Sunday, March 27, 2005

Hot Tips

This week in the news...

Another week of San Diego-type weather, absolutely beautiful, just add a desert of dust and stir briskly with a little wind from time to time. It’s a gritty taste, but still rather nice. Green abounds as grass grows wildly and it is still fairly peaceful. Like 5 O’clock Charlie on the T.V. series M*A*S*H, some guy tosses in a mortar or a rocket here every Saturday night around 8:30. It used to be Monday at 8 but he must have had a scheduling conflict with terrorist school or something, evening classes. Probably a harmless looking farmer by day. Anyway, as usual, it was a dud.

Also, there was another HUGE column of dark-gray smoke blackening the sky again one day this week. Darn, spoke to soon, they must have hit another oil pipeline again, I thought. But turns out they have these 40-foot “ponds” of extra oil that gathers. When it gets full they get rid of it. By setting it on fire, of course. How are the gas prices over there anyway? We got oil over here to burn, apparently.

And now the good news of the week. The Coalition established a tip-line back in the early days after the successful taking of Baghdad. You could phone in a tip on a terrorist anonymously, you know. Well, that was a useless expense at first, but the Iraqis kinda dig it now and call in about 30 times a month. Bad guys are picked up, weapons caches recovered, and bombs de-fused before they kill. Up near here they hauled in cache of 70 AK’s this week. More and more pieces are fitting together.

But it is a different world here. This is a piece of an email from an old friend; he is a Marine to the south:

“Iraq is definitely a different country. The culture
here has it's own intricacies that at times seem quite
backwards from what we are used to in the states.
Right next door we have a man who has three wives and
about 6 or more kids. It is also a bit weird to see the
people caring AK's like they were a purse, everyone
has one. We've been told as long as they are not
pointed at us, that's ok. You should see the state of
some of these vehicles, wow. It is amazing they still
run.” Sgt. Lindsay


As mentioned by a reporter friend of mine, it is pointed out that these people find this new government thing very odd. They say they have been using the rifle to live life and war is a cultural pastime, you know, bullets instead of cookies for the new neighbor; especially if he has a nice herd or an oil well. They wonder if it really makes sense to try democracy. But the Kurds here in the north have already found out that capitalism makes for a far more friendly and comfortable living. I think it will and is spreading. Even if they keep an AK next to the purse. Hey, it’s a rough world out there.

Meanwhile, back at the shop. Speaking of oil, we change it now. Yup, yuck! I hate getting my hands dirty! But we have grabbed some oil and lube and annual service work to try to keep us busy because we are out of armor. So here are the pics,

There’s Earl and Nick, the foreman in Pic 1. After bolting one of the last turret shields, Earl tests the weaponry to see if it can hit a fly on the wall. Just kidding, we aren’t allowed to do that.

Pic 2, Servicing a Humvee.

Pic 3 Big rig, time to learn something new. A car holds about 5 quarts of oil. These things hold 5 gallons or more! And it takes 2 or 3 guys to get the tire off.

Pic 4 After we lube and change fluid and filters on the Big Trucks, we test drive them. This “convertible” was especially nice to test drive around the base afterwards in this beautiful Spring weather!
Earl aims Posted by Hello
fluid and lube Posted by Hello
big rig Posted by Hello
Heckuva convertible Posted by Hello

Friday, March 25, 2005

Sunday, March 20 2005

This morning multiple columns of great smoke seemed to be rising from all directions--"they must be attacking from all sides," my first thought! At least none got inside the gate, but awfully close, it seemed! But apparently the locals are celebrating the beginning of the war against Iraq’s former treacherous leadership. It was largely successful in 3 short weeks and their elections came less than two years later. So they celebrated today by setting numerous piles of tires on fire!! Why not fireworks, I wondered? But, hey, if tires are all you have--and the smoke lasts all day long! [gag!] And what a change the whole Middle-East has seen since then, with former tyrannies falling all around and democracy spreading like a wholesome plague!

