Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Three Phases of Contract Work...

Over the last 12+ years, I've noticed something that's pretty universal amongst contract workers: We all go through three, distinct phases during the course of our contract. The phases are almost exactly broken down into thirds. For a one year contract it's 4/4/4 months. For a six month contract it's 2/2/2 months. No value judgements on any of them - just observations...

The First Phase: EXCITEMENT

People work like the devil to get hired to work overseas. There's mountains of paperwork to fill out, some to read, and alot that you'll never see again. By the time you wade through it all you feel like you've really accomplished something. It's a good feeling.

Then there's the excitement of being in a new place. Discovery of things unknown, exploring of the unfamiliar, and adventure worthy of a B movie. It's a grand feeling, and by far my favorite phase.

Not everyone capitalizes on this newness. Some are content with making their way between their home, the DFAC, and work, and seldom stray. They're missing so much. I'd only been in Taji a month before the people who'd been there alot longer than me were asking where places were.

After a while, though, the excitement fades, and slips into the second phase...


Once you're aware of your surrounds and the general area, you enter a spell of comfortableness. It's a nice feeling - you've fallen into a routine, you know your coworkers (and how to exploit them), you know your job, and people start respecting your knowledge base. You're no longer a 'newbie' in their eyes.

Routine does have its downside - it tends to get a little boring and mundane. Nothing wrong with that, it's just not as challenging. The mind starts to take more naps during the day.

Of course, familiarity naturally leads to the last phase...


In this phase you tend to become a little more pissy, and people start getting on your nerves. It's natural. You've spent a long time wherever you're at, and start to feel like it's never going to end. The real world feels so far away.

On the ice, everyone hit this phase at the same time and it was easier to work with. Here in Iraq, we're all on different contract lengths, and enter this phase at different times. Work becomes more frustrating because you find YOU'RE the only one that seems pissy.

I admit, I'm there. Only 109 days to go. It'll pass, as all things do.

I really have nothing to complain about. Life in Taji is still the best around. I live in single housing, I'm fed three meals a day, I'm compensated well, and I've only got 109 days to go. :) Life is still very good.

Once again, I apologize for not updating as much as I should. In this contemptuous phase there really isn't anything interesting to write about.

I suppose I could tell you that American-occupied Taji is shrinking. We've given the most northern 20% if the base back to the Iraqis, with more to come. After the first of the year the State Department moves in, and Iraqis will be all over our side. It'll be an interesting time.

It's also cooled off here. Highs are ranging from 70-75* and lows are 40-45*. It's also become more humid, more cloudy, and the rains have started. And yes, we're ALL pissy about the mud.

Next month I'll be taking a small vacation. More like some R&R, really. Plans are to visit Cairo, and the pyramids, for a few days, then onto Dubai to see the wonders of the modern world. While I'm in the area, might as well. And once I set foot in Africa, that leaves me with only one more continent to go!

After that break, only two months remain.

I'll try to write more soon...if anything happens.

Take care. Enjoy life.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Army...

I deal alot with the Army. All nice folks. But there's something I don't understand about the Army - Everyone wears camoflauge, for obvious reasons. But the Army's camo is a digital print, in light and medium grey-green. They're the ONLY service that doesn't have desert (tan) camo. We're in the middle of a desert. Everything here is tan. The vehicles are tan. The sky is tan (most days). So why is green a good camo color?

Of course, camo is supposed to help you blend-in. That's obvious. But on-base, all military personnel are REQUIRED to wear reflective belts so they can be seen. Doesn't it seem to be counter-intuitive?

Yes, I know it's for safety reasons, but still...

But, I hear the Army is coming up with yet another camo pattern, primarily for use in Afghanstan, called multi-cam. They're also going to improve their uniforms by getting rid of velcro closures (noisy and wears out). Who's great idea was that, anyway?

Just curious...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good-bye, October...

October has always been my favorite month of the year. It's the month the trees change from green to orange, yellow, red, and brown. It's the month when the first frost appears. It's the month that a myriad of changes take place, and it's the month of my birth.

