Last Shift: Quitting Time: Turn Out The Lights

Well let’s see. Its cold here. That’s good. Not many missions. Just every now and again. The locals are waiting for us to leave, and kinda keeping it quiet to see if we really do leave.

The polo shirt and khaki cargo pants guys are taking over everything. The world’s biggest embassy. Interesting. I’m sure the locals will open their arms to them once DOD is finally out. (Although I think Sadr has other plans.)

It’s like a Going Out Of Business Sale around here. Units are ripping out everyday with no backfill. Ripping is “Relieved In Place” (RIP). We’re leaving the local government with equipment, installations, and vehicles. The vehicles – cars, trucks, and SUVs – are the things that crack me up. I’m sure the DOD paid top dollar for all the vehicles and now they’re giving them to the local government for pennies on the dollar. They’re pretty well used. I think I’d rather buy a used taxi or rental car than use these.

I got a bunch of new guys out here, some pretty young. They’re crew chiefs, gunners, and maintenance, and 18 to 23 years old. It’s funny, they can only drive the trucks and SUVs that have automatic transmissions. They’ve never seen a stick shift and we don’t have enough time to teach them. Also funny, they still carry their cell phones around, but there’s no cell service here. They don’t wear watches so they use their cell phones to tell time! It’s a whole new generation.

Knowing this is my last rotation is kinda bitter sweet. Throughout the war I’ve made a lot of friends from the different units that we always run into out here – from the teams we work with, to the many other aviation units deployed here. The TCNs (Third Country Nationals) always remember us. They’re the guys who do our laundry, serve us food, do the day-to-day cleaning, and are mostly from the Philippines. They’re a work force that will soon be out of work and headed home, some for the first time in 4-5 years.

Everybody around here will keep tabs on what the locals end up doing with the freedom we purchased for them with American lives and treasure. Interesting – we kinda feel vested, but really don’t have a good feeling for the future of this country. Too many blood feuds to be settled. My bet is somewhere between the Wild Wild West and Mad Max. We’ll see.

Did we effect change? Yes and No. We rid the country of a tyrant (Saddam) and his two miserably evil sons (Uday, and Qusay). But we’ve also set up the country for the Shi’ites to take over under pressure from Iran. A more stable Middle East? I don’t know. These folks have fought each other for generations. Maybe stable as a moving target, or an adjusting scale.

For me and the other reservists, I guess we go home and go back to work. Strange, this will be very strange. Kinda forgot about the normal 9-5 grind. I’m so used to being in some third world country and on the road, it’ll take some getting used to. Weekends? Football games not at 2am? Actually being home for the holidays and special occasions, without Middle East deployment as an excuse to keep from showing up?

I still remember the beginning of the war and guys crawling all over themselves trying to get here and do their duty. We didn’t want to miss the biggest game. Nobody thought it would or could last this long.

I’m lucky. I’ve met and worked with a lot of great people, and I’m returning home in one piece. I’ve lost friends both here and in the other theater, lost one marriage, and about 5 girlfriends have giving me walking papers for not being home on holidays and usual special occasions. But I still feel lucky.

Peace – j

Paradigm Shift: Going To Zero

Well The President has said we will all be home by the holidays: Going to Zero. The chow hall line is getting shorter but it has also got a lot better dressed. New kids in fresh cargo pants, different color polo shirts, and no weapons. They’ve shown up on the block with clip boards and a bunch of shiny new rides; Suburbans, Range Rovers, and Explorers. The Department of State travels in style. Really, I don’t know what they’re doing, but it seems like a true paradigm shift.

We’re all still mourning the accidental death of Muammar Gaddafi, where an apparent errant bullet accidentally pierced his skull. Accidents happen.

Each day we drive by facilities that have been here now for about 9 years, and we wonder about their situation after we leave. How long will it take the Iraqis to destroy every one of them? The Iraqis are really not big on maintenance and care of facilities. But then again, in a third world country I guess the hierarchy is food, water, then shelter. We all envision a more austere “MAD MAX” civilization after we leave.

It’s likely that the first thing the locals will do with their new diggs is pull out all the electrical wires, burn them, and sell the copper as scrap. Then they’ll erect lean-tos using some of the million-odd concrete T-barriers (Bremer Walls) as the main support. Then they’ll move the family and goats right in.

