Madbob - An Angry American

Thoughts & rants concerning US & world events |

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

My Time in Kuwait (cont'd)

[Ed. Note: This is a continuation of my 27 May posting below. I figure it’s easier to see where I left off doing it this way, plus it makes the post look shorter!]

The combat shower wasn’t bad at all – I suppose we all could save a big piece of the planet (and $ on our electric & water bills!) if we all showered this way. But it was also a pain in the ass. Spoiled Americans… I believe I slept some, it couldn’t have been long, cuz I remember making it to the DFAC for dinner that evening. And then I hit the sack and slept like the dead.

As I recollect, we had the following day to ourselves – kind of an acclimatization day. People can tell you how hot it gets in the Middle East, and you can read the weather forecast, but nothing prepares you for the reality of the heat. It was hot! Everyday was well over 100o F, so the overnight lows of 80-90o didn’t seem so bad. Camp B was devoid of any plant life – evidently, the Army had purposely scraped all the plant life from the grounds of the base in order to provide a level surface. Even in the desert between Camp B & Camp Ali Al Salem, there was some scraggly vegetation growing this time of the year (spring), but not on the base. The lack of plants meant that there was nothing to keep the sand & dust from blowing around continuously. Nothing but sand for miles around, and no ocean to be seen. Not cool (pun?).

I explored the base a bit – actually got sorta lost looking for one of the Internet Cafes, which is not an unusual event for me. But I got a feel for the lay of the land. Just wish I’d done it when the sun wasn’t trying to fry my brain. Later, I went to the PX with G-Funk, and spent some money. That turned out to be one of the main social events of life at Camp B. That, and eating at the DFAC. One item we were required to purchase was a reflector belt, very similar to what bus-patrol and hall-patrol kids wore back when I was in school (oh so many, many years ago…). The Army was so insistent that these belts were the only thing keeping us alive, that the poor military folks had to wear them whenever they wore their PTs (short for Physical Training clothes) - even during the day! That’s right – during the blazing, cloudless Kuwaiti sunny day. And at night, everyone, even us civilians, had to wear one, which actually does make sense. Truly the biggest risks for all of us on the base was pedestrian-vehicle accidents, and encounters with the local vermin (but I don’t think the reflector belts were any good at repelling the vermin - more on the vermin later).

Now it fell to the base’s Sergeant Majors to enforce the reflector belt rule, which they did with gusto. This is true around any Army base – the Command Sergeant Major (CSM) is the one guy or gal that all fear to see, especially if you know you are violating some rule of conduct or dress code. It’s the CSM that has the enlisted soldiers “drop and give me 20!” for not having their PT shirt tucked in, or will tell an officer that they need to be wearing their cover (hat or helmet) when in uniform out of doors. CPT M, one of the military guys in our PRT group, seems to have said it best – the reason the CSMs were so rigid in enforcing the reflector belt rule at Camp B was that they were ticked off because there was no grass out there, and since they couldn’t yell at soldiers for walking on the grass, the ragged on everyone about the belts.

Training and briefs were kind of light during our stay at Camp B. Not because there was a lack of things that would be useful to be trained or briefed on, but rather because of scheduling issues. Issues like, if your group includes civilians, you don’t get training or briefs. That’s not really fair – it was a “first come, first served” approach to these things, and we were always there last – even when we went early! And beside, if anyone should miss out on a training session or brief, it really should be us civilians, and not the men & women out at the pointy tip of the spear. But it sucked for the 10 military guys in our group. And if you remember in my post, The Flight to Kuwait, (if you were able to wade through it all), the military guys were this close (*thumb & forefinger almost touching*) to catching a flight directly to Iraq, where they could’ve avoided this week of “training”.

One briefing we did get was on the base itself, protocols and such. As part of this brief, we were told that open-toe shoes (flops, sandals, etc.) were not allowed at any time. Our LNO had informed us of this rule the first day, which made no sense then and made no sense when we were at this brief either (how can you not allow flops in 100o+ F weather?). Until, that is, later in the brief, when the Major went over the vermin common to Kuwait, and Camp B in particular. There are 5 poisonous vipers around there, 4 of which are dangerous and even deadly if you don’t get anti-venom in a few hours. One was deadly if you didn’t get the anti-venom within an hour. And then there were the scorpions – many different varieties, but hey – don’t worry! They’re mostly nocturnal! In the early days of Camp B, there were many instances of soldiers getting stung on their feet while walking to the latrine at night, because they were wearing - open-toe shoes!! So I put my flops away for the duration. We were also told to beware of the porto-potties at night, cuz the scorpions liked to show up in ‘em for some reason. So I never went in a porto-potty again – day or night. And for Judy’s edification, the Major went over Camel Spiders. Yes, they exist. No, they aren’t what you’ve seen on the net. Whew! The buggers I had seen in snaps were huge! I’m talking monster bugs straight out of the Outer Limits!! Turns out those pics were photo-shopped. Turns out Camel Spiders are a mere 6” long at adulthood. But hey – don’t worry! That 6” is mostly legs. They have no venom, but have nasty claws that can put a hurtin’ on you. One more thing the Major told us – it’s true that Camel Spiders will run towards you during daylight hours. They will chase you. But it’s just to get into the shade provided by your shadow. Well, that’s a relief (???)…

I just looked up an e-mail that I sent my sis, Debbie, on the Tuesday morning that I was at Camp B:

We have today free up to 1500/3 pm, when we get a briefing on something or the other. Our schedule is extremely light this week - 2 briefs tomorrow, 1 Thursday, and some Humvee Accident Evacuation Training (HEAT) on Friday.

On the agenda our LNO gave us, Friday’s training was just listed as “HEAT”, so we assumed it had something to do with, well, heat. And as it turns out, that was one of the training sessions we were never given due to scheduling difficulties (so that’s why I never told you how the HEAT went, Debbie!). We did get a really cool, really secret briefing on the latest Electronic Warfare (EW) equipment being used in the battle against IEDs, given by the military’s leading experts in EW – the Navy! Go Navy!! We also were given another briefing on the latest in IEDs in general. That made 3 IED briefs in 3 weeks. Wonder what the #1 threat to our soldiers in Iraq might be?

In my free time, I found that the Moral, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) folks provided a room with DSN (Defense Switched Network (formerly AUTOVON)) phones. This meant that, using a DSN number to any large US military installation, you could get an outside line for free, and then at that point you could use an AT&T (or any other type) calling card at regular US rates. And if you knew someone, like your wife, who actually worked at a military installation, you could call her at work for total free! Down side to that is, talking to your significant other while they are sitting at their desk at work is a lot like kissing your sister (no offense, sisters!), in that your conversation can’t get too personal or intimate. So I did both (did NOT kiss my sisters, sicko's!) – called Mary Ann at work, and used my calling card to call her at home. I also called Debbie at home, cuz I left my organizer at home, and I had no one else’s phone #. I admit, I’m a victim of cell phoneitis. Since numbers are programmed, I never dial ‘em so I never remember ‘em. How did I remember Deb & Bill’s number? Like I told her – it must have to do with the fact that it hasn’t changed since Ronald Reagan was president (or longer).