Sadly, the bad-guys marked it by a successful hit on a convoy up here. I’m afraid we lost some American life on this one. Very rarely have they such success, but it is very sad when they do. They have no chance of taking over Iraq again, torturing and pillaging and all that, but they insist on taking life of those helping out and helping themselves. Very sad.

In other news, we are running out of armor again. Since Kirkuk is the safest part of the Iraq neighborhood, as it were, the armor that exists is being diverted elsewhere. That means yours truly may be back to changing oil and packing greasy bearings. Say it isn’t so! But one thing I’ve learned is don’t try fretting tomorrow, it’s rarely as bad as you planned. So for now, we have several more days-worth of 4-door kits.

So the pics below show the transformation of an old green HumVee, with the doors removed, through the process to it’s final 4-door kit finish. That’s me drilling for the backing plates (so the interior of the vehicle becomes something of an armored box) on an already-tan HumVee. And what it looks like when we have the stuff all bolted on. And it works. Sometimes the bombs will blow the engine right out or the concussion will cause a broken leg inside the HumVee, but shrapnel practically never enters and kills. What a grisly business for these soldiers, eh? But there is always a price for freedom, I have to believe it is worth it and this armor brings the price in life down.

Rumsfeld says things continue to get safer here, so that is good. It is rather quiet in Kirkuk nowadays, and even formerly hot Mosul is cooling down--we don’t seem to hear as many reports coming from there. The oil fields have not been hit here (crossing my fingers) lately either. All very good signs. So I look forward. I’m thinking of planning a trip to Israel on my next break. Anybody got any good tips?

Ernie
ready for new doors Posted by Hello
bolting on armor door Posted by Hello
hard drilling Posted by Hello
HumVee finished Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Mormonisms

Mormonisms

So what’s up with all the Mormons around here? We’re slowly getting more hymn books but it may be a while before we can meet demand. And I will tell you these are strange circumstances for those familiar with the consistency of Mormon digs around the world. Bread for the sacrament meeting last week was obtained with the help of, a…Burger King. That’s right, we partook of the water and the sesame-seed bun. Uh-huh, YOU decide.

And the pulpit that comes with the chapel, shared by other religious groups? It’s still a bit uncanny for us dyed-in-the-wools to see a cross on that panel in front of the speaker! At least Dracula won’t be coming forward to bear his testimony! But there is a great suction to find sustenance from the Spirit of the Lord here and meetings of most denominations are packed. It’s ALL good.

In fact, today, no less, I ran into a former client. A wild guy that I knew from Dominoes Pizza in Logan and as a mobile mechanic I would go repair his truck that he so abused during deliveries. I had no idea he was a member of the same church as I, back then. But after the 1st meeting here today, he comes to shake my hand. “Remember me?” he says, “and my blue Toyota pick-up?” Did I ever. Wild guy, from ‘92 whilst I was at Utah State. It was great to see him at church!

Then there are the guys at work. I wondered if I could ever influence them for good. After 6 months, not much to speak of, or so it seemed. But recently one of the guys whom I work with, whose life goal is to own a Sports Bar, asked me about church. He said he had no interest but strangely, his 3 boys back home started asking to go to a church. “You always say yours if pretty good, don’t you?” he more or less asked. And then he ‘bout knocked me over with, “And I need to improve things at home.” Ok, you came to the right place.

Wow. We have been having much discussion and then yesterday he said, “But you probably don’t have a church near where we are.” So we hopped on LDS.org and entered his zip code into the meeting-house locator. Then we clicked on the MAP button. I asked him if he knew those streets and that area. He said, “Yeah, and look at that stream, I can go fishing after church!” I didn’t miss a beat, I said, “Isn’t that great?! It‘s perfect!”

Hey, the man wants to take his kids to church and improve his family life, let him fish!

Truly, great and marvelous works are afoot, I’m telling you. So what, here’s some pics from the beautiful “Sun”day we had today. There I am, contemplating the weather. I use the blue 4-wheeler to get around, to church, etc (beats walking), along with my new aero-dynamic hair-do. Did I mention I get to wear T-shirts to church? It’s great! And I got to give the lesson on “Every member a missionary” today. Talk about good timing!!! Finally…I had some experiences to share.

