Monday, March 31, 2008

What Will We Say?

The Times of South Africa today published an editorial on the upcoming 'election' in neighboring Zimbabwe. It's written for South Africans, and decries their apathy and collusion in prolonging one of the world's more disastrous regimes, but its message is for all of us. What will we say, when our children ask how these horrors were allowed to continue?

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Hahahaha, this story is just too awesome. 200 billion barrels of oil. Under North Dakota. I can't wait to start seeing the new Dakota sheikhs rolling out in their silver-plated F150's.


My roommate finally found the correct cord to connect the cable feed to our tiny TV, so we can now enjoy the 11 channels of the Armed Forces Network. It's really not bad, there are two movie channels, sports, news, two 'prime' TV channels, etc. And all the programming is perfectly normal TV, just licensed and cobbled together. So AFN News, for example, will switch between CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and others over the course of the day. I believe this is supposed to be based on the popularity of various shows by timeslot, but I know it gets more political than that. The most interesting part of AFN, however, is not the programming, but the commercials. See, network programming doesn't come with commercials; those are added by the local broadcaster. But AFN, being an agency of the Department of Defense, doesn't need the sponsorship, so the commercial breaks are filled with in-house Public Service Announcements covering just about every aspect of military life. Practice Fire Safety. Call Your Family. Get Tax Help. Respect Local Cultures. Mind Portion Size. Maintain Operational Security. Wear Your Bike Helmet. And my absolute favorite, a PSA about respecting local mores by dressing conservatively which carries the tagline, "because dressing appropriately is always in style".

Friday, March 28, 2008


I just came across this inspiring story of a Muslim baptized and confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI at Easter Vigil in St. Peter's. Read his testimony. Amazing. God be praised!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Things are certainly getting rather more interesting in the south of Iraq, and as dourly as the BBC can spin it, I see this as a very hopeful time. The Iraqi Security Forces, made up of Iraqi Police and Army (ISF, IP and IA) have launched a massive offensive against elements of the Iranian-backed Jaysh al-Mahdi ('Army of the Mahdi', JAM) Shi'a militia in Basrah and throughout southern Iraq. JAM has responded in force, though without the explicit blessing of its supposed leader, the self-proclaimed 'cleric' Muqtada al-Sadr, who is still in theory holding to the cease-fire he declared six months ago.

Sidenote: At issue here is a bit of a semantic misunderstanding. The Western media insist on referring to JAM as if it were a traditionally organized guerrilla military. And to be fair, JAM refers to itself as such. In the Arab media, however, you'll see far more reference to the "Sadrist movement", which does a better job of conveying exactly how nebulous this organization is. No one really knows exactly what degree of operational control al-Sadr has over the movement that bears his name. It's quite likely that he's continued operations throughout the ceasefire. It's also likely that there are "Sadrist" groups using the name of JAM that have no operational connection whatsoever to Mr. Muqtada. In any case, the point will soon be moot, God willing, when the IP and IA run them out of town.

This is the biggest test the ISF have yet faced, and by all accounts, they're performing remarkably well. As far as I've seen in the media, they've received nothing more than air support and advice from the Brits and Americans, and believe me, we're happy to sit this one out. If they pull this off and come out of this with anything that even approximates a victory, it will be a huge accomplishment for the Iraqi government. The Iraqi people's confidence in the ISF and in Baghdad in general, already growing according to recent polls, will get a massive boost. At the same time, their waning support for JAM and similar militias could hit rock-bottom. We can but hope and pray, as these are dangerous but hopeful times for Iraq.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Hahahahahaha. I found this really amusing (HT Blackfive). I'll have you all know that we've been enjoying several weeks of pleasantly summerlike weather, if a bit chilly at night. Then again, very soon you'll all be able to pity me when we go weeks without the thermometer dropping below 120. It's already starting to get kinda warm:

Partly Cloudy
Hi 102°
Lo 83°

Partly Cloudy
Hi 104°
Lo 70°

Partly Cloudy
Hi 95°
Lo 67°

Partly Cloudy
Hi 97°
Lo 71°

Partly Cloudy
Hi 98°
Lo 67°

But it's a dry heat, y'know?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Devil's Roux