The schism between civilians regarding the wearing of uniforms or not continued apace. Booger was loving life. Nothing made her happier than strutting around in ACUs, and having the poor enlisted schmucks saluting her. “Oh, no – please!,” protested Booger disingenuously. “You can plainly see here on my blouse that it says “DA Civilian,” her proud smile lighting up the Kuwaiti afternoon. What a crock. So G-Funk and I took perverse pleasure in her displeasure with respect to our refusal to wear our uni-s. Booger took to calling us the “surfer boys”, because our uniform was t-shirts or golf shirts, baggy shorts, tennis shoes (would’ve been flops if not for the scorpions!) and high-speed shades. When she would run into me in the hall of our block house or wherever, she’d invariably ask, “How’s it going, Surfer Boy?” No reply ever passed my lips except “Surf’s up, dude” in my best Jeff Spicoli voice.

One day we hopped back on one of those big ol’ Mercedes buses, and headed south outta Camp B back to Camp Ali Al Salem. On the way there, we had to stop to let camels cross the road. Not only that, the road passed through the “Highway of Death” of Desert Storm infamy. And me without my camera…

The purpose of this trip was to go to the RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative) center therein to pick up equipment that we lacked. All of us needed the side-plates for our IBA, and some needed other various items, like boots or in the case of Booger & RBG [Ed. note: This alias is a reference to her status as a BG (Ret.) – this info was lost in a previous post’s “snip” sections], they needed all of their IBA (they didn’t have their size back at Ft. Bliss). Myself & G-Funk just needed ballistic goggles, other than the side-plates. And here’s where the Army bureaucracy came into play. The side-plates for the IBA were issued by a separate logistics entity/warehouse than the RFI center. Seems that the RFI center is not set up to issue any single item. The RFI center must issue the full ensemble of items on it’s issue-list. So understand this – although Ft. Bliss gave us everything we needed, 3 duffel bags worth of Army-issue stuff, if we wanted anything at all from RFI, we had to take everything they issued, or get nothing.

People like JD and the K-man needed boots, so they had no choice but to get yet another duffel bag’s worth of military issued stuff. Others, like you-know-who, were delighted that they would be issued the latest Army gear, including the newest Kevlar helmet and state-of-the-art First Aid Kit. G-Funk & I decided against picking up another duffel bag's worth of Army stuff, which would have made it bag #5 to haul around. I mean, we would’ve ended up with 2 helmets, 4 pair of boots, etc. The Boog was none too pleased about our decision, but in the end she declared that she “…wouldn’t force us” to do so. As if! This declaration was yet another sign of this woman’s delusion of grandeur.

No need to go into any more detail regarding Booger (but you know by now that I can’t help myself!). Suffice to say that she continued to embarrass the rest of us civilians, and infuriate the military contingent. We all tried to avoid her, and our sympathy went out to RBG & KH who had to room with her. Booger went so far as to ask RBG if she was familiar with the concept of a combat shower. And being unimpressed with RBG’s affirming reply, she subsequently followed her to the shower room and watched to see if she did it correctly. Seriously. She did. So then there’s this one time at the DFAC, and the Boog sat on one side of the table, and no one would sit next to her. We had like 6 or seven people on one side, and her alone on the other. “What?”, she asked sneeringly. “No one wants to sit on this side? I don’t bite, you know!” Would you feel sympathy for her at this point? *sigh* I did, because I suddenly saw a bitter, old insecure woman, a very unhappy person who was trying to find some meaning in her empty life through this “adventure”. But I got over it…

That about wraps it up for my time in Kuwait at Camp B. Did I mention that it was hot? Oh, yeah – we saw a sign at one of the MWR buildings for an USO show featuring Gary Sinese. The sign had been sand-blast weathered, and it looked like he was gonna be at Camp B on the 9th, while we were there. We were psyched! But then we found out the show wasn’t until the 19th. We were bummed. Such is life in the military, I suppose.

I hope to link to any and all snapshots I have of this stage of my exploits, but once again, if you're reading this and not seeing a hotlink, then I haven't got round to it yet!!

[The next installment will cover our flight out of Kuwait and into Iraq. There is still about a 3 week difference between this latest addition to my blog and today’s date – 1 June 07]
posted by Madbob  # 12:35 PM

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Memorial Day Posting

[Ed. Note: I interrupt my already-way-behind postings for this holiday message…]

I sit on the stoop of my hooch – having just returned from a solemn and moving Memorial Day ceremony at the U.S. Embassy Annex in the Palace here in Baghdad. Both Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus gave relatively short but eloquent speeches recognizing the occasion, focusing on those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, but also acknowledging all of us – service men & women, DoD & DoS civilians, and contractors – who now are left behind to carry on their mission so that their lives will not have been given in vain.

I sit outside in the twilight of a Baghdad evening – the temperature having dropped to a bearable level, which is a relative term. I have no idea what the current temp is… I sit out her because I’m smoking a Middleton’s Black & Mild cigar, and there’s no smoking in the trailers – I wouldn’t want to anyway. I’m smoking this cigar – this particular type/brand – because it reminds me of our Dad, my Pops. And I’m drinking a beer – which I raise in a toast, my own Memorial Day salute to my dear parents, who both passed away in the month of May.

The relative calm of the early evening is broken by a pair of helos passing nearly overhead. The helos that pass directly over my trailer, like those two, are heading to the CSH, pronounced “Cash”, but meaning the Combat Support Hospital. They are transporting the latest casualties of this war to receive medical aid. I’m told that these days up to 90% of these flights carry Iraqi civilian casualties, but you can’t tell from down here if those last two flying overhead are carrying “us” or “them” – and so I pray: God bless our troops.

I ask of you, keep me and all those who have answered our nation’s call in your thoughts & prayers on this especially American holiday. I know that we here in Iraq hope & pray that you all back home are enjoying the occasion, and that one day soon we will be there celebrating our way of life together again.

The light grows dim, the cigar burns down, and most sadly, the beer is empty – so I end this now. God bless you all, and God bless America.

Most sincerely,

Madbob, aka Baghdad Bob

posted by Madbob  # 11:22 AM

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My Time in Kuwait

Picking up my saga where I left off in my last (extremely lengthy) post, we arrived in Kuwait after 21 hours on the plane. We got to our final destination in Kuwait, Camp Buehring, some 33 hours after leaving El Paso, Texas.