I arrived back in Taji on October 1st, after having an absolutely perfect vacation back home. October 1st was also the last day for all of our fast food places to close. Yep, no more Subway, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Cinnabon, Popeye's, or even Green Beans coffee shop. All gone. Thanks for cutting the budget to Iraq.

We're all missing these outlets. No one ate there everyday, but it was nice to have an option to the DFAC, as well as some 'normalcy' in our little warzone.

Oh well, they're gone for good.

Two weeks later all of the Taji Bazaar shops closed. No more local merchandise (actually, most of it was made in Turkey) to buy. No more rugs, no more saris, no more hand-tailored suits...

So, we're down to only one place to eat, and all shopping is done at the PX. Taji has become kind of a boring place. At least I'm on the downhill side of my contract.

We did have some excitement lastnight - had a *BOOM* happen about 8:20p, with three smaller *booms* right afterwards. No idea what it was, but everyone came out from their rooms, and meandered to the bunkers.

Only the second 'attack' in seven months. Not bad. My friend, Rob, is up at Kirkuk, and they get shelled 3-4 times a WEEK! Guess we're lucky to be where we are.

But October is over, and the winter looms. Changes have happened, and I'm sure more are ahead. Nothing to do but enjoy the ride, and count the days (152 BTW).

Life is (still) good! :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



It was SPECTACULAR, and all too short. I left Taji the morning of Sept. 6th, flying on a door-less Blackhawk helicopter down to Baghdad - about a 15 minute flight. Was in B-Town about four hours before catching a C-130 down to Kuwait. At the Ali Al Salem Airbase I had to turn in my passport for a Kuwaiti visa, then wait for it to be processed. I was there about 24 hours. The military was kind enough to then drop me off at the Kuwait City Airport - a madhouse of people in crisp, white robes, flowing head coverings, and women totally veiled in black. Like the cliche, people were being dropped off at the curb in Bentleys, Rolls, and Astons.

Processing at the airport was unlike any other place I'd been. When you first enter the terminal, that's when you get your bags x-ray'd, both carry-ons and checked bags. The lines are long, and I don't think the screeners are watching for much.

After that you have to find your way to your airline's ticket counter for check-in. Thankfully, there's a whole passel of men in blue uniforms and funny caps to assist you. My guy asked what airline I needed, and I told him, United. He then weaved his way around throngs of people, all the way back to the United desk. I checked-in without incident, and got rid of my checked bag.

From there you re-enter the main terminal so you can say good-bye to the extended family that came to see you off. After milling about there for a while you head to your gate - and through more security. Did I mention the throngs of people?

One funny thing about the airport - it's non-smoking...more/less. There are glass-walled 'smoke rooms' on every concourse, and usually filled with people. However, if there's no room, no problem - you just light-up wherever you are. No one's going to say boo to you. Sheiks wield that much authority.

I ate at the McDonald's there, just to get a taste of American food before I left (and because I knew I probably wouldn't like the food on the plane).

The flight boarded, and I was in heaven - I'd paid the extra $159 for a seat in United's Economy Plus area, where you get an extra 5" of legroom, AND no one was sitting in the two seats next to me! I popped a couple of Benadryl, and was off to sleep for the next 6 1/2 hours, making the 12 hour flight not very bad at all. :)

Connected through Washington-Dulles, then Chicago, and on into Springfield. Jan was there to pick me up, holding a bouquet of daisies. It was SO good to see her again. We kissed long and deep, and held each other like we'd never let go.

It was good to be home.

On the 11th we headed west for our own vacation - to the mountains of Oregon, for a week at a friend's cabin on the McKenzie River. What a great week that was. It started out by meeting friends Tim and Brittany in Portland. Tim worked for me down on the ice one season, and I immediately liked him. I'd heard alot about his newlywed wife, Brittany, so had to meet her. She was as adorable as I'd imagined.