Don’t get me wrong, we have no love lost for these installations. But within each structure has gone the treasure of our nation. Over 4,400 American soldiers’ lives, more than 32,000 wounded warriors, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. [see this iCasualties for the most exact numbers.] And this Going To Zero thing – really? I think the money flow and personnel are just getting a name change, a make-over from DOD to DOS and from military to contractors. But that’s just an opinion (disclaimer).

Now back to the important crap. The food here is horrible. Whoever came up with this drawdown plan never ate here, and/or probably never stepped foot outside the Green Zone. I can’t get into where we are or where we were, but the old neighborhood was 100 times better for circle-the-wagons and get-out-of-dodge exercises, and the food was 200 times better.

Its a little depressing seeing guys leave who I’ve been friends with and fought battles with down range, and thinking about no longer working with my buddies from different branches. But I’m sure a nice place will be found where we can meet up again in another third world country. I’m hoping, like I’ve said before, that it’s a country like Canada; close to home, better food, and beer.

Peace – j

Beginning The Final Days

Yes the eleventh time. “Should I stay or should I go?” That’s the song playing inside all of our heads these days (See the Clash video here).

Should I stay or should I go?
If I stay there will be trouble.
If I go it will be double.
So you gotta let me know [DOS/DOD/AMERICA].
Should I stay or should I go?

Well interesting times. Beginnings and endings of conflicts are always interesting. Let me see. Everybody remembers the last chopper (UH-1) out of Siagon? (Great footage here and here.) Hopefully this will not end that way. But wheels are really moving, and they’re circling the wagons to either pre-position to return home, or redeploy to some other part of the world.

Let me see…. We have moved our little home, and as with all new neighbors it takes time getting used to. Here the big conventional Army is very interesting: not rude, very polite. But also very inquisitive of who the new guys are, what the hell we’re doing here, and why we don’t wear the same uniforms as everybody else. They don’t know whether to salute or run away.

We enjoy the big Army. Things the big Army enjoys are:

1) Standing in Lines. No shit. Standing in a line is where they feel comfortable. They will choose the longest line, under the notion that its longer so it has to be better than the short line. It’s amazing. And again, all of these kids are great Americans. But we differ in lines. We always go to the shortest line and get whatever is there. We usually don’t have the time.

2) Correcting each other over uniform violations. The uniform violations are awesome. They leave us alone. We could show up in a Scream Mask wearing flippers and they would politely just look in the other direction. But if they catch one of their own not wearing his reflective belt in the right manner or not wearing it at all, or if they catch one of theirs in PT gear wearing the wrong color socks to work out in, they fall over each other to yell and demean that individual. I think they believe it builds their esprit de corps. It’s actually quit entertaining. I am just happy if my boys have clothes on (kidding: Deputy Commodore).

3) They like to salute, and we’re not used to that in a combat zone.

Other than that a lot has changed. The State Department is here to save the day. Easy to spot out: facial expression, not happy to be here, don’t really know how they got here, not wearing uniforms but always wearing sunglasses day or night, and pretty much think they are better than the lowly soldier that has been fighting this particular war for over 8 years. Seeing that most of the Department of State types here were still in high school when this thing started.

They’re now running out of a lot of food items: soft drinks for one. Everyday it’s a little more crowded in general and there’s a lot less room in the chow hall. But the lines are long, so the Army is happy anyway.

My trip over was fun. I got to stop in 5 countries on the way over because of maintenance and weather. So it took 4 days. Actually, not fun, but made it safely anyway.

A lot more to write.

-Peace J

Nasty Neighbors

Let me see…. What’s going on over here? Well, it’s still cold. Spring has not sprung. We are still wearing long-johns. But everything is shutting down, closing shop, getting smaller every week. The footprint of America is slowly being removed, even though this country is suing the United States for a $billion because of the footprint we left in their capital city with T-Barriers (because of mortar attacks) and MRAPs and Humvees (because of IEDs) driving through it. (???) How much does freedom cost? I guess a $billion isn’t very much. But instead of suing us, how about a THANK YOU note!

Anyway, it’s getting smaller. Let me see…. The contracts on cleaning the Cadillacs (bathroom trailer) have terminated, so portable bathrooms are back in fashion and are a sign of things to come. There’s only one place on the base where you can get your haircut now. No more fast-food joints. The supplies at the only Exchange are few and far between, although you can still get Red Bull. Once they stop the Red-Bull supply I am outta here. It’s in my contract.
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