About Me

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My philosophy is quite simple and I share it with you because it defines who I am: I believe that success is not about how much money, power or influence we can amass; true success comes easily as we find those special beings that make us happy to wake up every morning and look forward to the joys of every day life. I will probably never be rich with worldly possessions, but I consider myself extremely wealthy because I have the best of friends anyone can hope for...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Entry #4

I was walking to Al Faw palace as I closed my last entry. As I came upon the grand entry area, I stepped onto the green marble floors that lead to the huge doors. More Tonga Marines stood guard in the foyer, and beyond them was the grand rotunda which is the heart of the palace. Impressive does not begin to describe this lavish structure with exotic marble floors and white marble walls. The gigantic black marble columns that encircle the rotunda hold up the upper tiers. The center of the rotunda is open to the very top of the dome that caps it about 70 or 80 feet above. And from this dome hangs the largest chandelier I have ever seen. Two great spiral stairways rise to the upper levels on each side of the great entryway. These are also impressive structures lined with white marble handrails. On one stairway, it takes 70 stairs to get to the third floor, but only 69 on the other. I found my desk on the third floor, much of which has been converted to office spaces.
My job deals with the budget that is devoted to the reconstruction of Iraq, and urgent humanitarian projects to assist the Iraqi people. I receive packages for all major projects throughout Iraq. I make sure that all the required documents are comply with current laws and policies, also ensuring there are enough funds before they go to the generals for approval or disapproval.
We work late hours six days a week, which can wear on one after a while. Even though I get a half day off on Sunday (that means I get to leave work after working about six to eight hours), it is not quite enough to recharge.
In fact, I had given up coffee the day I left home. However, I gave in after two months here, and I started drinking one cup of coffee in the morning to help me through the day. The present work tempo sure makes time fly, but I would still like a few hours here and there to read a book, and write some letters or emails. For sure, I would really like to travel to so many sites throughout Iraq.
I am intrigued by the history that surrounds me, so it really bothers me not to be able to walk on these historic sites, many of which are mentioned in the Bible. The Euphrates is very close but outside the wire. If I recall correctly, the Euphrates is called Perath in Hebrew (means to spring forth or something along those lines) flowing from the Garden of Eden. Bible scripture tells it was the fourth river in creation. There are several prophesies that mention the beginning of Armageddon will be marked by the drying up of the Euphrates, which will reveal a vast treasure. Muslims are warned not to touch it and are also told that nations shall go to war over this finding. I am not sure about treasure, but the droughts in this area coupled with any dams built in Syria and Turkey on the tributaries that feed the Euphrates would certainly strain the region potentially giving rise to a greater war later on (over water… real treasure in the desert).
There are many other places of great interest. The Province of Babil is just to the south of Baghdad and the city of Al Hillah is just 62 miles from here. This city is where ancient Babylon was located, and it is where King Nebuchadnezzar built The Hanging Gardens of Babylon about 600 BC. I know it's nothing but ruins, but I would so much love to see them. Less than 300 years later (323 BC) Alexander the Great died in Nebuchadnezzar’s Palace on his way back from conquering India.
The oldest city known to date existed near Ur (also south of here) well over 7,000 years ago... mind boggling. Not far from there is Ziggurat to Marduk (built approximately 610 BC) believed to be the structure (what little rubble remains of it) associated with the Tower of Babel. Although the Old Testament does not provide dates or an easy way to establish them, it seems to me that the tower in the Bible would have been much earlier than that. However, one could counter that it is consistent with the Bible story, in that it was a tower built to unite the people, but somehow these folks walked away confused. The ruble serves as proof that the tower came tumbling down at some point. And to clinch this story, if you ever tried to learn Arabic, you would understand why the builders would have left so confused. I am just being silly in the last two sentences. ;-)
Until next time…

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Entry #3

On the evening of the third of August, I landed in Baghdad. The temperature was well over 100 degrees but it felt only a bit warm when compared to Kuwait, which I was glad to leave behind. I was pleasantly surprised to find Dave, the Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) I was to relieve, waiting for me. We collected my four seabags and headed for Camp Victory.

The trip from the airport was uneventful as we rode between and around high cinder block walls topped with barbed wire. Whenever we came into the open, the terrain was devoid of vegetation except for a rare palm tree and scant, rugged versions of the Texas tumble weed. As for the atmosphere, it was impregnated with a very fine mist of powdered dirt, like in Kuwait. Not only could I see it, but I could smell it and taste it. The taste of the dirt in my mouth became bitter as I thought of the land that boasted being the Cradle of Civilization and the site of the great Hanging Gardens of Babylon, those legendary wonders of the world.

