Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pixelated

I love the stories I hear as I “interview” these American soldiers and look through so many of their photos. Children love them leaders respect them teen-agers find themselves with the emotions of both. Picture after picture I see the soldiers directing building projects, handing out heaters in the Winter, bringing food and smiles to children, showing these people how to protect themselves and by example, how to think outside themselves.

Even after having been on this base for over 7 months, I realized I never knew exactly what it was these guys do after they go ripping out the gate. But they are camera maniacs, cataloguing everything they do, every step they take, every hillside they round. Just young boys, filled with the wonder of power beyond imagination (their Rambo dreams come true), restrained by purpose in a foreign and untamed land, shepherds to shepherds, heros to youth. Perhaps unaware of the destiny-shaping effects of their mission parameters, out they go, shooting more pixels than rounds. And I finally get a peek, a taste, a clue, and to pass some on to you.

Of course, I am unable to show you all the pictures I’ve received, but hope to represent them all with a few trailing these blurbs. And for all their candid shooting, I can’t find a whisper of an oil well or a story of how much crude we are shipping out of here. I can’t find a face where purpose doesn’t outshine fear, or where hope is overcome by any shadow of shame. The job they are given to do is, in essence, put Iraq back on its feet. Set these people up for success. Teach them and give them the things that are innate to our American culture: security, hope, education, direction, purpose. Oh, and did I mention: Friendship. And again, all this while under constant threat of a bullet in the back.

IS THAT COOL OR WHAT?

So I hope you will stare at these pictures a little longer. The more I did, the more I experienced some humble pride, if that’s possible, for some of the noble aspects of the work done here. The more I did, the more I saw soldiers helping, helping, helping. I seriously thought mostly of what soldiers did was shoot and be shot at. But now that seems to be only the things they must do while accomplishing greater purposes. But please, take a look for yourself and see what you think.
love kids Posted by Hello

Speaks for itself, doesn't it?
shepherds to shepherds Posted by Hello


Most armies run rough-shod through their territories, get the picture?
building project Posted by Hello


The military helps towns set up or repair schools, facilities, and even helps some private business with their buildings. They direct and provide funds mostly, paying Iraqis to do the work themselves spuring local economies and giving them pride in their work.
teenagers Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 29, 2005

A Better View

Today the cleaning lady came over to see if there is anything I need. I usually have her bring some bread in from town for me and occasionally I have her clean the room and do laundry. They are already paid to do it but it is common for us to give a big tip. She has been very watchful for my old roommate and I; he has been very generous to her. But he moved away and today she greeted me with a handshake and a kiss on the neck! Probably because she couldn’t reach my cheek, but it rather caught me by surprise. However, I am getting to know that these people can be quite gracious and warm.

I will call her name Shamera. That is close to how her real name sounds. She lost her father and two brothers to Saddam. Just on different days they were taken and she never heard from them again. She wears a cross and when I asked about her cultural background she says “Christian.” My old roommate and I have preferred her out of all the cleaning ladies because she is the most honest. Sometimes the other ladies take things, mostly food, and for that I wouldn’t begrudge them, but we want to reward her character.

I mention her today because she reminds me how grateful these people are for the American presence here.
Along with their respect for power, these people now see how generous the American soldier is. The soldiers are constantly training these people, bringing them water, supplies, and directing and funding infrastructure projects to build and rebuild the schools and roads that Saddam neglected in his thirst for his own accommodation. Operation Crayon brings shoes, candy, books, and pens to students, also delivered by the soldiers. There is a great bonding between soldier and citizens that interact with them.

In addition, they are a VERY modest, God-fearing people. An Arabic pop-star did a video with her midriff exposed and was sentenced to death by the local zealous. She must travel carefully and with body guards to avoid the execution of her verdict, as it were. So you can see how serious an issue modesty is to them. On base and soldiers in general are required to wear shorts down to the knees and shirts at all times. Even the women must wear one-piece swimsuits at the pool. It is a military rule of modesty but it also shows respect for cultures like this one

All this has brought me to something of an epiphany. Essentially, what these people knew of America before meeting the soldiers was what they see in the Movies and hear in the News. As you can imagine, Hollywood shows them quite often a depraved culture that strips women and debases marriage, which are things this culture holds quite sacred. Combine that with news like, ok, I’m going to be blunt here, the reported sexual antics of a certain American President, and you can see why so many Arabic nations consider us the “Great Satan.” I mean, it’s a no-brainer.