We then headed south to Eugene, where we turned East, and drove for another hour. We found the cabin in the dark with no problem. The next morning we were treated to the sounds of the McKenzie River right out the front door. It didn't take long to establish a ritual of morning tea by the river. What a great way to start the day. :)

Our week was spent exploring and relaxing all over Central Oregon. We hiked a few trails, shopped in Sisters and Bend, enjoyed the snow-capped Cascade Mountains, paid a visit to the Pacific shore in Florence, visited the Ross store in Eugene, and relaxed to our hearts' content. It was a GOOD week!

Nine days passed way too quickly, and we had to head back to MO. We were very impressed with the Portland Airport (PDX). It was designed well, decorated great, had plenty of shopping inside, and even provided a pianist for entertainment.

What a cool town...but we had to leave.

The rest of my time off was spent with Jan and our daughter, Alli. We cooked out, we shopped, we drove around the countryside, and even went to Walmart. Life is good.

But the 28th rolled around, and I had to leave. Leaving isn't nearly as much fun as arriving, let me tell you. The flights back weren't as great, the sleep wasn't as good (only slept 10 hours in four nights), even pulling a 36 hour marathon at the last. By the time I arrived back in Taji I was totally spent and exhausted. Took a few days to get my body back to feeling halfway normal.

So, I'm back at work now, and already counting down the days till my contract ends (171 as of today). I find myself daydreaming about being with Jan in Oregon often. It was simply perfect.

Work calls...

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tales From Taji (aka Iraq>>>hell>>>handbasket)

I see Iraq's been back in the news a bit lately. The last combat brigade has left, the war is over, and the lights have been turned out.

Uh, hold on a minute...

I'm still here.

In fact, a number of us are...Army included.

Things have changed - the population of Taji has plumetted, no real waiting lines for anything, and they just closed one of our DFACs (dining facilities). It's not all puppy dogs and rainbows, though - we watch the news, same as everyone. We know about all the bombings in Baghdad around the country. Seems some of the not-so-nice people were just waiting for the drawdown before stirring the pot again. I doubt they'll bring American combat troops back in again. Instead, everyone's depending on the Iraqi Defense Force to do the protecting within the country.

Okay, so they're not all that efficient, yet. They're getting there.

At least for the next year of our 'occupation' we'll be protected by the U.S. Army, as well as some private security forces. We'll be safe, but there's still some...tension about the situation. No plans to give the civilian contractors guns, but they have done that before. I haven't shot a gun in 25 years, but I'm pretty sure the sequence to follow is still 'aim, pull, BANG.'


There have been numerous articles lately about the monetary waste in Iraq. Of course, I'm not privvy to the particulars, but can totally believe the stories I've read.

Rather than recount everything, read this article:

Billions of dollars we could have used for our own citizens. We never should have gotten involved over here...


The Army's bigger than it used to be...literally. Okay, the people IN the Army are bigger.

It used to be that military folk were in the best shape of anyone. Hours of running and working out everyday. Good, healthy food, and plenty of rest.

Something changed. Oh yeah, food...more electronic warfare with less hands-on action. It's all added-up to a larger-midriff Army.

The other day I picked-up my laundry, and as I stepped onto the sidewalk I met two sergeants walking the opposite direction. You'd have guessed they just walked out of a Golden Corral after spending a couple of hours at the buffet. They were large. Beer bellies without the beer.

Evidently, the higher-ups have taken notice, too. This article was in today's electrons:

TAJI RECYCLES!!! (...but we really suck at it)

When I first arrived in Taji, five long months ago, there was no recycling, mainly because there was no recycling program. About three months ago there was a big push to promote recycling. Not everything, mind you, but at least plastic bottles (we go through thousands everyday) and aluminum cans.

Not much, but it's a start. Better late than never.

Posters went up, Powerpoint slides were on the computers, and bins were installed in the DFAC (dining facility). Taji was READY!

And that was it.

Three months later and still the only bins are at the DFAC. Granted, everyone eating there does recycle bottles and cans, but does it even make a dent? Not really. You see, most of the contents in the bottles and cans are consumed in workcenters and our rooms. Did they supply bins at our workcenters? No. Did they provide bins in our pods (section consisting of 36 trailers)? No. Well that's okay, I can fill-up a bag and drop it off at the DFAC. No, you can't. Nothing is allowed into the fenced-off DFAC area (no backpacks or purses, either - but people with guns are okay).