My heart sank at the thought of all that has transpired in this region. For millennia the peoples along the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers made tremendous contributions to the advancement of our civilization. Today, it seems that thousands of years were wiped out in the blink of eye, or that civility is barely reaching this forsaken territory and its inhabittants…

Once in Camp Victory, I promptly signed in with billeting and got on the waiting list for a CHU (Containerized Habitation Unit… or something like that). My temporary home would be tent 104. A pleasant surprise awaited me there. Three fellow Commanders (CDRs) that started the journey with me back in Ft. Jackson were assigned to the same tent: Super smart Doc Chris, and two extraordinary Supply Corps Officers, Kevin and Mac. Two Army Lieutenant Colonels (LTCs) joined us later but I did not get to know them since I was fortunate to get assigned a CHU the very next day.

The day after my arrival, I met Dave for breakfast at one of the Dining Facilities (DIFACs). The only thing I will say about the DIFACs is that they offer a great selection and it would be all too easy to gain lots of weight for anyone not moderating their food intake, and balancing it with plenty of exercise.

After breakfast, Dave and I walked the short route to the Al Faw Palace, my new work station. Al Faw Palace sits in the middle of a lake with one main road leading straight to the front portal. It is very much like a castle with its own moat stocked with very big fish. We were greeted by Tonga Marines at the gate leading to the palace. Those Tonga Marines are at least six ft tall and are very professional and Gung Ho.

Well, I do not want to make this too long. The bandwidth of my internet service provider cannot handle very much, and I do not even know if I will be able to upload any photos. Hence, please stay tuned for my description of the lavish AL Faw Palace.

To be continued…

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Entry #2

On 25 July, reveille called us out of bed at 0200. We gathered our belongings, cleared the barracks and mustered. With everyone accounted for (including weapons), we boarded buses at Fort Jackson and headed for the airport in Columbia, SC.

Upon our arrival at the TARMAC, we found several Vet organizations waiting for us. They treated us to pastries, coffee and goodie bags. This was a nice gesture, and very much appreciated since our flight was delayed given that the aircraft had to offload some fuel in order to lift from the runway which had been shortened as a result of some unannounced construction. This resulted in a change to our flight plan which would have taken us directly from Columbia to Leipzig, Germany.

We ended up going to JFK Airport in New York, where we spent a couple of hours as the plane refueled and changed crew. By the way, this was a commercial flight, which made it kind of strange since everyone carried their weapons onboard. Guns and rifles at our feet, and I can’t think of any one who did not have at least one knife on their person…

We landed in Leipzig before 0200 hours local time: Nothing much to report since we just got off to stretch our legs and back on the plane. I heard that the Germans have a different word for everything, but I only saw a couple of them who were busy doing, ah, German things. ;-)

Our plane made a rough landing in Kuwait, our intermediate destination. It was 1000 hours local time and the heat was there to greet us with a cozy 124 degrees Fahrenheit. One could only imagine stepping into a convection oven. If I felt my eyeballs were going to melt, I had nothing to worry about since the winds were kicking up enough sand to coagulate the goop in my eye sockets. Even though I had been in 140 degree Persian Gulf temperatures back in the 90s, I guess I have been spoiled over the last few years, and I had not come to grips with the fact that it was only going to get hotter. And it did.

As we arrived at our high security camp in the early afternoon, the temperature had risen to 138. It made me wish we were back in South Carolina 95 degree temperatures. We were promptly assigned tents and ushered to mandatory briefs which reiterated hydration, hydration, hydration.

We come to Kuwait to acclimate to the region and to reach the pinnacle of our training phase, the Udairi Range. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s hotter than any other place I’ve heard of, and it’s, well, even hotter than a sauna at max temp. We donned our body armor and Kevlar helmets, boarded the busses and headed to the infamous Udairi Range. Once there, we unloaded our gear, ate some yummy MREs (not so yummy), and hit the sack to get a bit of shut eye before our 0400 wake up call. This was not a bad time for reveille since my internal clock was messed up and I had only been able to get to sleep between 2300 and 0200 hours (3 hours of sleep at night).