It would really make me happy in a particular sort of way to find out that Arabic had 200 different words for dust, as the Eskimos of lore supposedly had for snow. Sadly, they really have no more than we do, which is a shame. Because there really is a great diversity in the types of dust to be found around here. In the last week or so, I've become well-acquainted with an especially pernicious type. I'll get back to that. So in my shop, on of my duties is fueling up our generator at the end of every shift. I walk outside our little compound to the fuel point to fetch a jerrycan of diesel and carry it back to the "jenny". I then carefully set the jerrycan as far as I can within the triple-stack of concertina wire that surrounds the jenny and the systems it runs, walk around through the checkpoint to enter the secured area, carefully reach into the C-wire to pull out the jerrycan and proceed to top off the jenny's fuel tank. This is where the dust comes in, because when I'm done, I find it all over my hands and pants. See, when a jerrycan sits outside here, it collects dust in short order, like everything else. The first fine layer of dust then acts as a wick to draw oil out of the cap on the can. This oil then causes the can to accumulate that much more dust, until the whole thing is coated in a layer of a pasty oil-dust mixture, a sort of diabolical roux. And just try carrying a five-gallon can in one hand without it making any contact with your leg as you walk. It don't work.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

I am he who betrays my Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
I am he who denies that I ever knew Him.
I shout "crucify Him!", demanding His blood. I claim it for myself, and for my children.
I am Pilate, washing my hands of the matter.
I am a soldier, weaving a crown of thorns to mock the King of Kings.
I hold the scourge that tears His flesh.
I pound the nails that pierce His hands, his feet.
I bet and bicker for His garments.
I am a thief dying justly for my crimes, yet through my agony I find strength to hurl contempt on the Innocent suffering beside me.

I am all of these, but by God's grace I am also the other thief. Empowered by the Holy Spirit I pray, "Jesus, remember me."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Care Package

Today was a significant milestone in my Army career: I picked up my first care package while deployed. And what a care package it was! It contained a few of the little items I had asked for, such as a cheap watch and some keychain LEDs. There was also a nice selection of Easter candy (which I would of course never even begin to think of touching before Easter). There were also some cookies of course, which I will share with my coworkers tomorrow. My mother is still committed to using baked goods to buy me friends. Digging through all these things, I also came across a mysterious block wrapped in aluminum foil inside a ziploc bag. I assumed it was brownies, stacked and wrapped together, and left it for last. When I picked it up, however, I immediately knew it was too heavy, too dense to be simple brownies. Wait, could it be? No... I slowly opened the bag and sniffed, yet refused to believe my nose when it corroborated my growing suspicion. No way, there couldn't be any left, could there? Excitement mounting, my hands nearly shaking, I unwrapped the foil to reveal -- joy of joys! -- an entire half-loaf of Christmas fruitcake! For those of you who don't understand our family's love for this singular, maligned confection, I only wish you might have the chance someday to sample our fruitcake, and forget everything you'd even known or been lead to believe about it. That said, I'm now in a bit of a quandary. How exactly do I go about eating it? I'm not sharing, that's for certain. But even so, I have a distinctly finite amount of fruitcake to enjoy. My instinct is to savor it, eating only a tiny portion every few days, to make it last as long as possible. The heterogeneous nature of the fruitcake, however, means that a sufficiently large bite must be taken to ensure the complete fruitcake experience, so a balance of concerns is in order. This is the point where you accuse me of overthinking this to a nearly ludicrous degree. And I can only shake my head sadly, because you just do not understand. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Death of Childhood

My old college friend Ben, in his second year of teaching English literature to the privileged youth of northern India, has some very interesting comments on the state of childhood in the world today. I think his point is valid in the aggregate, but I think he might also be a bit short-sighted. His vision of what childhood ought to be is certainly not the norm, but I don't think it's entirely that rare, either. He might, methinks, be enheartened by some of the children of this blog's readership.