So, where do we stand? I'd guess maybe 20-25% of the used bottles and cans are being recycled. The rest go up with the rest of the trash into the burn pit. I wish I could change it, but the Army is calling the shots. No protests, no appealing. Their word is law. Do I wish we could do more? Of course. But in another year this base will be turned back over to the Iraqis. They'll inherit our renovated buildings, our new facilities, nice living quarters, and our trash.

I could get into a tirade on the money wasted here in Iraq, but that's the stuff for a different post.

Sleep well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Seeing GREEN in the Iraqi desert...

This is the first of my photographic self-assignments. It's easy to see the bland tan that is everywhere here, but if you train your eyes, and are aware of your surroundings, it becomes a pretty colorful place. Here's a few of my 'green' photos...


To All Employees:

One of the unique experiences of working in the Middle East is the opportunity to personally experience different customs and peoples. The Middle East has a long history of deep religious practices. As an employer, we honor and support local customs and requirements in accordance with religious practices. Observance of Holy Ramadan is a major religious event in the Middle East and supported by *** in accordance with local laws.

Many of our employees may understand and have experienced the Ramadan experience. The following are questions that may assist all of our employees in understanding and appreciate the meaning and practice of Ramadan.

What is Ramadan? Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast (sawm) during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is considered to be a time of worship, contemplation and a time to strengthen family and community ties. The appearance of the new crescent moon signals the beginning of Ramadan. The end of Ramadan is signaled by the sighting of the new moon of the next month, Shawwal. The new moon must be seen and reported by at least two trustworthy witnesses. Because of this requirement, neither the beginning nor the end of Ramadan can be determined in advance. Depending on the visibility of the moon, Ramadan can begin on a different date in different parts of the world.

What is meant by Fasting (sawm)? The sawm is act of deeply personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised level of consciousness. Fasting begins each morning and continues until sunset. Fasting consists of abstinence from all food, drink, gum chewing and any kind of tobacco use during this time. It is considered violation of law to drink, eat or use tobacco in public during this period of time daily. Please be advised that you are subject to arrest if you violate public fasting requirements.

When will Ramadan begin? Ramadan will begin on or about 10 or 11 August 2010.

When does Ramadan end? When the first crescent of the new moon has been officially sighted by a reliable source, the month of Ramadan is declared over, and the month of Shawwal begins. Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr. Literally the "Festival of Breaking the Fast," Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations. It is a joyous time beginning with a special prayer, and accompanied by celebration, socializing, festive meals and sometimes very modest gift-giving, especially to children.

As a business *** will initiate temporary measures to accommodate these needs and requirements for the period of Ramadan. We are advising all employees of *** to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking during daylight hours while outside of your residence and moving about in the civilian community. Generally first light begins at dawn and ends at sunset.

Violation of this practice could result in your being arrested. Please remember that the Muslim community and local officials are serious about the fasting requirement.

We request that Individuals working on US Military installations consider their Muslim work partners' Ramadan observances. If you have work partners who are observing Ramada fasting, please refrain from eating in their presence in the work area during their established work schedule. The most courteous practice would be eating in an established break area if possible.

At the *** offsite facilities, special break areas will be established away from the work areas to insure that fasting is going on in general areas.
All eating, drinking and using of tobacco products will be restricted exclusively to this designated area.

We request that All *** employees respect the Ramadan observance. Please consult with your site and project managers for additional information and adjustments that are being put in place in observance of this religious period or if you have any additional questions. We request that All *** employees respect the Ramadan observance.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I did some Coke today...

Oh, it was good. Just what I needed. I'd been craving it for days. Just that little took the edge right off. I see why people get addicted to this stuff - because it's...well...addictive.

Back home I never do Coke. I seldom do soft drinks of any kind. There's always healthier options: iced tea, ice water, fresh juice, maybe some wine. And when I do get the urge, desire, craving for something, it's Dr Pepper - something that's in abundance in the Midwest.

