Monday, February 28, 2005

Where Do I Start?

WoW! I am back from Germany--I had a GREAT time!! Met great people and played in the snow and toured and FROZE and ate good food--more details on the way. For now, this kid needs to get squared away, get some rest, etc. But here are some starter photos. The Germans said it was one of the snowiest years they can remember. I think someone above loves me...Ernie

pic Posted by Hello

pic Posted by Hello

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pic Posted by Hello

Monday, February 14, 2005

Oil Is Not Well

That subject line is for you, Mom....

Sure enough, one minute after I sent the last email out about the bad guy Zarqawi (sorry I spelled it with a k last time) I overheard “Security” talking on the radio--there is a curfew tonight and until further notice. They do that if "intel" indicates potential problems. Yeah, I think there might be some problems here soon. I mean, especially since it was on the news, now he’s got to do something at least to keep up his reputation, right? I just hope they hurry up and find him.

So I saw these guys outside the shop and I thought they must be special forces. But a guy in the shop says, “No, they are the hired contractors that guard the oil lines.” Either way, I’m sure they are from the same gene pool, or at least cut from the same cloth. Check out those side arms on their legs (does that make any sense?) Yeah! And they got those clear plastic spring-loaded communications wires coming out of their ears, just like the guys that guard the president! They were out of a Suburban with tinted windows and probably bullet proof glass and antennas on it. And if you look closely, one has green-handled plastic coated scissors in his vest--don’t know what that means.

Now, man has this ego, and I must admit, I said to myself, “now those are real men! I wonder if I measure up.” Now a woman will tell you a real man is sensitive and isn’t afraid to cry. But I just can’t imagine these guys doing that much. Isn’t having some scissors sensitive enough? I mean, with green, the color of growing things? Anyway, just another day in the life--sometimes you just gotta guess at the cool things you see, or don’t see.

At any rate, the curfew was to protect us against the gunfire going on at night. Apparently everyone is out gunning for Zarqawi, literally! They may or may not hate him, but $25Million is an attractive bounty. There was also a larger-than-usual oil fire starting in the night and going into the day, covering about 1/3 of the sky. Today we heard gunfire nearby from town and saw three plumes of smoke from the oil lines they blew up--see pictures below. Guess those guys didn’t do so well after all, but it’s a tough job outsmarting this Zarqawi feller, isn’t%

pic Posted by Hello

pic Posted by Hello

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Not Superstitious But…

this is the news article I just read:

"In Kirkuk, police sources said they were hot on the trail of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who has claimed responsibility for many of the worst attacks in Iraq.

Very Interesting! So the main bad-guy has moved to our peaceful location, so it would seem. Yes the 13th. Now I will ask this question: Bad news for who? Stay tuned…(this is HOPE, I hope, more than pride, speaking) It may be the UT/Idaho boys come through again, like in the last article I sent you--wouldn't that be cool! Wow. Big bad boy right here in our neck of the woods.
The forecast had called for snow last week but all we saw was some serious rain, a little hail, and frozen water on the ground. And I’m still walking the 100 feet to the showers in a bathrobe. When you step in one of those cold pools of water and it sloshes over your flip-flops? What a sensation! And the walk back from the showers is a thrill when one is all damp. But I’m getting used to it. Got to enjoy it while it lasts.
Which brings me to the pictures. 40 miles north and east of here, they did get snow, and lots of it! This convoy went through it and had to stop because some wipers stopped working. The second pic is the gunner in the turret. You cans see the beige walls around him. Those are some of the things we bolt on, can you imagine going out without that protection? You can also see how exposed they are to the elements and they stay out for several hours. Up there with the wind-chill from driving??? I’ll take the walk from the showers any day! Gotta love these guys. I love ‘em so much they all seem like Mormons (brothers) to me. ANYWAY
Pic number three. Ah, yes! Pic number 3 calls to me. Those are the typical of the snow-covered mountains I’ve seen from a distance on clear days. They call out to me, in a whisper they say "Come snowboard, come snowboard" and the whisper blends and fades with the wavering whistling of the wind…can you almost hear it yourself?
Well, this week I get my first R&R--rest and recuperate or something like that, it’s another military acronym, of which there are approximately MILLIONS! We’re supposed to take them every three months; vacations, not acronyms. But I’ve been out 5 ½ months now, lest some of you think I have it too good. I’m off to Germany for the 1st time in, can you believe this, 17 years! Yup, came back from my mission in ‘88. Snowboarding is on the agenda. I will visit a few of "my cities" for old times sake but I want to hit the South, the mountains, the Black Forest, places I couldn’t go while in the Frankfurt Mission, (which was the middle third of West Germany, back before the wall came down). The North is flat and has the docks, much industry. The middle third has rolling hills, castles, rivers, and government. The lower third turns into mountains with more castles, Black Forest, and Oktober Fest; the Germany that Americans visualize when they go on vacation. That would be me.
I don’t really have a plan for every day, I’m going to hook up with the church on Sunday and take it from there. Kind of like Nephi, going, not knowing before hand the things which I will do. Yeah, I’m hoping The Spirit has a relationship with the spirit of fun. Those are good things, right? But the church, as well as being, well, TRUE, is a great network of brothers and sisters, family. Hopefully, some of them are single and cute and know where the parties are. Hey, why not? J
OK, that’s it for now. Unfortunately I was not able to chat with my connection at church here and get the latest from outside the wire, but I hope to catch him before I leave Thursday and we’ll see if we can get a report. I’ve also finally found a warm lead for Operation Crayon, that makes me happy. I will be checking on that.
Ciao for now and happy Sabbath! Mine is great so far.

