Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What a blog is

Some of you may wonder what a Blog is. Again it’s like an internet journal or log that anyone can access. History of the word:

Web logbook became Web log became Weblog became BLOG. So it is a log book kept on the world wide web. It can be for business but mostly it has become a method for keeping an online journal so that your friends or anyone on the web can read it and keep up with what you post on it. It has the effect of a journalistic newspaper column, for example, where you can look for a new written entry at regular time intervals. But just type gr8e.blogspot.com in your browser address bar and the page will come up.
You will see that it lists the latest (most recent) entry, or “posts” first and then goes backwards time-wise as you scroll down the page. On the right is a section that tells you who I am and has links for archived blog entries, organized by MONTH.
The emails I have sent have been transferred to this log, or blog. However, I experienced trouble getting the pictures attached for the last two month's worth. That should be remedied soon, I hope.
This blog site is FREE for me so far and certainly there is no cost ever for visitors, except perhaps patience.

Again, you can find it at Gr8e.blogspot.com

Hope you are having a great week!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Third Weirdness

Previously I had wondered if weird things came in threes, since two had occurred. Then I got word, my NBC bag, lost 7 months ago at the Dubai airport on my way in, has just turned up. The NBC (Nuclear/Biological/Chemical) attack gear is not that interesting to me, to tell you the truth. But I had stuffed some extra things into the bag before shipping out.

So today I was re-united with a few of my things. Re-united, and it feels so good. My space-age skateboard that brought me so much happiness during my week in Houston is back!! I can’t use it in Iraq, but when it was lost at the airport, I thought I would never see it again. This means that again, it may serve me well, in the future at least. And if not, it sure is fun to fold and unfold.

Some other interesting items returned include a few extra sets of underwear and 2 rolls of duct tape, the universal tool, and a nice knife I had forgotten about. But it still is bizarre that something you leave at a foreign airport suddenly shows up and finds you 7 months later. It just goes to show that you should never give up hope.

In other news, it looks like the Iraqi police and our military quickly got the recent surge in attackers under control; it has been very quiet again even though intel suggested further activity. AND I just got the word that efforts in control are being reduced to allocate more resources to the training of the Iraqi police. Here in Kirkuk, Kurd and Sunni are friends on the police force and they enjoy the training they are receiving. The sooner the IP are ready, the sooner the bulk of the reservists can go home and it is moving along nicely.

Also in good news, my shop received much new shipments: 60 up-armor windshields and 16 gun-box kits. Very cool, that means work for at least 3 weeks and therefore no more oil changes for at least that long. YES!

Perhaps in the category of more than you should know, the shop foreman told the guys they could never hog-tie him. Well, the results were pictured below, but apparently the evidence can't be shown at this time. Don’t worry, he still commands respect. Well, at least as much as he did before. Least there be confusion, we all get along fine and only beat each other up in good fun.

Pic 1 The lost bag is back and first I check on my “space-age” retractable skateboard. Behind me is a HumVee with the new up-armored windshield installed. They have the green borders and I’ve never seen one penetrated.

Pic 2 Unfolding the skateboard out again.
pic Posted by Hello
pic Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Getting it Done

Hello from Iraq!

We put in some work today and the company supervisors came through so we all got interviewed. They asked us individually if we had any complaints. I said "No, I like a company that is poorly run!" It makes it more fun and interesting. He looked perplexed. Ah, the truth, it sets you free. (Is that what FIRED is?) However, I told him we had a good team, the guys help each other out, and the work gets done expediently. We get along with management, and I got out on my vacation just fine so what else is there? Living conditions are better than we were told to expect. It's their problem if they don't give us enough tools and leadership, etc. (Plus, we’ve already had more than half the team leave for better paying jobs.)

I eat and sleep well; it's all good. I can get my things done--I like that. I tell them it’s the best job I’ve had. After interviewing everyone they came back and said we are a good team and our client (the military) is quite pleased with our service. Like I say, we get the job done with what we got.

Alas, Kirkuk has heated up a little, just as Mosul has cooled down a bit. Perhaps some of the bad guys came east from there to cause havoc here. Or perhaps some of the old powerful Clerics are feeling out the possibilities of their power. Regardless, they will not succeed, but will cause some unnecessary pain. There have been a few extra mortars tossed into camp recently at different hours. Those attacks are for the most part futile and not to fear. The boys in uniform seem unusually active lately to take advantage of the increased hostile activity to target the culprits.

Unfortunately, the bad guys achieved some success against the local police force. 12 Iraqi policemen of Kirkuk were killed while checking out a decoy bomb. As they gathered to check it out, a larger, hidden device was detonated. Also an attack against the police station was thwarted, but 3 policemen lost their lives in that incident. We heard the gunshots from that attempt for about half an hour and saw smoke rising from the direction of the police station. We assumed the attackers were successfully repelled, but things seemed to have heated up a little here recently.

As my experience with the locals that work on base, I sense an eagerness to succeed and take advantage of their new freedom. It is clear they feel comfortable with Americans and understand we are not here as conquerors. They are eager to show their willingness to serve and work and acquire a greater economic advantage for themselves. They are, for the most part, enthusiastic and cheerful. They like to interact perhaps more than we do--we see it as something that needs to be done, they seem to want to connect and align themselves with the power and opportunity that Americans exude in abundance.

