Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sunset Rising Posted by Picasa

Sunset this week. And isn't it true, that when the sun is setting, it is also rising somewhere else?

The Sun sets on my career

I can't believe my career in Iraq is drawing to a close. I have come to admire, respect, and love, yes, LOVE the American forces. They are everything I had hoped they would be and more. It has been an honor to live and work amongst them while they faithfully fulfill their duties to God, country, and their fellowman. From the basic infantryman up through the ranks and yes, even to our Chief Commander, we are in good shape. And so are the people of Iraq. Can you imagine them being in better hands?

I understand how imbedded reporters move from skeptics to fans, much to the horror of their compatriots. I understand why children swarm to meet soldiers. I understand why they are both feared and revered everywhere in the world. They come in all kinds, from conservative and quiet to wild and crazy heathens. But seemingly rooted in their cells is honor, duty, and the spirit of freedom. That is why even the most basic soldier can be sent out to do anything from fight to lead to direct to train the people of Iraq. By virtue of being born into liberty, we by instinct know what is foreign to Iraqis and teach them how to become a thriving democracy.

As for me, I gave my 30-days notice a few weeks back. (I am on month-to-month contract now that my initial year contract was fulfilled) When I leave here March 6th, I will have worked here 18 months. I have loved it. I have learned so much. It has been blessing after blessing. It is a sorrow/joy thing to leave. Sad that this chapter in my experiences is closing, glad to hob-knob among loved friends and family again. And the beach and snowboarding won't hurt either. Glad to look to see what the next chapter in my life will hold.

I hope to return, but for now, I can't believe my time here is done. I want to thank all of you for being interested in my stories and pictures, for sharing your thoughts and prayers, and for passing some good news along to others and back to me. It has meant so much to me! Wow, just hate to see it end. I will post a few more stories and photos if I can, but maybe check back every couple of months for a link to "Return to Iraq" or some such future blog? Talk to you soon...
windshield work Posted by Picasa

Good-bye windshield work, armor work. I'm going to miss like crazy putting the vehicles back together for the soldiers after they "git blowed up." Yup, most of the soldiers that go outside the wire have been hit several times. We send them back out with new armor and a prayer.
Good-bye to my shop Posted by Picasa

Good-bye shop. I labored to build windows, shelves, internet, and more in here. And all the cool things that went in and out. And I heard the final battle for the Kirkuk air-base took place between our building and the next, it is good-bye to significant place and history. There are still huge pock-marks in the cement wall from all the shrapnel.
chopper in sunset Posted by Picasa

Good-bye good guys flying over all the time, protecting us. I will miss all the machines and watch-tools of liberty and the power and purpose they represent.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Recognized for Valor Posted by Picasa

I just mentioned how this band of brothers look out for each other and low and behold, I come across an awards ceremony this sunny Sunday afternoon. Each of these soldiers had an award pinned on for rescuing their brothers-in-arms under fire or similar meritorious acts.
allies attend Posted by Picasa

American forces and their local counterparts and allies build a close relationship and attend joint ceremonies like this presentation of awards Sunday.
protected Posted by Picasa

soldiers examine a fragment of a bullet meant for them. Standing outside their vehicle, this projectile from a sniper passed between them and lodged in the armor, which we replaced afterwards. They stared at it for quite a while.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Best

Perhaps I am now finding out why Bastogne, the 101st, is so highly regarded. There has been an increase in road and car bombs in Kirkuk over the last several months. Today, I found out why. The Idaho National Guard crew that was here got along very well with the people and did a lot of training, building, and built some solid relationships of trust here. But the 101st group here has brought in many times more perpetrators on the "blacklist" than the last crew, and it is very difficult to do. This is not a nebulous list of suspects, it is a careful rendering of known bombers and anti-freedom fighters. In retaliation for bringing so many of them in, they propagate more attacks on Americans and Iraqi security forces.

But this helps them little. While their attacks change nothing about the progress in Iraq, it increases their exposure to capture and elimination and many are. Much information is gained from them and they are being rounded up or taken out by snipers in increasing numbers. Bastogne is here taking care of business while Iraq continues to improve.

The bombers are very ingenious, and although so many attacks are prevented by American technology (they have the coolest toys) the Iraqi insurgents are quick to react, adjust, learn, and change. I imagine this same intensity and ability Iraqis have will benefit them in their own future. I would not be surprised if they set a whole new standard of development and achievement in the next few decades for the Middle-East. On my most recent return to Iraq, I saw at the airport for the first time Iraqi Airways jets back in service. The changes are coming quickly.

And it is the outstanding commitment of soldiers like that of the 101st that will help propel this process forward.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

brothers Posted by Picasa

These guys may fight as roommates, but when they go "down range," they are all about each other and will die for a fellow soldier, for country, and for innocents. They take honor and pride in living up to their duties and if necessary, losing their life in the line of duty as well. Inspiring in today's public world of lackluster values.
no permit required Posted by Picasa

With the media gaff over Cheney not having a $7 hunter's tag, the military is not a whit behind...

Decisions

Remember how I missed my plane in Dubai because I forgot to change my watch an hour? Sunday I went to church at the same meeting time...that we used 3 months ago. So I missed church. I talked to two soldiers instead, since nothing else was going on at the chapel.

I will call this one particular soldier Specialist Stern. I told him about an older German lady I met while on vacation and mentioned that Iraq may be like Germany was after the World War II, where some Germans must have hated us and some loved us. She straigtened me out and said she didn't know anyone that did not appreciate what the Americans did and Germans understood that the heavy devastation from bombing was necessary. I asked her again but she insisted this was understood.

