Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Alles Gute

Ahhhhhhh!! Snowboarding was great! Even though the World Cup Ski competition was taking place on my mountain and the lift broke with me on it for half an hour, nothing could stop the love! It hadn’t snowed for weeks but there was a 6-foot base and balmy temperatures made for almost a Spring -snow situation. Savory! Speaking of which, I also had some authentic German cuisine in a traditional setting. I could do without all the smoke, but man is that stuff good!

Sunday was great too. I first attended a Deutsche Gemeinde (German congregation) and then the Frankfurt International Ward at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I met several fine Russians, some old Dutch and Frankfurt friends, and made some new American acquaintances. The people were wonderfully warm and gracious.

That evening I attended a “Fireside” chat where the featured speaker was the American “National Mother of the Year 2005.” She happened to be LDS and in town, I guess, and it was awesome to hear her experiences and the counter-world wisdom that she learned from them. Very uplifting. She is very meek and is embarrassed with the honor, but perhaps that is why she let me get a picture with her. It was an honor for me! She is the mother of 11 children, one of whom as Downs-Syndrome and has 42 grandchildren. Frankly, I think all mothers are amazing.

Great fun so far and I am just getting started!
(National) Mother of the Year 2005 Posted by Picasa

Not me, you fools! Helen Bean of Oregon. Fancy meeting her in Frankfurt!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Here’s Another Hilarious Story

So I forgot to set my watch forward an hour in Dubai. I sat at the wrong terminal at the airport. They strangely did not announce the end of boarding on my flight. Yup, I missed it! I called the airline; they refused to give me any credit and told me I could buy another ticket for $3000. HA! I was pretty depressed wondering if I would get to snowboard in Germany and see my friends there at all. Not to mention that, because it was my own fault, the company would no longer pay for my hotel, and they are not cheap in Dubai!

I went and prayed. I called the airline again, and a different soul answered the phone. I didn't even use my begging voice and was offered an “upgrade” for the same flight, next day. Cost? 530 Dirham, which is about $150. SOLD!

What began as an interesting chain of events continued. Surprisingly, I ran into an old co-worker (I hadn‘t seen in a year), for example, because I was in Dubai an extra day. He got some of the promotions that I passed up at work and he invited me to an apartment he stayed in high above the city. Wow. We’re talking marble sidewalks and floors, exotic vehicles parked out in front, a balcony with a view to the helipads on other buildings, the works! And I slept for free.

Also, I met a friend from Kirkuk in the transit camp and he told me about snowboarding indoors at a mall in Dubai. I laughed at him. But that’s where I went after missing my first flight. You know what is funny? Watching the locals Arabs who have lived in a desert all their lives working inside that ski-park, jumping up and down to keep warm and frost forming on their mustaches. And they are so polite!

So some great things happened after the initial stress of missing my flight. I can only assume that other good things are in store for me on my trip, and saw again that something bad maybe something good in disguise, if you just believe and keep trying.
A Night View of Dubai from my humble balcony Posted by Picasa
Ski Dubai:  Posted by Picasa
Mall view of ski area Posted by Picasa
Shopping with the wives Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This is where we hang out at a transit center near Baghdad. Since I was here last they added fridge with milk and soda, treats, and an indoor TV room. Nice! For the longest time it was always a battle for a spot to rest from the elements. It's kinda cold here now, actually. We get a lot of rain in January and February sometimes. Posted by Picasa
A picture I took early in my Iraq career. Not much has changed outside the terminal. Posted by Picasa

Excuse me, is this Baghdad?

Wow. What a difference, even since I came through the Baghdad International Airport 4 months ago! It almost looked like a real airport…inside. It was clean, baggage handlers working, ramps were back up, even a cafeteria! And there were even more Arabic people traveling. The guards were all on the perimeter guarding the doors this time and there weren’t near as many. Now, don‘t get me wrong, outside it still looks a lot like a war zone and they only use one or two wings at the airport. But arriving, it almost felt like a normal airport.

Outside the terminal, it has yet to be landscaped and there is still a lot of destruction. But there were some new cars pulling up this time. I suspect only the more wealthy Iraqis and travelers that can afford security do the traveling. But we were escorted on new buses by armored SUVs, one was even a black-on-black Hummer! Not HumVee; an H2 Hummer, and both our SUV escorts had flashing strobes lights going. One would race ahead and block off an intersection for our turn. It felt like Rock-Star treatment.

So you may have guessed I am traveling now. Yup. As much as I love it here in Iraq, I love to get away. Need to get away---I get a little stir-crazy. Fortunately we can escape from time to time. I’m way past ready for this one! Talk to you soon…
A huge artificial lake with Saddam�s former buildings lining it. In the background you can see the Baghdad International Airport Air Control Tower. Posted by Picasa
Two soldiers check out the view to the water below in one of them Posted by Picasa
solitary soldier smokes a cigarette by one of many such waterways through Saddam�s old buildings Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Oh, the Irony Posted by Picasa

Winter has set in. We just got past a week of constant rain. Yes, that happens here sometimes January and February. Pretty much business as usual here otherwise. Since things are so quiet, we can worry about the little things. Like this little gash I gave myself to the head with my favorite pry-bar. Right after being awarded (Iraq Theater) Safety Employee of the Month, of course.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Bastogne Chapel Posted by Picasa

The Aloha Chapel when I got here over a year ago. The Idaho crew changed it to Snake River Chapel. Now the Kentucky-based 101st calls it...Bastogne? Still have to learn what that means. But "taking spiritual leadership to a new level" is their chaplains' motto...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Christianity and Iraq

In the heart of this Muslim land you find a fine Christian undercurrent. Sgt.-Major Vimoto tells me about a local radio station manager who is Christian. This Christian man runs an orphanage at one of the local schools. A good, noble, and brave man, in my opinion. Conversely, can you imagine a Muslim running an orphanage for Christian children? Perhaps not as easily, as good of a people as they are.