That is what I perceive, anyway. That’s it for now…

Ernie

Pics

Pic 1 The new guys. Looks like they are beating the sticks for workers; these two young fellers came from Georgia. Smoking and swearing like a Banshee are very popular over here. But they are doing well and learning quickly. And there are actually a lot of guys here that have given up smoking. Very cool.

Pic 2 From February. This is a view west as the sun settles into its evening repose. Feel the peace and warmth emanating from its golden hues. Perhaps you could put it on a big screen TV and imagine yourself with a loved one. Perhaps take some time for a reprieve from what ails you and imagine that the world is at rest for this sunset that lasts as long as you want it to. Or, just go on to the next picture.

Pic 3 Myself driving the forklift, taking the old boxes from add-on turret armor out to the curb for garbage gathering. Notice the lovely Spring weather.
my new hoodlums, I mean, co-workers Posted by Hello
Outloading empty armor cases Posted by Hello
February Sunset Kirkuk Posted by Hello

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Funniest Thing:

So I’m playing cards with the guys. Normally I avoid that; inane activities drive me nuts. But in the spirit of fraternizing and to quell some boredom (can’t read all the time) I have learned the game of Euchre. Then, out of the blue, the guy who wants to own the Sports Bar says to me, “Hey, I watched that movie you gave me. Twice.” I said, “Wow, that good, huh?” The other guys asked him “what movie?” and he said, “That Joseph Smith one.”

You don’t say.

Well, these guys watch movies all the time, so they asked him what it was about. The would-be Sports Bar owner, Jason, tells them the Joseph Smith first vision story. To the “T.” I’m trying restrain my mirth by not laughing through the novelty of the moment. I am incredulous: One non-member telling the others the Joseph Smith story with earnestness and detail. The rest nodding their heads in understanding. “Guess it‘s not that hard” I mused. Then he turns and asks me, “Did I get it more or less right?” I told him he did and even I learned something-- common terminology to use next time I told it.

But that is not the funniest thing.

Unfathomable. Inexplicable. Miraculous. I thought the scales at the gym were a joke, off by over 10 pounds. Finally I brought the 90 pound weight and the 60 pound weight and stacked them on the scale. The scale read 150, almost to the pound accurate. This Twilight Zone feeling came over me, my palms felt sweaty and I scanned the gym nervously for possible aliens, or something. You know, from outer space kind-of-aliens.

I stepped back onto the scales, the accuracy of which I just verified. And there it was again, it showed over a 14 pound gain over my previous known weight when I got on. I am totally serious.

Having gotten on last week and seen the new number I told my buddies that the scale was way off. It wasn’t: I am. After a decade of being the EXACT, same weight, I have gained 14 pounds in Iraq. Fourteen pounds. It is a miracle. Or, lots of meat and the typical American diet that they feed me here, and not much exercise. But it is so surreal…

Kudos, Susan, by the way. You are the only one who asked if I had gained weight. I’m sorry that I chortled aloud when I read your email. My brother-in-law used to ask me every other week if I’ve lost weight, and he stopped asking; but then I’ve been out of the country so he gets no points (sorry Giovanni). But my dear Susan, you loved me enough to notice and say something. So I have this spare tire now--a child’s bicycle spare, but a spare tire nonetheless. I have no idea what to do with it. Obviously, this is new territory. Do I get a calorie counter?

And finally I wonder, do weird things come in threes? ‘Cuz the next one is going to blow my wig right off. What? I didn’t tell you about my wig? Just kidding. But who knows what may happen next…

Sincerely,

A bigger, happier…Ernie

P.S. Since I wrote this, the third weird thing happened, but I’ll give more detail on that later…

Pic : A new straw hat for the Summer sun (Thanks, Maria!). Underneath it, my new, bigger self.
New Summer Hat Posted by Hello

Prophet Platoon

Here’s just for fun some pics from my shoot of the Prophet Platoon (see previous letter "a new tune"). It was 1400 hours shift-change when most of them would be together and they asked me to create some memories for them so they could remember their time in Iraq. Gives you an idea of some of the sights and sites on a base and the colors of mormons we have here.

E
"prophets" wait Posted by Hello
just boys Posted by Hello
Prophet Platoon Posted by Hello
Let me call that in Posted by Hello

Saturday, April 09, 2005

A New Tune

Today I took pictures for the M.I. 214th unit here in Iraq. That’s MI for Military Intelligence. They are the linguistics group. Composed of all Mormons, except for one. Why? Because they know all kinds of foreign languages, wonder why! The only language they don’t know is Arabic. That’s military intelligence for ya.

Regardless, their duty, among others, is to ride around using top secret equipment to…well, do top secret stuff, of course. Use your imagination. But because, I guess, they are Mormons from UT for the most part, they are called the Prophet Platoon. Or, in the military’s interest in brevity, just plain Prophet. “Send Prophet out right away!” and so forth. By the way, it’s not really “top secret,” just regular secret.

