic cameras. I wonder what idiot put those in, until I look at the buildings they are in front of. Criminal Investigation Division, CID, the closest to jack booted Gestapo you can get in the western world. If was CID out in the wild west like this I would fear my fellow soldiers also. (I have good reason to hate CID, all my run-ins with them have made the Salem witch trials look like fine examples of Jurisprudence)
We drive around the block twice before seeing a sign for billeting. Then have to find the billets. There are no real signs on post. For security reasons making things hard to find means the bad guys, if they get in might not find the giant DFAC building or the PX their favorite targets.
We sleep that night in an old Iragi barracks, think concrete bunker, with out the luxuries. Next day we decide to go shopping. I go all scout, looking for signs of shopping. The distinctive white plastic bags. Any time I see a soldier carrying one I head in the direction he came from. In less then twenty minutes we are parked at a mini mall. Local shops galore. Not AAFES sponsored. AAFES brings in Turks and others to sell ‘local’ products to soldiers, and keeps 22% of the sale price. This leads to high prices for poor goods.
We have found a true Hadji mall. Low prices, cash only and all the odd goods you could ask for. We go a little while. I like this place. The term ‘tactical vehicle’ here refers to Strykers and Tanks, not our armored monstrosities. So we can park in regular parking lots, as long as we back in. The atmosphere is relaxed and professional.
Soon enough we will have to leave, but I enjoy the day, drinking local soda, and stretched out on top of my vehicle reading a book.

That night we head south, one more stop and one more day. FOB DUSTBOWL is an old stomping ground and only two hours down the road. That night finds us in decent billeting next to the HETs. It is the first time the two units have slept next to each other. Down in Fobbitville it was only a few of them in a tent filled with us. But here the two units mingle in the shared court yard.
Stories are swapped, faces matched with radio call signs and smack is talked. SPQR gets his story telling roll on. The kid can tell a story most of them are embarrassing ones about him. Even hearing them for the tenth time I find myself laughing. It is our last night together. The social scene lasts well into the morning.