[Ed. Note/FYI: Camp Buehring (Camp B) used to be called Camp Udairi]

Excerpt from linked source:

The Army’s permanent aviation base camp in Kuwait has been renamed in memory of an officer who died in a rocket attack last fall on the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Baghdad. In a brief ceremony attended by about 50 people on 08 May 2004, Camp Udairi was renamed Camp Buehring in honor of Lt. Col. Charles H. “Chad” Buehring, who had been the senior psychological operations officer in Iraq at the time of his death. A monument and plaque memorializing Buehring were dedicated as part of the event.

After the LNO had set us free at the DFAC around 1400 local time, we all scarfed down a quick meal. Right afterwards, many of us went to take a quick shower (more on showers later!) and then hit the hay. Some went straight to “hit the hay”. Me – I went looking for a way to contact Mary Ann.

During the LNO’s quickie tour of the base, he pointed out several AT&T Calling Centers (there were about 4-5 of ‘em) and a couple of Internet Cafes. I headed to one of the calling centers, armed with a 120-minute AT&T calling card that I’d been holding for almost two years - never been used. The calling centers are completely self-service, and are nothing more than a trailer with a row of phones on either side, going length-wise. There were directions on how to use the phones/calling cards at each phone station, but nothing on rates. “Oh, well”, thinks I. “I’ve got 120 minutes to learn how this works.” So I dialed the required numbers/codes, and I’m ringing Mary Ann’s desk at work (Kuwait is 7 hours ahead of East Coast Time/8 hours ahead of Crane Time) at about 7:30-8 a.m. her (work) time. As fate would have it, she was not at her desk. So I leave a quick message, and disconnect. Then the automated operator informs me that I have 10 minutes left on my card. Excuse me?! With one or 2 minutes of calling time, I had blown 110 minutes of my calling card – which cost about $15 (2 years ago). Obviously, using the AT&T Calling Center was not the way to call home. It made me wonder why there were so many of these calling centers, and how the enlisted rank and file could afford to call home at those rates. And these centers were always busy. Never did figure this out, cuz I found other ways to contact home.

I ended up over at the Internet Café (have I ever mentioned how much I love the internet? No? Well, I do…). It cost $5/hour, but I got a lot more bang for my buck than at the calling center. So I e-mailed Mary Ann, making sure she knew that I understood that she had no way of knowing I’d be calling at that time on a Monday morning. Anyway, if I had been thinking clearly, I would’ve remembered that she had told me about the wave of new-hires she was going to be dealing with beginning on – Monday! I commented in my e-mail that the 40+ hours without any real sleep had left me feeling big-time buzzed – a whole lot like being drunk. [Ed. Note: 40+ hours? Why more than the 33 hrs mentioned? You must factor in the 7 hours on Saturday prior to boarding the plane (0800-1500), not to mention the hour or 2 before 0800 needed to get up, shower, eat, & shuffle duffels down to the parking lot, thank you very much…]

After sending my e-mail, I stumbled back across the street and a dusty lot to get back to the block house where I was staying. I was so punch-drunk from lack of sleep, that the 100+0 F temperature was just background noise. My main goal at that point was to take a shower, then get some serious shut-eye. So I got back to the room that I was sharing with G-Funk & JD, and opened 3 of my 4 duffel bags in order to find all the crap I needed to shower and change clothes. No way I was gonna get in my sleeping bag as funky as I was after all that time without a shower. Then off I went to the shower house, which was in a separate building about 75-100 yards away.

About the shower process: We had been told, and it was emphasized by signs everywhere that water flowed, that every drop of water at Camp B was trucked in. In fact, each person on base was allotted 16 gallons of water usage per day. Don’t ask me how they arrived at that amount, and don’t ask how they expected to enforce this limit. That’s just what they told us. So this meant that we had to take “combat showers”. Typical Army mentality – the proper term for this kind of showering is a “Navy shower”, cuz it’s standard operating procedures aboard Navy vessels. Fresh water is a precious commodity when at sea, so the Navy perfected water rationing long before the Army adopted “combat showers”. Either way, it means that you turn the water on and rinse- turn water off, lather. Turn water on, rinse – turn water off. Repeat till finished. The Army actually posted signs with these instructions in the shower house. A couple of the guys & gals thought this was such a hoot that they took snaps of the signs. Me – I worried about what it would look like if I carried a camera in the shower amongst a bunch of naked men taking combat showers…

[Time to call it a night. Posted stuff 3 days in a row, but I’m still about 3 weeks behind actual event-time – stay tuned!]

posted by Madbob  # 11:00 AM

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Flight to Kuwait
[Ed. note:
Halleluiah! I have finished this post - see [Ed. note:...] below to see where the new material was added]

As I was saying before, we “formed up” at about 0800 on Saturday, which was the beginning of the Duffel Shuffle (DS), a term coined by CPT M. After the two-dog team cleared our bags, we were shepherded onto buses for a short ride to a military airport. The flight was contracted out to a major (no pun) carrier – which one I cannot say due to OPSEC (operational security) considerations. This is one of the few places where we were told we could not take pictures.

So off the plane went, a three hour flight to Ft. Benning, Georgia to pick up other pax (military shorthand for passengers – don’t ask). The loadmasters of the plane assigned seats as we came onboard. I was put in a window seat, but had the row (2 other seats) to myself. The new pax who were joining the flight to Kuwait were non-PRT but maybe surge related folks, 90+ in number, and a combo of military & civilians. At Ft. Benning, we were not allowed to disembark the plane. The reason given was that there was nowhere to go – nothing there to support the 100+ original travelers who wanted to stretch their legs. It was approximately two hours before we departed, and now I had two people in the seats next to me (I hate window seats!). The fellow next to me was a NCO from Tennessee, and the person on the aisle was a female civilian who was above talking to either of her seatmates.

So off the plane went, a four hour flight to Bangor, Maine for refueling before the hop across the pond. Again we were not allowed to deplane – no reason given, just “you are not allowed off the plane.” We had an one hour wait before we took off.

[Ed. note: I have since learned that there is a facility set aside just for this purpose at Bangor, manned by veteran and civilian volunteers - see their website MaineTroopGreeters.com. Why the folks in charge of the flight couldn't let us out there is a mystery to me. Before someone points out that this service is for our men & women in uniform, please be reminded that more than half of our contingent are exactly that. So at least they should've been allowed off the plane...]

So off the plane went, a six hour flight to a Eastern European country (can’t say which due to OPSEC considerations). And – you guessed it! – we were not allowed off the plane.