I believe the respect Iraqis are gaining because of the strength, generosity, aid, and even the values that the American soldier extends to these people, will prevail eventually. It always has in the past. True, these things are perhaps more the case here in the North where the people did not receive the benefits Saddam reserved for his own clan and are more inclined to see us favorably as their liberators. But I know these things are not lost on the bulk of the Iraqis. And I can’t help but wonder, if it weren’t for Hollywood and popular media, would we even need to be here? Food for thought. Which reminds me, it’s lunchtime.
they come running Posted by Hello
boys Posted by Hello
hungry! Posted by Hello
still grateful Posted by Hello

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Effective Immediately

A strange thing happened at the office today….(a letter to my sister)

(for those of you who have already seen this, check the updates at the end.)

Ellen, the Lord blessed us with a little miracle, thanks to your “missionary package.” In a unique circumstance, the boss from the other shop picked up the mail and brought it to our shop. Usually we pick it up at the LSA or living quarters.

All the guys are just sitting around because there is no work lately. Since it is 105 degrees out and we have an little air-conditioned room, we hang out in there. We had a blackjack tournament earlier in the day (it’s better than watching multiple R-rated movies so I played the dealer) and then they were bored. So your package was special delivered and I opened it in front of them and started reading the titles as I pulled everything out.

One black guy there doesn’t swear or drink or smoke and he is very polite, which is amazing considering popular black culture and rap etc. But since I mention my religious activities and thoughts regularly because they are part of my life, he asked one day what we believe and how are we different from the Jehovah’s witnesses, for example. I told him I’ll get back to him on that. Well, when I got to the 1st discussion brochure you included, I looked through it and handed it to him and said, “here is that info you wanted.”

Then I pulled out the Arabic books of Mormon and we all looked at the funny letters. Got out the other booklets and read aloud “The Meaning of Life.“ One of the other guys Rob said “Hey! Let me see that” and started reading it. I got out the Dickens’ book and started pretending to read through it, but I was too bemused to concentrate. I saw out of the corner of my eye that “L”, the black guy, finished the brochure and instead of setting it down or giving it back, he tucked it in his shirt pocket. So I said, “do you want to see the video?” He said “Yeah, that’d be great” so I handed that to him.

Well, he went out for a breather and Rob “borrowed” the video, opened the plastic and stuck it into his laptop and started watching the First Vision DvD. 2 other guys slide over and started watching it with him. Another guy Jason had already watched it twice because I gave him one already. The last guy was married to an ex-mormon and his best friend had the missionaries over for dinner all the time. He, Jeremy, said, “We already have that one (at the house).”

But the clock signaled the end of the day, right when Joseph was going into the woods. Nothing stops these guys from going home from work and I told Rob he just got to the exciting part. He said “yeah, it was just about to get interesting, I’ll have to finish it tomorrow.”

A girl in Italy that had served a mission with a friend of mine started chatting to me online. I asked her if she wanted to hear something funny and told her what was going on. She said something about the power of the gospel. I said something about the power of boredom. We agreed that the Lord works in mysterious ways.

I did not read out loud the title of the new “Preach the Gospel” handbook as I took it out, since I didn’t want them to know I was using Mormon brain-washing techniques on them. In fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it, but apparently it was working. I carefully set it aside. But not before laughing inside once again. At any rate, Ellen, just wanted you to know that you were inspired both in content and the timing of the box. Thanks for making it all possible,

Ernie

Update 1

Ha ha ha, just a little follow-up on yesterday’s story. This morning Rob finished the First Vision Dvd and he says, “Whoa.” Then he says, “how did that book get in the ground?” I says to him (he’s a country boy so I’m using his lingo) so I says to him, laughing, “you will just have to read it to find out” I thought that was the end of it but darn if I didn’t look over and he had Mormon.org pulled up on his laptop. That country boy had gotten the church website off of the video and ordered a FREE book of Mormon. “Hey” he said, “It’s free! Plus, I want to know how that book got in the ground!” I told him the answer was at the end of the book and he said, “then I guess I’ll have to read the whole thing.” At this point I am laughing too hard to continue the conversation…

Update 2

Well, Rob got frustrated waiting trying to order the Book of Mormon online because the church website was not set up to send to APO (military) addresses. So the next day I noticed he had found LDS.org and was reading the B of M online! He is still reading it right now. He says he found the Moroni guy (in a "premonition" to Joseph Smith) was the one that put the book in the hill by going through the intro. Now he tells me that he looked up Zedekiah at Dictionary.com because he was Nephi’s king. I said, wait until you see how Nephi's brothers Lamen and Lemuel beat up on him and then an angel comes and sets them straight! His immediate response? “What about Sam?” You know about Sam??? He says “Yeah, I’m trying to remember who everyone is in this story." I am incredulous. This 25yr old diesel mechanic tobacco-chewin’ foul-mouthed but good guy is really getting into this! This is better than a church video...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Bigger Than Me

So we got a few new guys in to train but business has been slow. The one with the latex glove over his head is Jeremy. His amusing antics have caused him to be considered as somehow related to me. Just a couple of skinny, laughing guys trying to keep the work atmosphere lite!