Internet is a Go

I have Internet in my hooch now. So if you'd been disappointed by my meager attempt at milblogging, well, I'm not saying I'm going to turn into Michael Yon, but it'll at least get somewhat more frequent. And I'll start posting pictures. Once I get a camera.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Being here is very strange. There's just such a bizarre, jarring disconnect between various aspects of life on this base. A few samples:
  • A few nights ago, our chow hall featured a Mongolian BBQ service. And they serve steak and crab legs on Rocket Attack Wednesdays (also known as "Wednesdays").
  • Last week I mopped a floor with bottled water.
  • I've met several soldiers who spend most of their free time fishing in the lone pond on base. No word yet if there's actually any fish in it.
  • After nearly two weeks here, I still regularly get turned around in the elephant-maze of 12-foot tall blast walls that surround and divide every building on base.
  • Despite being in Iraq, I've only met a handful of Iraqis. Most of the service workers on base are South Asians and Filipinos.
  • In the middle of the desert, in a devastated, war-torn country, I have reliable electricity, running water, and Internet service.
All in all, it's a strange sort of existence here. I'm sure it'll only get stranger once summer sets in and we start seeing temperatures in the 130's and higher. And apparently summertime is the high season for rocket attacks as well, so that'll be interesting. I guess that's the most surreal thing of all, that there are people out there doing what they can to kill me and mine. To be honest, that really hasn't set in yet, that there are people behind the rockets. It still mostly just feels like a particularly dangerous sort of weather phenomenon.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


As I mentioned in my first deployed post, the desert in this part of the world isn't particularly sandy. In fact, it's not sandy at all. Somehow, God in His wisdom decided that the Iraqi desert should be completely devoid of particles between the grades of corn flour and brussels sprouts. Which is to say, there's gravel. And dust. But no sand. Chalk it up to divine irony. Oh, and corn flour is the coarsest grade of dust around here. It goes down through cake flour, to powdered sugar, and all of it in an uncharmingly drab khaki color you're probably more familiar with from suburban vinyl siding. And for two days now the sky has been completely full of it. Last night the wind really picked up for a few hours, in what I suppose counts as my first real dust storm. Pretty awesome, except for the fact that you can't open your eyes in it without goggles. And the way the wind drives the grittiest dust deep into your ears, and how you blow mud boogers out your nose. And then it started raining. Of course, rain falling in a dust storm doesn't come down as water. It falls as mud. Mud rain. Worth seeing, just once.

The finest grades of dust, of course, have the most incredible ability to infiltrate the tiniest of crevices. You can't get away from it, so you just have to accept it. If you thought of the dust as being 'dirty', I'm pretty sure you'd go insane. Though it's still troublesome. It's limestone dust, so it's chemically reactive enough to wreak havoc on electronics and engines and such. Nice, huh?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Military Efficiency

Elapsed time from touchdown in Iraq to first PowerPoint briefing: 5 minutes.

Elapsed time from inprocessing unit in Iraq until assignment of first furniture-moving detail: 1 hour.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Thoughts From The Desert

As many of my readers probably already know, I'm currently on my way to Iraq to play my little part in this war. Right now, I'm sitting around on a base in the Gulf, killing time while we wait for a plane to take us into Iraq. A few thoughts:
  • When you think of the desert, you think of sand. Wrong. This place is nothing but dust. You'd think, eventually, all the dust would have blown away leaving just clean sand, gravel and rock. But no, this entire country is nothing but dust. We've seen workers digging pits, and it's solid dust down to three meters, at least. The gravel on the roads seems to have been shipped in from somewhere.
  • Why do they even bother making gravel roads anyway? It's not like there'd be anything to keep you from driving anywhere else. The whole place is a giant parking lot anyway. Maybe the gravel is just to mark where the roads are.
  • Ditto that for the sidewalks. I suppose enough road traffic could turn this place into one giant washboard, but do they really need to pave concrete walkways for us? It's a touch surreal.
  • A previous base en route, closer to civilization, had some sparrows singing. At this place, the very first non-human life I've seen in two days was a single cricket.
  • I'd heard before how much the service industries in the Gulf rely on TCNs (Third-Country Nationals): Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos. But it's still a shock, to come to a country and see next to none of the locals. I suppose if I wanted to meet them, I'd have to go into town. But I don't think there's any towns anywhere near here.
  • Despite being on an isolated base in the middle of the desert, with no drugs, no alcohol, no pornography allowed -- in short, no way to get in trouble if we wanted to -- we still have to break up our free time hiking back and forth to the tents for accountability formations. Just to keep track of us. Where exactly would we go? Sigh.
Look forward to my next post from Iraq. Got no clue when that'll be.