So off the plane went, a four hour flight into Kuwait City International Airport. And this time, they let us off the plane!! Well, of course – that was our final stop. So added up, we spent 21 hours on the same plane. Not fun, and boy were we tired of those damn cold cut sandwiches! (they did give us 2 hot, non-sandwich meal during the course of the 21 hours – no beer, though…). We were then all loaded onto large Mercedes buses with the a/c so cranked that it was uncomfortably cold. We stopped after an hour at Ali Al Salem base, and were allowed to get out, drink water, and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. It starts getting fuzzy in my memory after this, due to the sleep deprivation thing. I forget where we went next, or how long a ride in the bus, but after the ride, all us pax were drafted to assist in unloading a semi-trailer stuffed with our baggage – another DS. All of us from Ft. Bliss were pissed at the Ft. Benning add-ons, because they were allowed to bring regular luggage along with the mil-issue duffels (we were specifically told we could not do so), and the regular luggage was a helluva lot harder to handle in one of those bucket brigade-type of unloading schemes.

At this point, we (meaning my PRT cohorts – 8 civ/10 mil) were to be met by our LNO (Liaison Officer – don’t ask what the “N” stands for, it’s an Army thing; check www.acronymfinder.com if you don’t believe me…), who was a no-show. So we were directed to separate our bags from the huge array of baggage. Consider this – each of us had at least 3 duffel bags/pieces of luggage, some with 4, a few with 5. Times nearly 200 people, that’s over 600 bags. Now find your 4, in the dark…

Someone stationed at this base suggested that our PRT should put our bags over by the billeting office, as we would likely being staying for what remained of the night (it was well past midnight Sunday at this time). The billeting office was some 200 yards distant, and no one was psyched about doing the DS over that distance. Now the real confusion began, mainly a result of the LNO not being there. The military guys, being military, began looking for someone in authority who would be able to give them clear direction vs. vague suggestion, and they found someone (I have no idea who or where). This source told them that there was no need to stay in Kuwait – they should go straight to Baghdad. The best result of this direction was that we decided to keep our bags near the semi-truck drop-off point. The worst result was the rest of the night…

So the military guys, being military, set out to arrange for our immediate departure to Iraq. Us civs were in a predicament. The source that told the mil guys to head out had no similar direction for the civilians. Now here is where my tale of travel woe digresses into a description of how one of the 8 civilians went from being an obnoxious irritant to a complete embarrassment to the other 7 of us.

[Ed. note: I decided the hell with Booger! and have re-inserted the snipped sections. If Booger wasn't such a horse's ass, this wouldn't have been written in the first place...]

This person, who I came to refer to un-affectionately as “Booger” (cuz it seemed we could never rid ourselves of this person’s presence, not unlike that booger you can’t quite flick off your finger) - from the first day of our first week of training at FSI - had never passed up an opportunity to inform anyone who would listen of how important Booger was (I’m trying not to reveal Booger’s gender, in case you’re wondering…). “You know, I’m a GS-15, and …” was one of Booger’s more common ways of beginning Booger’s first conversation with someone. This was usually followed up by some reference to people Booger claimed to know who were even more important than Booger. By the end of that first week of training, there were few people who would purposely hold a conversation with Booger – but everyone was politely tolerant.

Unfortunately, someone at DoS made things worse during the FSI training. Our last day consisted of a practical exercise, and we were split into 3 groups. Each group was to solve the same hypothetical set of problems based on real events in the Babil province. There were two SES (Senior Executive Service) people in the class, and they were assigned as the Team Leader of two of the groups (fyi: SES-ers are the ultimate in civil service, outranking GS-15s). Since there were only two, the DoS folks decided to appoint one of the few GS-15s as the third Team Lead (DoS purposely did not choose any military officers, even those equivalent to GS-15, because all PRTs have civilian (SES or Foreign Service Officers (FSOs)) as the Team Leaders – it’s a DoS-run initiative, and therein, civilians rule…). So they made the mistake of choosing Booger.

From that day forward, Booger assumed that he/she was in charge of everyone below SES, military included – which was everyone since the two SES folks left to lead PRTs after that one week at FSI. During our second week of training at DSTC, Booger’s behavior was irritating as all get-out, but not a real factor. The military guys, in fact, didn’t attend this week of training, and had gone straight to Ft. Bliss – lucky bastards! It was a joke amongst us whenever one or more of us got stuck having to eat dinner with Booger. It was still at the humorous stage.

Once we arrived at Ft. Bliss, and were in a very military-oriented environment, it slowly began to change from humorous to sickening. Booger’s attempt to schmooze the military folks at Ft. Bliss, along with Booger’s supercilious attitude towards the military members of our PRT group, was recognized for what it was – not just brown-nosing, but the more intense butt-snorkeling. Sad thing was, sometimes it worked.

Ft. Bliss was also where the divide between those of civs who wanted to wear military uniforms, and those who didn’t, began. My stance all along was that the whole point of the DoS training was that the military approach wasn’t working, and it was time to put a civilian face on the effort. Something that would be hard to achieve if you’re wearing a military uniform, don’t ya think?

I think you can guess which side Booger came down on. I’ll try not to get into the whole mess of Booger insisting that us civs be issued the newer Army Combat Uniforms (ACUs) versus the Desert Storm era Desert Combat Uniforms (DCUs). Boy oh boy, Booger was gonna call her/his bigwig contacts and get this straightened out. So we ended up with DCUs, unless you went out and bought ACUs yourself (which I admit I did do. In the end, I realized that if I wound up in a true battle zone, and if the military commander in charge of the base made the decision on the ground that civilians were to wear uniforms, I wanted to have both versions at my disposal. As it turns out, I may never wear either ACUs or DCUs – but I had no way of knowing that at the time. Besides, now I’ve got some great souvenir clothes!).

On and on it went during our week at Ft. Bliss, and we continued ragging on each other if we had to break bread with Booger. I got stuck my fair share of the time – it was so hard to avoid Booger. Booger was everywhere!! The military guys, all officers with the exception of two NCOs (Sergeants), were bound by their profession to be courteous, but they were having a hard time hiding their annoyance from us civilians. And we civs were starting to feel responsible for Booger’s behavior, or at least we felt like our military compadres were associating all civilians with this one person.

Now you might remember where I was before I got on this tangent. Or maybe not. I was just telling my sis (via an e-mail) about how I find it nearly impossible to keep things brief, and the above digression is a case in point.