Coke has a special place in my heart. My sister has always loved the stuff, but it never did much for me...until I started traveling outside the United States. Coke is EVERYWHERE!

I remember my trip to China in 2006 - it was my first night there, and I was having dinner with my cousin and her friends at a hot pot restaurant. I was eating stuff that to this day I'm still unable to identify. For those of you that know me well, you know that's a pretty big thing. I'm not known as a culinary adventurer.

As the night went on, the desire to wash things down with something cool, tasty, and familiar was overwhelming. To my eventual detriment, they offered tall bottles of warm Coke. Well, at least it was familiar. I drank four of them.

Oh, I should have mentioned that up to that point I hadn't had a soft drink for about four years. It was just something I decided I could do without, so I did.

I won't recount how I spent most of the next day and a half in the bathroom, in my Chinese hotel room. I'll just say that my body didn't react well to the flood of sweet, carmel-colored liquid.

Later that same trip I learned something else - On the flight from Chengdu to Lhasa, Tibet, never drink carbonated beverages. I believe I had two cans of yes, Coke. We landed, and was at an elevation of 12,000 feet above sea level. Very high, no air. All those little carbonation bubbles just went crazy, and expanded all over the place.

There was a rush to the bathroom. Thankfully, a 'western style' toilet was available, instead of the more common 'squat toilet.' Never got the hang of those. I'll sit down anyday.

When I worked on the ice the one thing I always looked forward to when I got off was the first meal back in the 'real' world. It was always a Double Whopper Value Meal at Burger King, on Columbo Street, in Christchurch. It tasted like America. Of course, it was accompanied with Coca-Cola, and Coke tastes like Home.

Same thing traveling through Australia. Coke is king.

And now I'm in Iraq. Sure, they sell Dr Pepper in the PX, but I don't love soft drinks enough to keep any in my room. So, on my day-off I usually eat lunch at our Food Court. Doesn't matter which vendor I choose, they all offer Coke to go along with their meals.

So, I indulge.

I did some Coke today, and I'm feeling pretty good right now...

P.S. Okay, I bought ONE can of Dr Pepper to have later. It's in my freezer right now. I like it cold...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Were those fireworks?...

It was on a Saturday night, a week before the Fourth of July weekend. I had the TV on, and was catching-up on my e-mail. Right around 9:20p there was a large *BOOM!*, followed immediately by a smaller *boom*. Fireworks a week early? Naw...

I slipped my flip-flops on, and poked my head out my door. Everyone else was, too. Quietly, but quickly, people started making their way towards our local bunker (it's like 3-sided concrete culvert, about 6' square inside, and about 60' long).

Someone said it was a mortar. Seriously? A mortar? But Taji's a SAFE base. Who'd be shooting mortars at us?

The next few minutes were tense, and full of apprehension. We never really did go inside the bunker, but we were ready to.

You should have seen the Army mobilize. They were like ants running around everywhere, rifles blazing. They were doing their job.

After 20 minutes, or so, we got the word that all was clear, and we returned to our CHU's (compartmentalized housing units - trailers). No one slept well the rest of the night, and of course, it was the talk of the base the next day.

The full story came out a few days later - They weren't mortars, but RPG's. They had been fired from one or two Iraqis that had found an opening in one of our 'fortified' outside walls, and had snuck in. They were located almost immediately that same evening. They had in their possession additional weapons, bent on wreaking some havoc.

The things people do on a Saturday night.

Thankfully, no one was hurt, and no damage done. Still, it rattled some nerves.

It served as a much-needed wake-up call for all of us. Complacency isn't good on a military a warzone.

So now vigilance is paramount. The Iraqis are still our friends.

Don't worry, I'm still safe. Please read the post below about our concrete friends, the T-Walls...


Other Taji news...

The food selections have taken a nosedive. The rotisserie chicken man is gone, as is the carving station for the turkey and pork loin. Thankfully, the fruit guy is still serving, but he has been absent a few meals, which has caused some distress.

It's still hot, dry, and dusty, but I won't keep kicking that horse.