I got up before the others and just enjoyed the early morning warmth. I would like to say that the air is pure in this forsaken place, but it is polluted with a very fine dust that makes the atmosphere seem as if veiled by a dirty fog. The sun often looks like the moon as it tries to penetrate the dirt that forgets its place is on the ground. Anyway, soon everyone was up and we had MREs for breakfast. It seems to me that all the MREs taste the same, even if they are labeled and made to look different. I realize that I have had too much of the good things back home. But this sure gives me an appreciation for our regular grunts who have to live on this stuff and in these conditions for days or even weeks.

By 0500 we were in our body armor and getting our first briefs, which were shortly followed by dry drills on close quarter maneuvers. Once the instructors felt we were ready to run with life ammo, we lined up on the range, locked and loaded our weapons. Then the fun began: Walk, stop, look, shoot; walk, stop, look, turn, shoot; run, stop, look, shoot, so on and so forth… Of course, no amount of shooting fun can reach its climax if one does not get on his knees to pick up all the brass. I believe that took us until noon.

The afternoon was spent in briefs covering the latest convoy procedures, and then we picked up our HUMVEEs to practice our newly acquired knowledge on convoy ops. And so, we rode our vehicles through small village setups, practiced identifying improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and the actions to execute in such cases (I can’t go into the details). As the sun set, we returned to our tents and ate more MREs.

On our last day in Udairi, we rose, ate MREs, donned our body armor, and loaded onto the HUMVEEs for our final convoy ops test. I was the gunner. That is the guy who gets to ride on top. It looks cool in the movies, but it is not so cool when one has to do it for real. It gets hot up there; one gets banged up when going up and down burrows; the face must be covered to avoid the dirt caking the face; and the gunner is the one most exposed to the hazards of IEDs or rollovers. Well, long story short, we got high ratings on the execution of our convoys ops.

The temperature was reported at 153 degree Fahrenheit as we were boarding the transports that would take us from Udairi Range back to base camp. It felt way hotter that Africa hot, but several of us could not believe that such a temperature was possible. Hence, we asked the chief for verification. He humored us and came back with a precise reading: 153.3 degrees. Ouch! (According to Wikipedia, the highest recorded temperature is 136, but I do not believe Wikipedia has made it to the Udairi Range). When I get back home, if I can’t seem to recall certain events, remember your name or even mine, this should explain many things in advance…

I expect to be in Baghdad tomorrow (3 August).

Oh, please do not try any of the stuff above at home.

Cheers and please go grab a cold one on my behalf. ;-)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Entry #1

I started my deployment process at the Norfolk Naval Station on 29 June 08. Nothing much to say about the few days I spent there since I was basically ready to go. However, I did get issued a seabag with my gas mask and four sets of Army Combat Uniforms with boots and the works.

On 5 July, I was bused from Norfolk to Camp McCrady in FT Jackson, SC. I was assigned to open bay barracks with 16 other commanders headed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Djibouti, Pakistan and other interesting places. Here we were issued three more seabags with everything from body armor; Kevlar helmet, medical kits; ballistic day and night eyewear; gloves and all kinds of neat soldiering stuff. We were also issued our M16 and M9 weapons.

So the last 10 days, we have been learning from our Army Instructors what to expect in theater and how to use our gear; travel in convoys; and most importantly, how to effectively use our weapons to neutralize the enemy. In fact, today we got up at 2:00 a.m., donned our body armor, Kevlar helmet, camel backs, with M16 and M9 for live fire, night exercises. After allowing our eyes to adjust to the darkness, we walked onto the range with our M16 and three 6 round magazines. As targets popped up here and there on the range, we took them out. When dawn approached, we went into another similar scenario, but this time, with the M9 (9mm Beretta).

After the night and low light exercises, we had a warm breakfast which was promptly followed by firing some of the larger weapons we have in theater (50 cal, M19 grenade launcher, and the M249) which make for some wicked fire power. This was followed by some quick response firing exercises which tested our ability to engage and take out targets as they popped up left, right or behind us.
Finally, we closed the day with a scenario in which we sat in a Humvee until we received the signal to exit. Upon exiting the Humvee, we knelt, locked and loaded our M16, and ran to a high barricade from which we fired at pop up targets in the standing position. From there we ran to the next barricade and fired from the crouching position, then ran to another obstacle and shot at the targets from a kneeling position. The course ended with a sprint to a low barricade which we used as cover to fire from the prone position.

After running through my course and taking out my assigned targets, I went in search of some real estate to give my body a well deserved rest while the other folks in my platoon tested their skills on the same coarse. See attached pic.