For your amusement, I also took a few pictures after church in the Aloha Chapel. Notice the before-mentioned pulpit, and the convenient drum-set behind the sacrament table. Sometimes after church, we have choir practice. Sometimes it turns into a very brief jam-session. The musical talent, as you may imagine, is very high in this group and even without accompaniment, the vocals are very strong and true.

This week for their first time in a live operation, some of the soldiers got to rush forth out of a helicopter and dive into the grass to secure a field at the edge of a city at night. They were to prevent escapees while special forces made arrests in the city. This group normally is doing the leadership training and patrols of the city, which, for the most part, they feel very safe. No on in their group has been wounded yet and they are in their fourth month here. But this night exercise was more typical of the year before this one.

And that is the rate of progress here. The soldier I talked to says that their work is very different from the year before and next year’s tasks will be very different from theirs. He seems sure that next year the soldiers will have plenty of time to play cards. Things are shaping up that fast. In fact, I heard that in Baghdad this weekend they had this big, peaceful demonstration. Incredible. Do you know the last time Iraq had a peaceful demonstration? Without guns??? Could be the first time in 4 thousand years, if you use swords and guns interchangeably.

Of course, the demonstration was sponsored by the Shiite leader who tried to remove Americans by force (and surrendered several times) in the past. They chanted, Saddam is gone, now we want the Americans gone! Guess we still haven’t taught the rudimentary terms of “Thank you“ and “Please,” but like I say, they did it without killing anyone this time. A huge step indeed. And since the plan, I’m sure, is to pull out the guns and take over as soon as the Americans pull out of Iraq, they will be deeply disappointed. Again.

Peace out
Aloha Chapel doors Posted by Hello
that pulpit, and Julie Posted by Hello
Sacrament Beat Posted by Hello
Mormon kit Posted by Hello

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Historical Perspective

We have a slow news week, everything is lazy and slow. The weather here, still cannot believe it, is perfect. We had a 15 minute downpour, dirty rain as it cleaned all of the dust out of the air, and then the stars came out. Today, low winds, sunshine, and 68 degrees, so far. Nice. Work is very slow.

Another soldier that works with the local leadership described the connection between them as “a bond of charity,” I knew it!! Every American soldier that I talk to who interacts with the local leadership speaks well of what they see, or more so, what they feel. Some soldiers are not always most kind with some locals, not every one is a saint. But still, they are tolerant and vastly kinder than gangsters in our own cities, for example.

And therein, I think, is the HUGE success story of the American military might. The charitable nature of our country and its wisdom in not only preparing itself with overwhelming power, but a battle for the heart as well, rooted in the belief that all men are created equal.

For example, Germany and Japan, great, attacking empires of evil, albeit at great cost, were smashed by America’s superior strength and willpower. But did America pillage and leave them to hate and perhaps rekindle their torridness? No! We gave again generously of our resources after the war, both materially and with life and manpower, rebuilding, guiding, teaching them to be instead industrious and free. The trademark of America, you might surmise, is not only the defeat of its enemies, but winning over and persuasion of their hearts, turning Germany and Japan from treacherous foes to wealthy, friendly, and free allies. Instead of seeking to rule and plunder the world, such nations now treat their people better and produce quality products, such as electronics in the case of Japan, and cars in the case of Germany.

And so in the past, we, as Americans, have trusted highly in the media to bring such facts to our attention. Over generations, we have come to accept all they say as true. But now that they are dominated by political agendas, we are forced to think about these things ourselves and draw our own conclusions. Watch dog for so long, now attack dog; we leave our undying belief in everything they say reluctantly down.

Hence, when the media’s idea insists that we should get out of Iraq as quickly as possible to save ourselves, (“When are we bringing the soldiers home???”) it might help to remember that it is not our habit to abandon the newly freed to be further abused by the remnants of evil and flounder. Furthermore, it has ever been in our interest to teach them, guide them, into a better way, and thus we enlist their help in fighting new evils, rather than fight them again sometime in the future.

Which brings me back to my seemingly simple and small observation about what is going on here between the soldiers and the local leaders. The soldiers bond with them, admire them, feel a charitable love for them. That changes hearts. And Operation Crayon is winning the hearts of the children with charity too. The leaders and the children, brilliant! They learn principles that will make them too, a great nation. And so, even though the cost at present seems high, generations of both Americans and Iraqis will benefit in untold ways through our proven M.O. (method of operation). Don’t let the nay-sayers and the agenda-pushers blind you to the power, goodness, and wisdom subtly involved here in Iraq.

I predict, based on the evidence, Iraq will become a good and great nation! After all, we are good at what we do. So hunker down in your bunker, we are going to be here for a long time. At least a generation, I would guess. I submit to you that the media has lost perspective: maybe get used to finding ourselves? I believe we’ll be more optimistic and wiser, especially with the help of history, and charity.

Ernie

P.S. Pics--random

1) For this great weather, we give Thee…

2) uh…Tanks?

3Children play over the wire. The favorite local colors for children’s clothing? Red and purple.
enjoying Spring sun Posted by Hello
Tanks a lot! Posted by Hello
favorite colors for kidswear: purple and red Posted by Hello