Everyone in our office is in vacation mode. A few just returned, a couple return this week, and a number of us are taking off in September and October. For me, parole...I mean, vacation, is less than two months away. :)

I bought a new backpack and a new hat, but they're camouflage, and I can't find them.

All in all, everything's fine. I'm safe, I'm comfortable, and I have a job. That's pretty much like winning the trifecta.

I promise I'll *try* to do better at updating my blog. Next entry will be my first photographic assignment - 'Finding Green in the Desert.' Subsequent posts will be 'I'm Feeling Blue,' and 'I'm Seeing Red.' Might even do 'Don't Be Yella.'

Take care, Everyone. Write, post, send good thoughts.


The Ubiquitous T-Wall...

At every military base in Iraq, and I'd suspect, Afghanistan, you see giant monoliths called T-Walls. T-Walls provide two services: protect and contain. Which one it does is entirely dependent on which side of the wall you're on.

You've seen T-Walls too, everytime you drive through a construction zone. They're much shorter, and typically wider, and go by the moniker 'concrete barriers.' Their purpose is exactly the same - they protect the workers on the other side, and contain whatever mayhem traffic may cause in the thru lanes.

Are they protecting us from traffic in Iraq? Hardly. Their job is to protect us from most types of lobbed or rocketed munitions. Could be mortars, could be grenades, could be rocket powered grenades (RPG's). They're typically placed around the perimeter of most buildings, and around the pods that consist of the trailers we live in.

That being said, it's all a crap shoot as to whether you're on the protect or contain side.

As I look out the window of my room, I see an 8' high T-wall. Beyond the wall is a gravel road about 30' across. Good, I'm protected, right? Well, if an explosive happens to land in that roadway, yep, I'm protected, and the blast is contained. BUT, what if that same munition happens to land in that 4' space between my trailer and the T-Wall? *BOOM!* All of a sudden, I'm on the containment side, and anyone in the road would be protected.

Like I said, it's a crap shoot. Still, they do provide a sense of protection, that that goes a long way towards our peace of mind, even if they do block the view.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Today's official temperature was 122*, and that was in the SHADE! Ah yes, summer's here. :P

You have no idea what that kind of heat feels like. Closest thing would be to preheat your oven to about 500*, then open the door while standing right in front of it. It's searing.

And you know how people talk about windburn? Well, when the wind is blowing with this kind of heat, the wind does literally burn you. Unfortunately, not much getting around having to walk to work, walk to chow, walk to the gym. You just get used to it.

So, a couple of hot months ahead, then September, and VACATION. When I return the temps will have broke, and started the slide into Fall. Life is Good.

Sorry I haven't written in a while. I'll post more on my day-off. There was some excitement here a couple of weeks ago I want to tell you about.

Till then, stay cool!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Upcoming Summer Solstice!!!

Oh boy, it's almost summer. The high temps are already right around the 120* mark. Hard to believe it'll get even warmer, but it will.

I'm watching the color of the sky as I write this. It's gone from sunny to grey, grey to yellow, and now yellow to orange. That's never a good sign. It means dust, or more likely, a dust STORM. No one likes those. Dust EVERYWHERE, carried by a scorching hot wind. Time to find my goggles.

Today's my day-off, and I needed it. For a fairly easy job there's alot of stress at work. And no, I'm not going to get into it. Just glad to have some time away from the place, even though there really wasn't anything to do today. Pretty much stayed inside where it was cool, and not dusty. Oh, I did sweep my room, and clean out my fridge. At least I accomplished something constructive.

Also planned my flight home. Vacation is still 12 weeks away, but everyone plans early. We need something to look forward to. Flying back to MO cost me a bundle, but thankfully my company gives us a travel credit (which almost covered the entire cost of it) after six months, and again at the end of our contract.

I've been away from home for three months. It's gone by fast, but never fast enough. Listening to the folks that have been here a while, they say the first few months are the longest. Again, thank goodness.