And another time when Vimoto was invited with his soldiers to hear Iraqi children sing (more like shout) a Christmas song in their language for his crew.

And one of our “laundry ladies” that wears a cross. She is the one that can be trusted, who, knowing my firm belief in the same religion, carefully looks after my hooch and goes the extra mile for me.

And when a friend of mine who has been studying world religions started coming to our church meetings, his Muslim co-worker immediately noticed a change in his demeanor--he became so nice, she said, that she had to give him a hug! And she accepted an invitation to visit a religion that had this kind of effect for good on a person.

Conquering Muslims in history are known to have enforced the “convert or die” policy in areas like Iraq. It may well be that, as this land becomes a democracy, some families may return to their Christian roots. Iraq already has the largest percentage of Christians in the Middle-East and contains (at least the reputed) sites of many Biblical stories such as the Tower of Babel, the city of Nineveh, and Daniel’s Lions Den.

Add to that the excellent example of many American soldiers, which Iraqis (correctly) believe to be of a Christian nation and the converts that often follow in the path of the American soldier, and Christianity may have an interesting future indeed in the Middle East. I find that interesting, at the very least.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Hard to Believe?

I feel so blessed to be here in Iraq. This experience has held a great amount of incredible blessings and I wonder how did I receive such an amazing opportunity? To see history in the making, to see the American soldier and be part of the American War machine in action. To come to understand its physical AND moral superiority. And to experience the warmth and goodness of the Iraqi people, who, in the press, are often made out to be something less than human.

I love seeing Iraqis happy and beginning to fill with hope and optimism. I love seeing them on this base, laughing and joking; it seems they know they are safe and in better hands than maybe they are even out amongst their own countrymen, where murders and the power-hungry can still lurk. With each passing month they seem more confident and enjoy interacting with Americans more. It seems they had been told how bad we were, just as we believed they were all a bunch of marauders and could never be anything else.

It has been an eye-opener and a heart-warmer. Yes, there is still grave darkness here, hatred, and evil. As there is anywhere. But I just read about some soldiers on a raid in an Iraqi's residence. They found no weapons, but a baby with a serious medical problem. They adopted that baby, gathered donations amongst themselves and are sending the baby and its grandmother to America for an operation, where a top surgeon offered a no-cost surgery. That story is symbolic of the trust Iraqis have for us and the greatness of the American hearts that beat in the breasts of these soldiers. They are touched and they reach out to a people in need. What army in the world's history does that???
(See Micheal Yon's blog for a link to this story, scroll down until you see Georgia National Guard in Iraq or click here)

This story is not a rare exception. It is common. Just as there are soldiers involved every week in bringing toys, candy, and school supplies to children all over Iraq. Along with the inevitable rounding up of bomb-makers, snipers, and suspects, etc. Oh, which reminds me--I hear the most amusing stories like from the detention center here! Like a guy they found near a weapons cache. He says over and over, "those are not my bombs!! I am a sniper! I have shot 8 or 9 people, but I swear, those are not my bombs!" They are going to hang onto him anyway, in case you were wondering.

You can be proud of who we are and what we are doing. We're not perfect, but we are good. And so are these people, given a chance.

Pray for those in Iraq.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I could not resist more letters from the little folks back home. God bless them! In the history of the world, I think every nation has honored their soldiers as emblems of strength and admiration. Even so, though soldiers are for the most part pawns of political practice, they often bear the brunt of social scrutiny. But in our case, we can be eminently proud.

The local Iraqi children love the American soldier. They experience first hand the big-heartedness and machismo of our heroes and if anyone admires power, it is the people of Iraq! If a piece of candy comes from the store or a fellow-country man, Iraqi children accept it. But if it comes from an American soldier, it is the best-tasting candy in the world! And they respond all with smiles!

Have you thanked a hero lately?

(I had to take the pics of these letters with in a hurry so I’ve included the words below each one trying to preserve the original text)
Dear Hero Posted by Picasa

Dear Hero, I want to thank you for saveing everyone life. I like you because I feel safe with you. Devin
like it is Posted by Picasa

Dear soldier, thank you for helping this land and the U.S. people are now able to learn and work because you have protected us. We all know that you can win, people are counting on you, you can protect your country and your family. Your the only one that can help us. Now go and draw your weapon and become an American hero. Whatever you do no matter how many scratches, brooses, and very bad pain…
all you have done Posted by Picasa

Dear Soldier, thank you for all you have done for us. My name is Arielle. I am eight years old. I have one sister and I live with my Mom. How about you? Arielle