Anyway, I was saying that after we arrived in Kuwait, the mil guys were told to head straight out to Iraq versus staying for a week’s training in Kuwait. And so they began the manifest-out process. At this point Booger became a total control freak, trying to direct the others on what should happen, what we should do. The military guys had received direction from a military source, and just ignored her. I mentioned to my fellow civs that I was embarrassed to be associated with her as a civilian, and we all felt the same. One of the other seven of us actually out-ranked Booger, by virtue of also being a GS-15, but also by being a retired Brigadier General, Reserve Army, which is an O-7 Flag-level officer (I should point out that in an office environment, a GS-15 is the equivalent of a military O-6; a mil O-6 is an Army Colonel/Navy Captain; key phrase is, “in an office environment”. In a combat zone, a GS-15 is the equivalent of a parasite on a fly’s ass, but Booger never picked up on that nuance).

But this person (who I will refer to as RBG for retired Brigadier General) refused to pull her Army rank, instead she relied on what her accomplishments were and her actions, not on her civil service nor retired service ranking. Quite refreshing, although it would have been nice to have her shove it in Booger’s face every now and again. RBG actually pointed out that we civs had empowered Booger’s control-freak obsession by not reporting Booger’s actions/behavior to the proper (psychiatric!) authorities. It was just easier for us to nod our heads in agreement, and then do what we felt was right as soon as Booger was out of sight – usually the exact opposite of Booger’s direction. I am still astounded that Booger never caught on, but it goes to show you how fixated Booger was on the power-trip thing.

In retrospect, Booger performed an essential service for the other 17 members of our PRT. Talking about Booger, Booger’s attitude, and the latest stupid Booger-trick became a unifying theme for us. We always had something to talk about whenever we got together – not all that common between civs & mil folks (although I once again feel the need to state that our mil guys had been yanked from civilian life for this “adventure”, and may have been more inclined to socialize with us civs than active-duty soldiers).

So where was I? Oh yeah, Kuwait and the dilemma of whether we civs should stay until receiving direction, or if we should manifest-out with the mil guys...

Well, Booger and - coincidentally - RBG were not going to be allowed to travel up to Baghdad with the mil guys and the rest of us because they didn’t have their full IBA setup (they didn’t have their size back at Ft. Bliss – they were told they’d get their stuff in Kuwait). So they obtained billets (cots in a tent for this venue), and they shuffled their duffels away.

Booger felt that he/she had taken car of business by making phone calls, and was quite pleased with herself/himself. But it was never clear that Booger had talked to anyone of importance. This was at 2 or 3 in the a.m., so you can imagine some military-type receiving a phone call from some obnoxious civilian twit at that time of the night. Conversation: “Yes, ma’am/sir, I hear you – you are a GS-15. Yes, that’s an O-6 equivalent. Your LNO will be out there at.., ah – 1000 hours. Yeah, that’s it! 10 a.m….” *click*

So in the meantime, the mil guys went about arranging for a flight out of Kuwait. We civs, minus two, manifested out with them on a flight leaving at 0530. This meant moving our duffel bags (another DS) from the drop-off point into the staging area building.

Other than the two in the tent billets, we all had been awake since Saturday morning (not counting any catnaps we managed on our 21 hours on the plane or the bus ride from KCIA to Camp Ali Al Salem). And it was now o’dark thirty Sunday morning. While waiting for our potential 0530 departure, some slept across chairs or on duffel bags, and a couple of the soldiers found a Mickey D’s on base – obviously open 24 hours! They shared their food with us, which was just another sign of how those guys felt responsible for their civilian teammates. Very cool. I always liked McD’s French fries, but that night/morning, they were the best I ever tasted! Other than meals on the plane, we had not been fed since our pseudo-steak lunch on our departure from Ft. Bliss.

Time passed, and sometime close to our 0530 departure time, a DoS employee showed up to work at the counter next to the manifest desk where we were hanging out, awaiting our flight. The mil guys saw her and thought that we’d finally get the straight scoop. Sure did – the lady laughed at us, and said, “you aren’t going to Iraq today – no way.” They were disappointed, to say the least, for two reasons. One, if we had been able to leave as planned, they/we could’ve skipped the week of training planned for us in Kuwait (looking back, knowing what transpired in Kuwait, this would prove to be especially frustrating, as I hope to relate in a later posting about out time at Camp Buehring, if I ever finish this one…). Two, we’d be leaving Booger behind – it was worth the try just to flick Booger from our fingers for a while.

[Ed. note: This is where I left off at last posting. You may be amused or relieved to hear that I have actually finished this part of my story - or you may not believe it. See for yourself!]

Well, the DoS lady cancelled our manifest, and finally got in contact with our LNO. In the LNO’s defense, our flight to Kuwait out of El Paso had been delayed one day, and no one had told him. Therefore, he had no idea when we were going to arrive when we didn’t show up the day before. So it was a failure at the management level of the DoS to make sure the LNO knew about the change in plans.

The LNO said he’d be at the drop-off point around 0800, so we had another 3 hours to kill. Can you sleep across chairs? How ‘bout on a concrete floor with a duffel bag for a pillow? Most of us chose one of the above. I chose to try and make contact with Mary Ann. I can’t remember how I found out, but I learned that there was an Internet Café near the Mickey D’s the soldiers had been to earlier (duh! Probably from them, dontcha think?). I can barely remember what I wrote, but I did manage to get a message to her.

When I finished, I stumbled out into the hot Kuwaiti morning. Wandering around nearby were two of my PRT-mates – CC, he of 4 young ‘ins, and at 31 (he’s since turned 32; I believe his b.day was sometime in late May - Happy Belated B-day, CC!), the youngest of our crew; and KH, one of the three females in the group. CC is photoing/videoing as much of this show as possible, and he asked me to take his picture in front of the McD’s, whose sign is in Arabic. He sent me a cool snap of myself and KH in front of same – hope to do another link to Shutterfly with all the snaps related to this post. If you’re reading this, and there’s no hotlink, then I haven’t got ‘round to it yet I’m now trying to use MySpace in place of Shutterfly – let’s see how it goes…

After the picture-taking, we headed back to the staging area. We stopped by the tent where RBG & Booger were staying, in order to help them cart their bags back to the staging area, now that they’d be traveling with the gang again.

True to form, Booger insisted that it was her/his doing that got the LNO to arrive, and that Booger was in no hurry to meet a 0800 deadline since Booger personally had set up a 1000 departure time. Even as a courtesy to an elder, it was very hard for me to carry one of Booger’s duffel bags back – so to help assuage my confliction, I took a crap in it.