pic Posted by Hello

pic Posted by Hello

pic Posted by Hello

Monday, February 07, 2005

Talk About Timing...

Now that the local mortar-maniac blew himself up and we’ve had practically zero incoming for a month, the company that houses us decided to put up some cement and earth-filled protective walls. We hope that at least is one step closer to getting the water system installed. Still haven’t figured out what to do with the sink in the meanwhile, it just kind of sticks out of the wall into the room.
Then the company, hereafter referred to as “the company,” had us all sign that we understood some of the most important OSHA rules. Some things, like “don’t keep combustibles in the office” were common sense. But some of these you may not think of and would like to implement at home. Hey, if it’s good for those in a combat zone, think what it could do for you! This is exact wording, although abbreviated in some cases:
Be careful when handling paper, it can cut severly (sic).
Always turn on a light when entering a dark room.
A hot light bulb....wait for it to cool before touching it.
Walk, never run....seconds saved are never worth the risk
Never read while walking (can you imagine the damage from reading while running?) Keep fingers away from [stapler] discharging area
Use handle to close [filing cabinet] drawer. Make sure one's fingers are not curled over the edge. (I wondered why it hurt so bad and the drawer still wouldn’t shut)
Keeping floors [etc].... free from protruding nails (what about the hot coals?) and finally:
In the event of an injury, apply First Aid
Wow, what would we do without the government? I wish they would hurry and take-over health care. But I'd play with a whole ream of paper, risking all kinds of paper cuts, before I'd waltz through Mosul...that place is still really "hot." (army lingo)
As you can see, things are a bit slow. The hail today was twice as large as last time, but still small. Perhaps in a week or so, we may be able to use the bunkers again if the pattern of enlargement continues.
Today they did the quarterly maintenance on the shop power generator. It pretty much runs 24 hours a day for months. We keep it going at night so our mini-fridge has cold drinks in the morning. A crew drives around and fills them all with diesel regularly. But today they shut it off and changed the oil and banged on a few things. There were some locals doing it managed by an American. It was actually funny to see them argue and push each other when they disagreed on how it should be done. I guess that’s why we take their guns before they come in the gate. I wish I understood the words but the hand motions of unplugging and plugging, twisting, and hitting were quite clear. Lest you think all the Iraqis are perfect. Sometimes they downright remind me of ourselves.
Anyway, below is a picture of the crews about to unloading the cement T-walls that they set up around living quarters to stop flying shrapnel. You can see the weather did not stop them. At least they dump lots of small stones over the mud to help keep it clean. Well, that’s it--just keep it safe. Stay away from paper, send emails… Ernie

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Sunday, February 06, 2005

Like a Shield

It has been raining on and off, and yesterday we even had moments of tiny hail--we knew something was different because our tin-roof at the garage gave off a new tone from the precipitation. At least the rain usually happens at night, leaving days to dry up a little. But today I walked home from church in a steady drizzle. Sure glad I had a cowboy hat (thanks Selena!) to keep the top part of me dry. This place turns to soupy puddles of miry clay with enough rain, it doesn’t soak in. Although the weeds and grass are having a go at it, I think this place would be almost a paradise if there was any significant vegetation at all. During the Winter, temps are cool but nice in the Sun. At night the stars are so clear. When the dust and heat returns in the Summer, this all will change. But if you could get a forest or something over here, it would be really nice.

