Sunday, March 12, 2006

A note for my friends

What a trip. I left Baghdad Friday night at 6pm (finally) and arrived in San Diego 9pm Saturday night, which is actually 8am Sunday morning in Iraq. Bottom line? 38 hours of flying travel. Yech!

But at least I met some very nice and interesting people on the way.

I thank you for ALL your kind wishes and prayers combined with mine! I was delayed 24hrs by a sandstorm. The next day the airspace in Baghad was shut down right before we were going to board (bored?), but a window opened and we were cleared in the last hour or two before recall. In Paris (lay-over) I had to run around the whole airport and get several glitches in the ticket-swap ironed out, but it all worked out.

It's good to be home.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What Powers that Be?

So, did you see that sandstorm today? That is why I am still in Baghdad. To see a picture of it in Kirkuk, from whence I just came, visit my friend Tamee’s Blog: Link

As a result, I was grounded and will miss my planned flight to the US. I am seeing if I can catch another tomorrow. But sometimes, good things happen when you miss something you thought was important.

Take this video. I have not had a chance to see it until this day that I missed my flight because I had the right tools and time to do so. I highly recommend you watch it. It is from Al-Jazeera TV, a fine Arab-American Psychologist woman who has some serious questions for terrorists! You will need high speed internet access. Try it by clicking here: Muslims and then click on "View Clip." WOW.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

memorial Posted by Picasa

I can't believe this (another story)

So I’m down to my last hour and a half of work. It’s been a slow final two days. I am ready to wrap it up. Now, it has been said that I am over the hill, but there is still plenty of kid left in me. So as a last memorial, I decide to wrap my old beat-up work boots over the telephone wire in front of the shop. A silly, single, solitary legacy.

Well, I’m in the squat position about to launch them eternally upwards in the waning twilight when the boss pulls up in his truck. With a few more guys. Too late! My mind is made up. Up they go, a perfect shot the first try. I sheepishly slink back into the shop to avoid a direct confrontation.

When here come ALL the “bosses”, foremen, supervisor, all the way up to the company’s site manager! Guess what? They have a surprise for me! Yes, just after my final monumental demonstration of boot-throwing professionalism!

Well, I am not done being embarrassed. All the employees from both shops are called in and I am called to the front. Words like these from TWO certificates of recognition are read (one from my company and one from the military)

Ernest L. etc etc….Is to be commended and recognized for his performance of duties as a MWO Master Mechanic for the period (blah blah blah) Mr. L. was instrumental in assisting the 426BSB, 101st ABN and the LSI/EG&G contract maintenance team at C-7 Kirkuk achieve their goals through dedication, professionalism, and a positive attitude. Mr. L. was an enormous asset to the MWO/AOA operation and is a great credit to himself, LSI/EG&G, and the US Army.

“Instrumental?”

“Enormous asset?”

“POSITIVE ATTITUDE?”

WHO IS THIS IMPOSTER??? And all this signed by the Command Sergeant-Major, the Lt.-Colonel Commander, my Regional Operations Manager, and the Site Manager!

SHEESH! How embarrassing! Although, I did try to be some of that good stuff. All I remember is giving it a good shot. But there were times, like the time I was reminded in front of the cutest soldier that I was a Master Mechanic by the boss, I discovered a whole new attitude. When the other guys would struggle with something or put the windshield wipers on upside-down, I would say something like, “Step back and learn from the Master!” At least the “attitude” part is right.

Well, I am flattered. I don’t remember anyone else being sent off like this nor honored in such a manner. I want to know which one of you sent in what was obviously a huge bribe. C’mon, ‘fess up. I still can’t believe this.

And somewhere, there is a lesson in all of this...
awarded Posted by Picasa

I've seen how to accept these on TV
incredulous Posted by Picasa

what do you say when this happens?
good-bye Posted by Picasa

Monday, March 06, 2006

born ready Posted by Picasa

The bad guys really wound up here for awhile and we actually had to hit the bunker a couple of times in the last month. Just like old times. No one usually gets hurt on those but, like in the picture, we are trained "young" to take precautions. Our boys (and girls) quickly adjusted and got things under control.

Hate to burst another media fable already, but it seems the Iraqis are pretty upset about the mile-long waiting lines at gas stations because there isn't enough of the stuff being pumped out of the ground. Some local officials complained the American forces weren't protecting the oil pipelines. It seems the Americans said something to the effect, "We're here to train your police and army, etc. You want to pump oil, YOU guard it." The bad guys have successfully targeted two other main oil sites in Iraq and Kirkuk's is now under assault. So far it has been fairly well defended.