Okay, so I didn’t – but it made me laugh to think about it. Just about everything will make you laugh when sleep deprivation hits, and you do crazy stuff you might not remember – uh, oh!! So we three lugged 3 of 8 duffels, and we even went back. But this was in honor of RBG – Booger got help as collateral. Another Boogerish thing – this person brought 4 duffel bags, like most of us. But Booger could only physically carry one of them by himself/herself without busting a gut. And one of Booger’s bags weighed more than Booger herself/himself – couldn’t carry it at all, just drug it around till someone felt sorry for the Booger and carried it for him/her. And this is the same person that wants to be Big Man in charge, expecting the full respect granted our warrior class, but at the same time – when it suited Booger’s ;purpose – relying on, and expecting special treatment because she’s just a frail li’l old lady. Crap! No way to get around it anymore. Booger’s gender is now out of the bag. And here I was trying so hard not to make it sound like I was harshing on someone just because of their gender. Oh well, I tried….

So Booger shows up after 0800, and our LNO is already there, but is still arranging for our transport out to Camp Buehring. Proudly proclaiming that she arranged for the LNO to arrive at this time, she berated the military guys for not listening to her wisdom. I suppose this is one of the reasons why they didn’t allow the military to carry ammo with their weapons until they arrived in theater. There would’ve been a real Booger-splat about then.

One of the Colonels arranged for a “gator” (bigger than golfcart, smaller than a little pickup) with a trailer to take our bags from the staging area building back to the drop-off point where we would board another Mercedes bus for our ride to Camp Buehring. While this saved a good 100-150 yard DS, we still had to schlep our bags from inside the building to a spot outside – not really a short distance, but better than the all the way to the drop-off.

At the time we were moving our bags from inside to outside the building, I didn’t know quite what was going on. ...snip... So we loaded the gator’s trailer, then unloaded it at the drop-off, and then loaded the bus with ‘em. Finally, we got on the bus for the ride to Camp Buehring. There were curtains on the bus, which were kept closed for security reasons, but which worked well to make it seem like night. And we slept.

But only for 45-50 minutes, cuz then we arrived at Camp Buehring in the middle of the Kuwaiti afternoon. The bus stopped at a squat, white, aluminum-sided building, and we were directed to disembark and fallout in the structure. Inside the mercifully air-conditioned building, we were given some Camp related info/protocol, and were told to break up in groups of 3 to a room. Each room had 3 bunk beds, so no one got stuck with a top bunk, but RBG & KH got stuck with Booger!! Unfortunately for them, it was a matter of gender. It was 3 to a room, and there was 3 of them. This arrangement would put a strain on even the most even-keeled of our group, which will be detailed in my next post (if you believe I’ll ever finish this one…). I bunk\ed with the 2 civilians that I had spent most time with at Ft. Bliss, the guy who I ran into while traveling through Houston, who I’ll call G-Funk, and another fella I’ll refer to as JD.

So our LNO takes us on a quick tour of the camp – in a microbus that had a flat tire, and whose a/c was not working. By the time he dropped us off at the DFAC, it was 1400, the height of the Kuwaiti heat, and it felt cooler outside once we got off that oven-on-wheels. We had a half-hour to make chow, and then we were free till the next day. I’ll have to dredge my memory to figure out what time we were told to meet, and for what. But for now, thankfully, this ends the installment entitled “Flight to Kuwait”.

posted by Madbob  # 11:53 AM

Monday, May 14, 2007

CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) Training

After spending a most superb weekend with Mary Ann, I packed my bags one last time, and on Sunday morning, headed out the door for El Paso, TX and Fort Bliss to attend training at the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC). [Ed. Note: CONUS = Continental United States]

The flight from Indy had a connection in Houston, where I ran into one of my PRT cohorts. If that wasn’t coincidence enough, he had the seat next to me on the plane! Upon arrival at the airport in El Paso, we moseyed over to the Ft. Bliss transportation desk. Once again, we were not on their list. Between the two of us, we convinced the soldier manning the desk that we were expected, and he agreed to take us to the base.

I’d rather not give another day-by-day description of the training & tribulations that we went thru, so maybe I’ll just point out the high/lowlights. There were many snafus along the way, but in the end I made it through.

Once we checked in on Sunday afternoon, we signed out for linens for our bunks (the wool blankets appeared to be original issue from the Ft. Bliss of the 1800s). Then we hauled our massive suitcases over to Building 504. Our barracks were located on the 3rd floor, and of course there was no elevator. Hauling massive luggage and going up and down from the 3rd floor became a recurring theme for that week’s training.

Fort Bliss is a historic site in El Paso – the original version dates back to the 1850s. I have some snaps of the little historical replication, which is like a very, very mini-Jamestown – it’s so small (how small is it?), it could fit in the employees’ parking lot at Colonial Williamsburg. I also took pictures of the surrounding area (and the first jackrabbit I’ve ever seen in person - or is it “in animal”?), of our luxurious barracks, and of the architecture of the buildings we lived & trained in. I posted those snaps to Shutterfly – hopefully the link works...

The main purpose of the CRC seemed to be to verify & clear all medical & dental issues of the various military, DoD civilians, and contractors who were deploying to Iraq or Kuwait in support of the troops and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). I had a physical and blood-work done while I was still at my home base, and I just had a dental checkup (my dentist filled out the required DD Form 2813), so things should’ve been smooth sailing for me. But of course that didn’t happen. Nothing was smooth for me during this week, and my name was called out each and every time we had “formation” (as an amusing side note, CRC is run by the Army, and whenever they told us what time “formation” would be, we civilians would be there on time, but we never managed to do anything close to a formation – we referred to it as a “gathering”; they stopped trying after the 1st day). Whether it was for incomplete on-line training, CAC badge, or medical issues, “Major” was heard every day – and yes, that last name was more a hindrance than a boon.

But that was really quite amusing – to the others in my group. I should point out that we were reunited with the military (reserve/Nat’l Guard) component of our PRT at CRC (they didn’t attend the FACT course). And also, there were many more people, both military & civilian (esp. contractors) who had nothing to do with PRTs or the surge effort. This caused the nine of us to be treated slightly differently than the majority of the class. This, of course, endeared us to no one.

In the end, I ended up having my blood re-drawn for the HIV test because the sick bay at my base had held onto my sample in order to send in a batch all at once. Wonderful. I found this out when the on-line record of the test was not in my profile, which motivated me to call the medical staff at my base. I registered a complaint that the batching of samples, which in theory saves the gov’t money, only makes sense if it’s done within a week or 2 – not a month or 2. So the gov’t paid twice to have this rather expensive test run, and I got to have an extra poke in the arm. I also ended up having to get 4 shots, in rapid succession – a Hepatitis A/B shot, a polio shot (since I have no record of my child immunizations), the first of a series of 3 Anthrax shots (not sure when I’m supposed to get the others – I’m not gonna remind them!), and most painfully of all, a small pox shot. Ouch. I’m still dealing with my small pox vaccination wound…

We had more First Aid training, this time from a combat perspective, versus the “safe haven” version taught by DoS. We actually had to test out using a dummy with many simulated wounds, like, say, an amputated leg, a sucking chest wound, and intestines hanging out of the gut. Before lunch, too!! It really wasn’t all that bad, and we all did just fine. On a serious note, I hope & pray that I never, ever find myself in a situation where I have to do even the most simple wound dressing. But if I do, I also pray that I will remember what I was taught.