This is particularly interesting as I consider the travails of my sweet little cousin (once-removed) Holly. She is a young girl with Leukemia. They are always sticking needles in her and her stomach is often upset from the chemo, which has also caused her hair to fall out. What a brave and beautiful little soul. If you are not a soldier in harm’s way or a little girl with Leukemia, you have much to be grateful for. My challenges pale in contrast.

The days are sunny and warm, temps hitting around 100 usually. I actually don’t mind it, it’s rather mild so far. Guess I am getting acclimated, California ought to be quite chilly when I return…

Driving a 5-ton around base, we saw some of the local agents being trained, see pic below. They do some similar training especially out in the Kurdish areas, since they are the most grateful for the removal of Saddam. They can be trusted the most and are highly motivated to secure themselves after whole villages were killed off by Saddam’s Chemical warfare. Oh, WMDs that he supposedly didn’t have. Some still suffer skin problems and deformities and you can see how dirt poor they are.

Actually, I am preparing some more experiences and images from outside the wire. I think I’ve effectively exhausted most of the novelties from the base where I am. I’d like to share some more of what the soldiers see when they go out. I have used fotos by mine own hand for the most part until now, since this is my experience, but of course much of what I’m a little part of is bigger than just me. I hope you find it interesting too, so stay tuned!
training locals on our base Posted by Hello
training in a town Posted by Hello
working with village leaders Posted by Hello


Look at those houses, made of the mud, sticks, and the grass around them...
candy or pen--pen every time! Posted by Hello


I am told by the soldiers, when the children are offered the choice of candy or a pen, they always prefer the pen.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

American Soldier

Not very many soldiers in church and today they had bomb-sniffing dogs at the gate for all the locals coming in to work--I suspect the anti-Iraq opposition is trying to turn up the heat. It seems SO MUCH of the work the soldiers do here is train leadership and coordinate building of Iraq’s infrastructure. They are always out directing projects and meeting with local leaders. Special Forces seems to do most of the bad-guy raids, backed up by the military. But the regular army guys are mostly out there trying to bring Iraq into the 21st century, meanwhile watching their backs.

Back when this American forces group first got here, they did quite a lot of tent, heater, and blanket delivery to thousands of Iraqi exiles trekking home during the Winter. They were set up in a "tent city." Many of them Kurds, they came back to find that Saddam had moved Arabs into their houses. So in places there is an air of disgruntled cooperation going on here as the new local government and others try to find compromises.

But the cool thing is all the things the soldiers do to comfort, help, build, direct, and secure a life for these people. If you watch the news, you'd think they were always out getting shot and killing bad-guys. But they do SO much more.

Here is a young soldier, we will call him Rapp. Specialist Rapp is a 25-year old medic’s assistant. His duties change from week to week from helping out when there are wounded to riding along on a mission or a patrol in the back of a HumVee to provide medical care if there is an attack. He also helps out with Operation School Supplies. He was forced to drop out of college a semester or two before graduating. Now he lives in this little metal box with a buddy, a locker, a few bunks, and an air-conditioner. He's one of the lucky ones; he's single.

Perhaps dangerous circumstances and depending on your team so much binds these guys together. Going on these missions for the last few 4 or 5 months builds a platoon comradery and they often become like brothers, swearing to stay in touch when it's over. They also begin to feel an affinity for their local Iraqi counter-parts, becoming connected to the people they serve. Does that sound like the reports you hear on the news? It’s a shame they miss the power of what is really going on here. There is just so much building and improvement going on in spite of the constant danger to limb and life. The American Soldier, not many better!
American Soldier Posted by Hello
uploading help supplies; tents, bedrolls, heaters Posted by Hello
Passing out supplies to returning exiles during Winter Posted by Hello
"tent city" tenants Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Blog Sport

Then there is blogging. It turns out that the TV news is watched on average by those around 60 years old. Newspapers suffer similarly. The sun is setting on the old press and rising in areas such as talk radio and internet news sources. The most common source amongst the youth? Blogs. 12 percent of Americans (29 million) now claim to get their political news from blogs. 12,000 blogs are created everyday. That is huge. (see story at: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,155034,00.html

This is of particular interest to me for two reasons, and I thought it might interest you.

But let me take you back: I’ve often pondered the beginning of the great country, the United States of America. Those colonists loyal to England vs. those in favor of the new free country fired volleys of words to win the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens. There was a great printing effort, letters published in papers and pamphlets that everyone read. The famous Federalist papers, for example, followed this format. This sharing of information and dialogue engaged enough hearts to help forge the new nation.

Then in our day the news and topics became delivered to us not by our fellow citizens, but by huge news corporations with resources Joe public didn‘t have. And we came to trust them. Now that many of these huge world media icons often set forth their own preferences and negative bias, I think the internet has given us an alternative news environment which is more like the original situation in the Colonies. News is again passed from informed citizen to citizen, not this time by letters in the town’s papers, but on the web pages of multiple internet communities, bringing the discourse back into the hands of the common public.