Al-Qaeda is desperately making another flailing stab in ways like these in hopes of creating chaos, the only environment where they can hope for control. Unfortunately, even their bombing of the mosques lately in hopes of starting a schism between cultures here resulted in greater unity between them. Sorry, no civil war. (ever notice how pessimists are almost always wrong?) And as I stated before, progress here continues unabated.
tropical paradise Posted by Picasa

Isn't it lovely here in Spring? The fun part is we build our offices into some of these old bunkers. Pretty cool, eh? Yes it is. And there is plenty of parking for your favorite war vehicle.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Still Going

I can’t believe I am leaving this place. I have been “granted” (read “told’) to stay 2 extra days but that’s ok, I keep hearing the coolest things. Unfortunately for you, many times I have to be vague so as not to give away information that could be used to harm us or the Iraqis. But I will attempt what I can.

One of my fav soldiers told me today how he was distracted by a phone call right when the biggest explosion took place of which he ever was a witness. Otherwise, I would have a film of it! It was a cache of rockets that the Demolition squad was disposing of that my friend’s group had found.

But here is the interesting part. In his group is a Russian-American. Some of the missiles were Russian-made. When asked to tell what was written on them, the Russian translated the word as a term that could mean “chemical” or “medical.” The boys blowing the stuff up didn’t care but he and his buddies quickly brought their gas masks to bear!

Then there was that huge windstorm here a few weeks back, remember? I mean huge. We had TV satellite dishes down everywhere. 20 miles from here (again, due to vagueness, I won’t even tell you which direction) the boys found the sand had blown off and exposed some huge cement barriers. Underneath, Special Forces apparently found barrels of chemicals.

It makes sense when you consider Kirkuk is where the Kurds are and that is whom Saddam loved to WMD. Interesting, eh? But in truth, it is irrelevant to our purpose here. So are these neighborhood rumbles in a few key locations that are supposed to indicate a looming civil war.

Because each day, the government here gets stronger and more organized. Each day, American forces train IPs (Iraqi Police) better. Each day, bomb caches are found and destroyed. Each day criminals and insurgents (often the same) are neutralized and information gained. Each day infrastructure is built and improved. Relentlessly American and Iraqi forces move this country further along in democracy and civilization. Nothing can stop the progress. I will miss being abreast of it all.
bomb resistant? Posted by Picasa

Efforts are constantly underway to bring equipment and technology to bear on whatever the enemies of America come up with. It's amazing how quickly it is designed and deployed sometimes. Sometimes, I said! But here is a multiple-purpose vehicle, including a buffalo-thick-skinned metal body that will survive most IED blasts.
the cutest soldier Posted by Picasa

albeit shy...You would not believe the sweet little things we send to war. This fine soldier has an MOS as a mechanic, likes camping, playing sports, and knives. Now what guy wouldn't appreciate that??? It happened to be her birthday and my goal was to see her happy and laugh. I think I succeeded. (We already got her crew lots of new armor)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Laments

You know there has been an increase of bombing, specifically the common road bomb or IED here in the Kirkuk area. It seems that the cultural tensions successfully repressed by Saddam and his reign of absolute terror are now finding freedom for expression. Anyway, it breaks my heart to see both young men and older family men and even young beautiful soldier-ettes, like one who worked with us recently, so affected by this type of warfare.

Some boys came in today and their sole duty is to drive 20mph looking for these IED bombs, always wondering how bad it will be should they miss one. Each day the same thing. Can you imagine how insane that would be? And there is usually no one to finger and fight back at. They hold up extremely well under these circumstances and the value of your prayers for them cannot be overstated.

Other soldiers will have to cruise the bad parts of a town, always keeping aware out of the corner of their eye, and then on another day have to be sweet and hospitable for a meeting with local officials or a visit to a school or orphanage. The switching back and forth between killer and kinder mentalities is also very hard on our forces. Again, my job as mechanic is part “shrink” as I listen to their stories and meagerly attempt to empathize with them. They are my heroes.

And although this all may seem distressing, and it is, this does not shake my knowledge and faith that we will succeed in teaching Iraqis to be different; to learn not to settle everything by the gun or bomb, and to not just exploit freedom, but to value it. And as that happens, some will wonder how it finally did. I think even the soldiers often don’t understand either how astounding their collective examples, actions, and restraint will profoundly alter the historical volatility of the Middle East and change the future for the better for a whole race of people.

And it is hard for me to “give up” my little portion and influence here on their behalf, especially when armor has never been more important in the peace process and their protection. Yet, I feel it is the right thing for me to do now. The Lord only knows why.
a "soldier-ette" Posted by Picasa
Special Posted by Picasa

The work of Special Forces has really been stepped up over here. They require custum armor for their unique needs and methods. Where normally we are not allowed to alter armor, this is one such vehicle where I helped install some "creative" armor work.