Oh, and since this is Sunday, another pic shared with me; a visual representation of a scripture in Psalms. Happy Sabbath!

Ernie
Sunday blue Posted by Hello
valley of death Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Contrasts

You know, I just couldn’t resist one more set of pictures from Operation Crayon. I just love the little kids faces and their cute little outfits. But I had to share these two fotos. First, look at the girls faces as they look at the police chief. Second, look at their faces as they look at the American soldier. And both are giving out candy. I found it a fun contrast.

Another interesting contrast is the politics. One of the things these soldiers do on their constant patrols, besides present themselves as targets, is display a presence of power. This is because the political parties are prone to call together armed loyalists and take out the police chief or mayor or what have you. Just rule by force, it has been the way forever.

So another job of the American and coalition forces is to, again, making a showing of being there to enforce law and order under the new system. They also will go into the buildings of the political parties and verify weapons counts and serial numbers. The weapons must be there in the building and no where else. This allows the parties to defend themselves, I believe, but not go out and take over things. The number of weapons is therefore not too many and not too few. But isn’t that a wild concept if in America a towns political parties decided what the law was and if the mayor should be eliminated? What a difference, but that, in part, is why the American forces remain. This fledgling Democracy needs guardians until it takes root.

The American soldier is very revered, perhaps feared by some locals, although US kindness is in obvious contrast to even their own police force, not to mention the old Baathist party goons. But the American convoys go ripping through town or wherever they go and they stop for no-one and nothing! Traffic jams suddenly part to let them through. Traffic lights, obstacles, nothing stops them. They react quickly and with deadly force to threats, but can be found immediately caring for wounded, even if not their own. It is for safety reasons, but it sends a message of benevolent machismo, if you will, of pre-eminence, eminence, and power.

That puts them in a great position to keep order and even bring good to pass. I believe they will. In fact, after their aid mission to the Tsunami victims began, the approval rating there for Americans doubled, from about 30 percent to about 70 percent. It turned hate into appreciation and respect. So, I think good work is afoot here. What do you think?

Pics 1 & 2: look at the girl's faces, compare
girls with local Posted by Hello
girls with US soldier Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Operation Crayon

More pics from operation crayon:

I think the pics speak for themselves. Notice the soldier wearing a headscarf around his neck, perhaps a gift given to him. Notice the sports in black sillouette on the school walls. Some are nice sports like soccer, some appear to be sword play and straight jackets. But try to notice the details, they tell stories!
at attention at school Posted by Hello
Kurdish school boys Posted by Hello
School boys Posted by Hello
Kurdish girls Posted by Hello

How Well it Goes

Upon my return from Germany, the euphoria of a fun trip carried me through a few days, smiles galore. Several Germans said my Deutsch was excellent, and one sweet girl asked if I was from Austria. Wow, my German must have really improved since my mission. Maybe that minor in German at Utah State….But then things dragged a bit as work and life weren’t quite as fun anymore. Now, I think, things have returned to normal. Making me even happier is the chance to bring some news to you.

American soldiers have overseen and helped build/rebuild over 600 schools in Iraq already. Similar work is going on in other areas of infrastructure as I have mentioned before, but that is one stat I specifically heard reported. So much good is being done here.

Here in Kirkuk, the soldiers continue to meet with local leadership to train in government and also train the Iraqi security forces the techniques to remove and clear bad guys from buildings they may have taken control of, for example. They are becoming better equipped and prepared to take care of themselves and are conducting many of the raids now, only backed up by the Coalition and American forces.

One of the young soldiers doing such things is in my church group and brought me some pictures in return for showing him pictures from my glorious trip to Germany. He both meets with some local leadership in a big city near Kirkuk and helps out with Operation Crayon. Operation Crayon brings school supplies and, as you will see in the pictures, candy to the school kids. Obviously a capitalist propaganda tool meant to win the hearts of the next generation of Iraqis. I like it!!!