Through testimonies in our meeting I heard again what has to be scientific proof of prayer. A mortar landed here, must have been the day right before the election since it has been otherwise quiet for a month!! Two soldiers injured. But they went back and looked at the damage of the living quarters. One hole went right through a bed where a soldier and just gotten up and left. Another soldier and just shifted a position and where he had been a piece of shrapnel went by.

My great friend, whom I call Nephi, returned from Mosul. His convoy was squeezed near a Taxi with the hood opened up under an overpass. Sure enough, the Taxi was a IED (improvised Explosive device). The timing wasn’t perfect and it went off in gap between two convoy vehicles. (They space themselves for this reason) When they went back, there were two exploded shells and 5 unexploded shells in the bomb. Some were very large shells. Had they all gone off, it would have been a different story.

But a guy from church is in a position in the military where he gets a lot of emails and communications from the states. He is told over and over about people and groups of people praying for the soldiers. The stories I have told you are echoed by thousands of similar reports, so much so that the soldier I call Nephi tells me the guys in his platoon are recognizing that there has to be a God. Total non-believers say they have seen too many narrow misses to not realize there is a protection upon them.

So I put two and two together. Thousands of prayers uttered on their behalf, thousands of “coincidences” which are not coincidences, of safety. At the shop we had a HumVee come in for replacement armor after being hit by an IED. The armored turret we installed had two baseball size holes through it. Those are the big pieces that are near impossible to stop. I projected the trajectory based on other holes in the rear and I remarked that it was good the gunner was not in the turret when they were hit, because at least one would have gone right though him. The driver reported that the gunner had just bent down to pick up something that had dropped when the bomb went off. Prayers are working.

You know, science has even done experiments with prayer and the conclusion was positive; they work. They don’t know how, but they do. I mean, who doesn’t know how except for science. But you won’t see this reported by the press who claims to be open-minded and interested in diverse information. Nevertheless, it is as real and prevalent as fast-food restaurants in America, I would say, only more healthy!

As I said, Mosul is a real hot spot now, many fire-fights and our chartered air-liner will not go there. The good news is that the locals are turning in so many tips on the bad-guys and the info is good that surely damage is being done in a good way. Most of the violence is directed against the Iraqi people and they are starting to fight back.

In one neighborhood, I read this in the news, the insurgents promised a blood bath if the people voted. The people voted. The insurgents came back to make good on their promise. I’m sorry to sound a positive note about apparent vigilantianism, but the townsfolk killed five, wounded/captured the other eight, and set the bad-guy’s vehicle on fire and destroyed it. Terrorism just isn’t what it used to be around here.

So remember, if you hear about some killed in a road-side bomb here, that is the exception. Perhaps a hundred of those bombs go off every week in Iraq, but the armor and the power of prayer are providing far more non-casualties. One more. Carasco came back with Nephi from Mosul today, they are being sent home after their stretched year of service. Carasco, the first LDS baptized in Kirkuk a month ago, and for that time was in brigade that seemed to attract attacks everywhere they went. They survived it all, he had felt rounds go right by him many times and even had is hand burned from a strafe (bullet as it went by).

It was good to see them again and know that they made it through and are on their way home! On their behalf and mine, thanks again for all the prayers. Ernie

P.S. In the first pic, you can see the holes in the back from the shrapnel of an IED, including several different sizes that tore through the back and a small one through the bumper. Up in the turret's armor you see two rusty holes. They have been hammered back shut and an additional piece of armor installed behind it, but you can see where the two pieces went through and how one was dead-on center for the gunner--if he had not just ducked down inside.
Second pic, the hat that keeps me dry

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pic Posted by Hello