That was the beginning of the week. The remainder was spent getting medical, badge & on-line training issues resolved. Many/most folks had this time to themselves. A proud few were working on issues till the bitter end. Oh yeah, CRC is also where the Army issued us all our gear – 3 duffel bags worth of stuff. Everything from socks to Individual Body Armor (IBA). Before you ask – no, civilians were not issued weapons. And the issuing of gear was another point where the 9 of us were treated differently. S ince we were required by the DoS to bring civilian clothing, inclusive of professional attire (at least one suit), we were allowed an extra duffel bag. Except the Army & CRC didn’t know about this 4th duffel bag. And we were the 217th group to go through! [Ed. update/correction: We were part of the 217th class to go through CRC, not the 217th PRT class. Probably closer to the 10th] Oh well – we were also the last to process in through Ft. Bliss. They are on the BRAC list, and are slated to be closed in the near term. All future PRTs and CRC classes will process thru Ft. Benning, GA, which from all indications is a much less organized venue. My sympathies to those who follow…

We were also trained on spotting/recognizing Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), tactics when one is found, and the latest developments in the field. The practical exercise had us walking thru a test site around the training building. This was another eye-opening experience, as one time after another our group fell “victim” to IEDs. A couple/three take-aways: 1) IEDs can be anywhere, in anything; 2) if you can see one, it’s a decoy; and 3), if you find one – or if one goes off – there will be another nearby (to target the first responders). Wonderful…

The last 2 mandatory trainings/briefs were Rules of Engagement/Laws of War (ROE/LOW) given by the JAG, and Prevention of Sexual Harassment. Just can’t escape POSH training, even going to a combat zone!

Another tidbit WRT to my time at Ft. Bliss – no alcohol was permitted to be consumed until we were “validated”. This included our free time, when you could leave base and hit the town. This rule wasn’t really enforced on the civilians, or at least it was kind of unrealistic to think it could be enforced, but I personally knew of no one who violated the rule, at least until Wednesday. No need to mention names or details, though!

We were validated (means we were officially deployable) by noon on Thursday. Shortly thereafter, I found myself at a convenience store with a double-deuce of Bud in my hand. Across the street was a little park, where I sat in the shade and officially enjoyed a cold one. Later, I sat in the bowling alley – one of 2 places on base that sold beer. Friday night, the head honcho of the CRC process took any of us who wanted to go out to Cattleman’s Steakhouse, which was a bit more than half an hour outside of El Paso. I had been making a big deal about eating steaks a lot once I knew I was going to Iraq (due to scarcity of good beef over there), and I had a lot of good steaks. But the steak I had at Cattleman’s (14 oz. New York Strip) had to have been one of the best, if not the best, steak I’ve ever eaten. It was from longhorn cattle raised there on the ranch, cooked & spiced some special way. Whatever. The result was remarkably delectable. I washed down my meal with a couple of Lonestar beers, and for dessert – a Lonestar beer.

The next day we schlepped our 4 duffel bags (down 2 flights of stairs and across the campus) over to our ship-out point at about 0800 in the morning. The duffel bags were arranged in rows in the parking lot, our carry-on bags had to fit in a box of certain dimensions to be allowed as carry-ons, and then we stood in rows to watch as 2 different dogs sniffed all our duffels: one dog sniffed for drugs, the other for porn, er… explosives.

And then we boarded the buses for a short ride to a nearby military airport. The journey from this point on is a story in itself, and will be the subject of my next posting.

On a sad note, one of our civilian members, Howard T., had to be released from our PRT due to medical issues. The worst part about it was that the powers that be waited until the last day to make this decision – he spent a lot of time and effort (and money) on this jaunt, just to be let go at the end. Also, he was assigned to the same area as I, so I was counting on his camaraderie. Ah, c’est la vie…

posted by Madbob  # 1:46 PM

Sunday, May 13, 2007

[Ed. note: I obviously am behind in my posting (mostly due to internet access issues), so this one just made print today, which is a special day - Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there, and I think you know who you are!]

Weekend Break

In between the FSI training and the subsequent Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training, I rented a car and drove down to Sandbridge in Virginia Beach to visit with my family and some friends. The occasion was my sister’s Fiftieth birthday; she is the oldest of my siblings, and with the passing of both our mother & father, she is the matriarch of the family.

Debbie had set this up before I knew anything about volunteering for the Iraq PRT initiative, but it turned out to be the perfect way for me to see everyone before I left country, and another chance to spend time with Mary Ann. The house she rented was right on the beachfront, and was simply huge! Indoor pool, hot tub, and more than enough rooms for the entire clan. Mary Ann & I had what was essentially a separate apartment within the house. Although the weather for the week & weekend before had been cold and miserable, this particular weekend it was absolutely gorgeous. There are few things in life more relaxing, soothing, and stress-relieving than sitting on the beach, sunning yourself, listening to the ocean waves washing up on the shore, and conversing with family & friends whilst pounding, er… drinking beer.

It was a wonderful weekend – I hope everyone enjoyed our time together as much as I did. Hey, guys – I love you all!!

Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) Training

But training called, and back to NoVA I went. The FACT course was taught at the Diplomatic Security Training Center in Dunn Loring, VA. I’ll try to keep it short (uh huh, right….).

Day One began with the first of what was to become many and continued snafus and miscommunications. Upon arrival at the facility, I learned that myself, along with 8 of the 9 of my fellow FSI classmates were not expected. After much confusion, wherein the reception people tried to send us back to FSI in Arlington, were allowed into the classroom. There were 15 other people taking the training, and not all were heading to Iraq (some were going to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Venezuela).

Briefings began with a description of security ops in critical environments, followed with some surveillance detection/route analysis. As a practical exercise, we were driven to lunch and told to use our recently acquired powers of surveillance detection to see if we could pick up on whether or not we were being followed or watched. This took place on the way to and at Reston Town Center, which was neat since Mary Ann & I used to go there on occasion when we lived in the area.

We were followed by cars, watched as we split up into groups to eat lunch, and a combo of both as we pretended to drive to & from work. Very practical experience and quite eye-opening. We, as an overall team, noticed most vehicles & people, but not all. We also made some pretty glaring errors (who would forget wanting to put a cap in the guy’s ass who was pushing around the “baby” carriage – turned out he wasn’t even part of the training team!).