Brother Scown, as I will call him, has a boyish face and matching enthusiasm for his work among the Iraqis. He really likes being here and thinks it’s a great opportunity and there is a good work to do here. I like that too. I wish you could see one of the videos he shot of a school girl singing a solo. Someday I will figure out how to make such things available to you. So the children line up like soldiers and some then sing solos and they all sing (more like SHOUT! Or chant) their national anthem. Then I think the candy is passed out.

It is getting quieter and safer here all the time. You have not heard anything from Fallujah since it was cleaned out, have you? Remember how hot is used to be there and all the reports you used to get of the violence? That gives you an idea of how things are shaping up here.

Oh, one more thing about the Iraqis that come here on base. They LOVE my skateboard!! Doesn’t matter if they are driving a cement truck, sewage truck, or working on construction. Sometimes I will wave to them when they drive by and they will quickly smile and hold up a hand in return when I am on foot. But when they see me cruising, they honk the horn and their faces break wide open in smiles and they wave like crazy or give both thumbs up. Get your hands back the wheel! And then I think, these people are all-right.

Anyway, here are the pics:

Pic 1 Iraqi’s share many values with our mormon principles. Conservative clothing styles even a mormon wedding could be proud of, as you can see.

Pic 2 But if you don’t, this shop owner looks ready to mete out proper consequences!

Pic 3 Meeting and eating with a “stud” police chief and some other city officers

Pic 4 Bringing supplies to school in Operation Crayon
conservative dresses Posted by Hello
You WILL get married Posted by Hello
local leaders Posted by Hello
Operation Crayon Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Good-bye Dubai

Saturday Night

Got into Dubai in the evening and it turned out my lay-over would be about 24 hours. I caught some sleep and the next day was beautiful too. It was not unlike San Diego, probably 75 degrees, and just the right amount of humidity from the ocean. So I walked out to it. Was that nice!

Helped an little family from India get their stalled car off a bridge, covered 8 miles on foot and got some blisters, but the rest is all bliss. I may have to return here again to relax. But you can have desert fun on 4x4s or camels, sail, and have desert cookouts, it’s like I’ve said, a great vacation destination. I was too tired of caring that camera to take pictures, so I confess that I just relaxed and left you all hanging on the images of Dubai. Perhaps another time?

Then off to Baghdad and back to Kirkuk. But Ernie!!! You are saying, what about Josef and Senja? Well, on TV everything gets worked out in an hour or so, but in real life, things take time. I did get a note from Josef this week and I do keep in touch with his sister and, mmmm, let’s call Senja his friend of interest for now. Let’s just say that Josef has reason for hope and has his work cut out for him, but last report is they are at least engaging in some cordial contact once again. I’ll let you know if someday there are any special announcements….

For now, enjoy some pictures in Dubai (pronounced Doo-bye) and I, and the lovely Sara and Senja after church in my “investigator” outfit. It was a great trip, like I said. New and cute friends, family history uncovered, best snowboarding conditions, mission memories, and more. I am still smiling even back at the “grind” for a week now. Thanks for humoring me and coming along,

Ernie

Pic 1 Hotel near airport, outside the buffet

Pic 2 Hotel, opposite direction. Notice the painting on the building

Pic 3 Dubai 4x4 store, wheels or hoofs?

Pic 4 Notice the happy demeanor on my face, capturing the essence of my experience in Germany. Either that and/or I like those girls…
Enjoying Dubai Posted by Hello
more Dubai Posted by Hello
4x4 store in Dubai Posted by Hello
Deutschland cuties Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 05, 2005

4c. add-to fotos

Pic 1 Here the clouds briefly break and I can get a
shot at the mountain I was on top of. And now some of
you think I am a great photographer. But I’m telling
you, especially in this area, if you can hold the
camera steady so the image is sharp, you just point
and shoot--everything is beautiful!!

Pic 2 Local Garmisch-Partenkirchen church on the way
out. See what I mean about pictures?

Pic 3 One last shot of a German house before I’m gone…
picture this Posted by Hello