I've always enjoyed the desert life and environment, but this place isn't Arizona. About the only thing they have in common is the heat. I'd always thought that one day I'd like to move back to AZ, but I think being here has cured me of that. Besides, Jan's not that thrilled with the desert anyway. So, we'll go somewhere with trees and water. :)

No real excitement here in Taji lately. There's going to be a group of three comedians at the Pavilion tonight. It'll still be over 100* when they start, but I bet there'll be a good turnout. We kind of latch-on to anything from the outside world. More like grasping at straws.

Anyway, Allan and I are gonna go. Probably eat in the courtyard for a change, too. What shall I have? Burger King, Subway, Popeye's, Taco Bell, or Cin-a-bon? No, definitely NO Cin-a-bon. Oh, there's Pizza Hut, too...but I don't like pizza. We'll find something.

More soldiers seem to be leaving Taji. No idea how many, but it's feeling more sparse around here. It's all part of the Iraq troop drawdown. Should have some Iraqi Army members start to move over to this side soon, too. That'll be different. Just one step closer to turning the base back over to them eventually.

I'm so happy I'm not in Afghanistan, like my friends Joel and Jim. They're in Kabul, thankfully. Yes, it's still very dangerous there, but nothing like the southern part of the country, near Kandahar. Things are just rough there. The surge is beginning...

Yep, I'm pretty spoiled here in Taji. No complaints at all. I'll contend with the heat, the work, and the food (which has been getting rather mundane lately).

BTW, speaking of food - A couple of weeks ago I must have contracted a little intestinal bug. No idea where - could have been the water or the salads. Moot point now. For 11 days I was...well...having to stay close to a restroom. One day I visited the restroom 12 times! Kaopectate helped the most, but not after trying a complete round of Imodium/Loparimide.

This also brought to light a harsh reality of being over here - lack of medical care.

If there's danger to one's life, limb, or eyesight, the Army docs will see you at the clinic. If your condition is something less than life-threatening, they want you to take a day-off from work, board a helicopter, fly down to Baghdad, and visit a contractor clinic down there. Wow, talk about inconvenient. And if you have a problem with gastrointestinal distress, do you really want to take a chance on a bumpy, hot, helo ride, then a bumpy, hot, shuttle drive about half an hour to the clinic?


Thankfully, OTC meds finally helped me. Would have rather had REAL meds, but the option just wasn't there. I'm very appreciative one of my good friends is a medical doc back in the States, and I'm able to ask him about these maladies that darken my doorstep.

The process kinda sucks.

Oh well. Just nine more months to go.

Almost 5p here, and the sky is getting lighter. Maybe the storm passed over us. Take care, all. Leave comments, or write when you can. Miss you all.


All gussied-up in my dust-prevention wear.

I decided that one thing I really do NOT like here is having to use a porta-potty when the temp is anything over 100*. The plastic walls are hot and pliable, ventilation is non-existant, there's that sickeningly-sweet smell of blue liquid/feces that makes you want to hold you breath, and there's the residue of people that 'missed' the target. Better to hold it till you get to a REAL bathroom.

I swear, I don't know how some things work around here...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Well...summer's here.

The temps are now routinely in the 100s. Later this week we should be into the mid-110s. And even though that will be scorching hot, it's gonna get hotter. The hottest temperature recorded in the United States is 134*F, at Death Valley. In Libya, which isn't that far away from Iraq, it once got up to 136*F.

Maybe that's why we don't have pavement here - it'd melt.

Thankfully, the humidity is next to nothing, unlike Phoenix, which has so many swimming pools, canals, and irrigated lawns, that it seems more miserable there.

Well, it's Tuesday, and my DAY-OFF! :) I work six 10-hour days, so I really look forward to this one day.

My typical Tuesday starts off by (usually) sleeping-in. I get up a bit before 8a, and meet my friend Allan for breakfast (he works nights, and gets off at 8a). We talk of base happenings, work, and stories of home, and future plans.

After that, I head back to my room and start cleaning. It's amazing how much dust and dirt gets blown in. Of couse, our doors and windows don't seal all that well, so maybe it's not so surprising.