I like that because first, the good things, such as the great successes here in Iraq, not covered in traditional media can be found (on the internet). And there is a need for good news!! Secondly, the average citizen is able to become actively involved in informing themselves and others, rather than passively being spoon-fed by what those TV icons choose to share. And that is good!

Hence my mentioning the advent of the blog to you, for your consideration, now that I’ve stumbled into it: it’s a force in our world.
another kirkuk sunrise Posted by Hello
another kirkuk sunset Posted by Hello
another use for mechanic's gloves Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Wild Life

Desert Life

Ahhhh! The Good Lord has blessed with clouds and rain this week. We hit temperatures near 100 for a couple of days and then the cool desert breezes returned, and mercifully clouds blocked out the sun and the cooling and clearing rains fell. Our prolonged Spring weather is greatly appreciated. The plants and animals around here seem to love it too, popping up all over the place.

At night, driving to and from the gym mostly, I’ve seen quite a few little desert foxes run across the roads on the base. They seem so small, the size of a cat, really, with large bushy tails. I saw another strange animal once scurrying along that was so unknown to me I can’t even describe it. Then all these prolific weeds that have sprung up from the rainy season are suddenly bearing blossoms in abundance. There are small seas of tiny white or tiny yellow blooms, punctuated with a larger, vibrant red flower of some sort. Saddam even had some rose bushes planted here, but the rest indicate a resilient variety of indigenous life that must be dormant most of the year. Perhaps there is such beauty and goodness waiting to appear, buried in the hearts of this formerly repressed people as well.

The insurgents seem to be comprised mostly of the vestiges of Saddam’s Sunnis and family. Although a minority compared to Shiites and Kurds, as Saddam’s people, the Sunnis enjoyed some of the wealth and power that Saddam commanded. Used to dominating by force and cruelty, they still seek to instill fear by way of sadistic acts. The evidence is that the vast majority of their victims are their own fellow citizens. Although their efforts ultimately appear to be futile, they know no other way to achieve their ends. Perhaps like the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness under Moses, it will take a generation until they pass away and the younger generation can enter the promised land of peace and prosperity.

One thing seems sure to me. If (and I’m sure it will) this new Iraqi government survives, it will persevere because it will have withstood its birthing pains and been purged in its own furnace of affliction. A noble test to be sure. In a way, the desperate insurgents are insuring a worthy body politic and cultural mettle. I am convinced that good will prevail if it presumes to. But the challenges, bombs, attacks, will be a constant thorn, just like the desert they are born of. Holding the fort for now...
wildlife, desert fox living on base Posted by Hello
not-so-wild life Posted by Hello
small desert blooms Posted by Hello
May 6 Sunrise 6:16am Kirkuk Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Desert Storms

Greetings! And now, the latest news from Kirkuk. We have been “off the air” for the last two days. Email and telephone access were totally cut off. I couldn’t even get email on my private internet service--the government is pervasive. What that means is that a soldier was killed and so communications to America are restricted until the military can notify the family. Rather than one of the unfortunate guy’s buddies shocking the deceased family with an email or phone call saying something like, I’m sorry your son stepped on a landmine this morning. Anyway.

It’s been awhile since this has been necessary, so that is the good news. Speaking of which, I gave a lone soldier a ride home late the other night. He asked what I did and I told him I worked for the company that up-armors the HumVees. He told me how one had hit an IED the other day. It blew the engine right out, put a vehicle-sized crater in the road, and popped the rest of the HumVee back about 30 feet. Those inside? Not hardly a scratch he said, but a severe case of whip-lash. He uttered thanks for the ride as he got out and then a thanks for doing what we do. It makes a difference, he said, to have the armor on there. I know he’s right and I’m grateful to be able to know there is that degree of protection.

Another night recently I enjoyed an excellent desert lightning storm, it was incredible. And then a quick but heavy 20 minutes of rain. That really helped cool things down and knock the dust down as well. It’s been a beautiful Spring here, as far as those things go. I cannot believe the last month the weather was so nice. But the heat has been turned up this week. Even with these last few downpours, the dust is very quick to return. Moisture is not retained in the clay-like earth, it simply dries into the air or runs out into either the Tigris or the Euphrates, I guess. And the ground then quickly turns back to dust.

You can see the result when mixed with a good wind at this web-link, provided by my brother. There are five interesting pictures there. I haven’t seen anything that bad but can you imagine?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_pictures/4491531.stm

Pictured below: What soldiers play at a BBQ they invited us to and the some new trucks for the Iraqis
when soldiers play--water guns Posted by Hello
roof water fight Posted by Hello