Day Two was mostly consumed by the Emergency Medical Workshop, wherein we were given “safe haven” (as opposed to tactical/combat ops) first aid lessons & role-playing exercises. We were also given training in WMD mask usage.

Day Three wrapped up the first aid training, and after lunch we drove out to Point Summit, WV to the Bill Scott Raceway (BSR). Upon arrival, we were given a very quick rundown on the making safe (unloading) and loading of 4 types of small arms: the 9mm Sig (used by DoS), the 9mm Beretta (used by the US military), the M4 rifle, and an AK-47. After the class training, we were taken onto the firing range where we loaded 2 clips with 5 bullets for each of these weapons. We then shot each pistol/rifle. How cool!! Considering the fact that for all practical purposes I am a gun novice, surprisingly I found the AK-47 the easiest weapon of the 4 to load & shoot. So there’s truth to the saying, “an AK-47 is so easy to load & fire, even a child can use it – and they do!”.

We finished up and drove to Winchester, VA to spend the night at a hotel – there being no facilities nearby in Summit Point (wonder why the State Dept had to go to WV to hold this training? Hmmm…)

Day Four was all about counter-terrorism driving training – or as I said to others before, driving cars fast & dangerously. We were given lectures on what we were going to do on the closed roadway course at BSR, and then we went out and did it. One drill had us driving backwards at speed for over a mile (while weaving through obstacles). The absolute most adrenaline-pumping drill came when we had to ram through a car blocking our way. Then we repeated the ramming exercise in reverse. What a rush! Can’t tell you how many times I have wanted to do that on the beltway and other places, and now I know how to do it effectively while minimizing the damage to my vehicle. Keep that in mind next time you get in my way, fellow drivers!

Final day we tested out on our driving techniques: serpentine, emergency braking, skid pad turning/stopping, reversing through obstacles, and climaxed with 3 terrorism type scenarios involving small arms fire and exploding pyrotechnics. Yee haw!! Hard to believe I was getting paid for all this.

They gave us certificates, and then I busted hump outta there to catch a plane back to Indiana so I could spend a last weekend with Mary Ann. We did nothing out of the ordinary – just did normal everyday things, had some home-cooked meals, and spent some intimate, quality time together. And that was the best part of all…

Next up - down to El Paso, TX and training at the CONUS Replacement Center (CRC) at Fort Bliss...

posted by Madbob  # 2:14 AM

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Madbob’s Journey to Iraq Begins (with copious amounts of training)

I’ll start this with a brief rundown of the training I encountered at the beginning of my Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) “adventure”. I use the word with caution, remembering (paraphrased) words from the J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - not all adventures end well.

Day One, Monday, 16 April 2007, began with a senior member of the Dept. of State (DoS) giving us a rundown on the importance of this initiative, and our role within. We moved on to the PRT structure, as it exists in Iraq. They went to pains to emphasize that these PRTs were not run the same as those in Afghanistan. Then there was a description of the state of civilian-military relations within the PRTs. The day ended with a review of the situation in the Area of Responsibility (AOR) and the current Counter-Insurgency (COIN) strategy.

Day Two started with an introduction to the US Embassy in Iraq. This was followed by briefs on the history of Iraq, and then the principles of Islam. Continued with the modern history of Iraq, and current issues therein. One of the things I found most interesting was the Iraqi’s sense of history. To them, events of hundreds of years ago are as relevant/real/recent in their collective memory as 9/11 is to Americans. This attitude helps explain why the various religious sects/tribes/peoples easily fall into an “us vs. them” mentality – these “ancient” events are as relevant as if they happened last week. Further, the Iraqi’s pride themselves on the fact that their country is the historically accepted Cradle of Civilization. To them, it is our Western culture that is crude and immature. Onward to the US strategy in Iraq, which cannot be articulated here, other than to say that the next set of briefs related to empowering the moderates in Iraq. The day ended on overviews of the various DoS Iraq programs currently in place.

The first half of Day Three was spent on the various Civil Society/USAID efforts currently underway in Iraq. We were specifically directed NOT to contact any of the local leaders of these efforts, as it could (and has in the past) result in the death of those individuals. The second half of the day was extremely interesting & eye-opening informative. There were 2 speakers, Paul Hughes of the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), and Ken Pollack of the Brookings Institute (his article, “The Seven Deadly Sins of Failure in Iraq: A Retrospective Analysis of the Reconstruction, is a must-read if you want the brutal truth of how such a well intentioned effort to free the Middle East of tyranny turned out the way it has to date). Both painted bleak pictures of the recent past of the Iraq war, neither one is a fan of the current Administration, but both believe we can still win. And they both believe the surge combined with the PRT effort is the key to do so. Anti-climatically, they were followed by briefs on public diplomacy, negotiations, and how to work through interpreters.

Day Four was notable for briefings provided by Iraqis. I think it wise not to mention names, but they included a female former Iraqi minister, a medical doctor who lived in Iraq under Saddam (he had to leave the country for fear of his life, but is now back), and a Kurdish politician. To a person, they truly believe this war can be won, and they think that the surge/PRT effort is just what their country needs. Encouraging that the people of Iraq believe this, while American politicians won’t even give it a chance before declaring the war lost, the surge a failure. That is the most discouraging thing to hear for these Iraqi patriots. The remainder of the day was spent assessing and planning for operations, Gov’t of Iraq funding sources/issues, and US Gov’t funding sources/issues.

Final day was all about a practical exercise, wherein we pretended to be on the ground in Iraq in a local province. How would we help the Iraqis help themselves with the resources on hand?

So that wrapped up our week of training at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, VA. It was pretty overwhelming – as one officer put it, it was like drinking water from a fire hose. And with the repeated emphasis on how important this PRT effort is to the Administration, to the State Department, and to the Iraqi people themselves, I had to wonder if I am who they think I am. Am I the right kind of person, with the right skill sets for this job? I guess we’ll see…

[Ed. Note: Next up is my week of Foreign Affairs Counter Threat (FACT) training at the Diplomatic Security Training Center in Dunn Loring, VA. It will be in a new post, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to do so. Getting ready to deploy now…]

posted by Madbob  # 9:47 PM
Weblog Commenting and Trackback by HaloScan.com


10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003   11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003   12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004   01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004   02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004   03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004   04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004   05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004   06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004   07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004   09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004   10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004   12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005   01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005   02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005   03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005   06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005   07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005   08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005   10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005   05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006   07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006   10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006   02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007   03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007   05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007   06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007   07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007   08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007   09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007   01/01/2008 - 02/01/2008   05/01/2012 - 06/01/2012  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?