When I mentioned this to Stern, he said he can already see that same feeling here. They know who we are and what we are doing here and they are grateful. I was particulary impressed with Stern because of his experiences he shared with me. For just one example: they were in a council meeting with Iraqis when a man became irate and pulled out a old Saddam regime 9mm gun and started waving it in the air. Bad idea! The soldiers reacted instantly and immediately several guns were aimed at his throat. A warning shot was fired, at which point soldiers are trained to shoot first and ask questions later. They all refrained. The man was detained by Iraqi police and believe me, they will not be nice to him. This is another example of the restraint of the American soldier.

I am hoping to maintain a friendship with Stern. A good man, he is also the son of a wealthy man, has valuable holdings himself, and a girl he was about to marry before being deployed to Iraq just graduated top in her class and received a job offer starting at about $300k/year! Stern is 26. He is considering marriage to this girl but says his contract with the Army isn't complete for 2 more years. Here's where he got me: He said, "but I plan to re-enlist. I love what I do."

Can you help but being impressed with that? I love these guys.
Rain Posted by Picasa

It has been raining a lot here! Last year, it was cold. This year it is wet in Winter. We had some crazy wind storms that knocked everyones satellite dishes off their hooches and ponds and mini-lakes appeared everywhere. And mud, lots of mud. The poor soldiers ride around in this, but for some reason, the bad guys hate rain and seldom do anything in this weather.
Mini Plague Posted by Picasa

After the rains start, life starts appearing in puddles. Frogs like this appear, full grown, in our driveway. I must believe that they are "hibernating" in the mud for months, waiting for the wet season, when they dig themselves up. I've seen them scurry and burro into the mud when approached. And suddenly it's not hard to believe that the plague of frogs brought on by Moses in Egypt was not so unnatural. God merely prepares the conditions. Flys also seem to suddenly proliferate in certain conditions. Therefor, the other miracles must also be easy enough to call forth.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Unpretentious

We've received some turrets with glass in them for the gunners. This way they can see without sticking their head out. And we have been replacing a lot of damaged windshields and side windows. A soldier heading out of the shop today thanked us very much and swore that he and his guys would find a way to thank us, find someway to do something for us. This amazed my shop foreman Doug, who noted immediately that the soldiers feel that way just for us doing the jobs we get paid to do, when they go out and face death all the time.

We also check door latches to make sure they are working and service sticking gunner's mounts so that these guys can get in and get out and do what they need to do. I guess we have a really good product or good, quick service, but for whatever reason, the soldier seems to feel like we are one of the few persons looking out for them. But indeed our Foreman Doug had it right; it is we who need to find ways to repay them.

His wife is no less servicable at home. I thanked her for taking care of us at Christmas and she wrote back and asked if there was anything else we or the soldiers needed. She says she knows plenty of people who want so much to send things the soldiers want or need but they just don't know what or where to send them. I was sad I could not provide a path to do so, but darn it, you have to love Americans! From soldier to citizen, they are the best. They care and they want to do good.

Politics? Well, that's another story. One not to be told here. But can you ever doubt that we will acheive what we believe in?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The art of story-telling (a good storybook helps!) Posted by Picasa

You know, in Iraq, you begin to miss some simple associations that you can take for granted or that may even drive you crazy sometimes, like the persistence of children. While visiting friends, this particularly sweet child asked that I read her some stories, which she loves. Out of all the fun things I did in Germany, this was one of my favorites!
Leaving on the train from my last glorious day of snowboarding...this parting gift from above Posted by Picasa
In Germany, there is always a train-station. Might as well choose one with a view. Posted by Picasa

Parting Shots

A last look at Germany and Dubai....Dubai below, Germany above.
Maybe they don't cost that much? Posted by Picasa
As usual, my fav time of day for fotos Posted by Picasa
The World's only 7-Star hotel, I am told. Rooms start at $1000/night. Posted by Picasa
A Fancy Golf Course, of course Posted by Picasa

Monday, February 06, 2006

Germans and Germany

What a great vacation. I simply must do this more often! As beautiful as Germany is, the people I met made all the difference. I really have made some great friends here--this is my third trip here in 13 months. I owe these great relationships to my wonderful Christian brothers and sisters that take me in wherever I go.

The Germans, bless their hearts, are diligent, focused, and private. They have beautiful hair (do they not torture it like Americans often do or is it in what they eat?) and keep themselves quite fit and trim. Their mouths drop open and utter profusely “Danke Schoen!” if you help them or even hold a door open(it's a bit shocking for them). They all dress fashionably, neatly, and nicely as a whole.

Another shock for them? I’ve worked in Iraq for a year and four months, and I’m not dead several times over! They read the papers and observe the news religiously and when I tell them how I actually enjoy my experience there and love seeing all the progress, they act as if I am from outer space. The word of the media is like the word of a god here, but at least they are tuned in to world events as a whole.

Those are just very general observations from an isolated traveler. But those are some things that I found interesting. Thought I’d save you the trip… to help, here are a few pics. I didn’t take as many this time, trying just to soak it all in with my eyes. For more pics from last time, check the bottom of the March 2005 archive at my blog.
Germany Posted by Picasa
Swans and Lake Posted by Picasa

I shot this from the window of a fast-moving train but I kept it anyway because I had to share the scene; ducks and swans on a frosty lake...
Garmisch-Partenkirchen: City of Snow(boarding, for me) Posted by Picasa
killing frost Posted by Picasa