I also drop-off my laundry - there are no facilities to so it ourselves, so we have to leave it at one of numerous 'drop points' on base. Typically, if you have them in by 12n, it'll be ready by 5p the next day. I can then pick it up on the way home from work.

Tuesday is also a great day for catching-up on e-mails, finances, and whatever else. Since it's so hot outside, might as well stay in where it's cool.

I also just lay around and watch TV. Days off are days to r-e-l-a-x...

Oh there was some excitement at Taji recently...

Yes, it was a testosterone rush for all the Army guys. I caught the last 10 minutes or so. They are good dancers, but it was like being at a football game without the football.

Other than the sporadic USO-style acts that come though here, about the only other thing we have to look forward to is Friday Night Karaoke, and no, I really don't look forward to it.

It's 1p right now. Normally I'd be thinking of lunch, but I'm having some gastrointestinal distress today. I'm so happy Jan included some Imodium in the CARE package I received from her last week. She takes such good care of me. :)

That's it for today. Take care, everyone. Stay cool.

It's nap time...

I forgot what this is - it's either dried mud, or my skin.

One of our laundry drop-offs.

Yes, we have a mosque in Taji. We have a number of Muslims on the base. Thankfully, the loudspeakers don't blare out the daily prayers.

No, I don't know why there's an old, red pickup with flames on it here. Somethings will forever be a mystery...

Monday, May 17, 2010


Hello, Everyone --

I had an absolutely terrible day yesterday. Just needed to make it through today, and then I'd have a day-off.

Well, I made it through my Monday...and it was the best day I've had since I arrived here. :) Funny how that works.

The day started off, as all my days do, with a call to my Sweetie. Something about hearing her voice first thing in the morning that just sets the mood for the day, and she always makes me happy. :)

Work was work - thankfully easy and smooth this morning. About an hour before lunchtime our Site Manager pokes his head into our office and asks what our plans are for lunch. I said, "Well, I think we'll head on up to the DFAC and see what they have to offer." He said, "Want to go out for lunch?"..."Sure!"

The only options we have for eating around here are the two DFACS, and the food court area. However, he offered us one additional option - The Other Side...

The Other Side is East Taji...the IRAQI side.

Lunchtime came, and off we went - four of us in the company Nissan pickup. The trip over there didn't take long - the Iraqis are just on the otherside of our airfield. We did have to pass through a checkpoint and a guarded gate, but that was it. ITT has a small contingent on that side, handling communications. They're located in a small, but very comfortable, and well appointed compound, guarded by decendents of Indian Ghurkas, some of the fiercest warriors there have ever been.

Inside the compound we were greeted, and led to the food. On the menu was Carolina-sytle pork ribs, BBQ beef ribs, (a little-too-overcooked) steaks, roast turkey, turkey fried rice, salad, and dessert choices of brownies, strawberry cheesecake, or apple pie. Mmmmm mmmmm...

Our cook was a good ole boy from...Carolina. He really enjoyed cooking for us, having gotten up at 4a to start marinating the ribs. His efforts were evident.

After a very filling lunch, we took a tour of the compound. They have all the comforts of home, but it's very compact, and maybe a little claustrophobic. If you like wide-open spaces, it's not for you.

We took a break from the heat in a room constructed between two sets of trailers. Everything inside was handcrafted - the windows, the benches, the cabinets, the tray ceiling. It was well air-conditioned, and was setup with cable TV. We didn't want to leave.

But leave we eventually did. After leaving the compound we drove around the Iraqi base. Some of it is still pretty rough - we did a number on it with all the bombing during the height of the war. The Iraqis are rebuilding, but it's slow, and it's a large base.

Right now, the Iraq Army has officer candidate training facilities, and limited helicopter operations. It's pretty sparse. We (the US Army and Air Force) are guiding and helping them. Just hope they don't use all this good training and equipment against us in the future.

Eventually, the US will turnover the rest of Taji back to the Iraqis. Some say it'll be in a year, some say it'll be a few years. Either way, I'm sure they'll love coming over to OUR side, where the living is easy (HAHA).

Our tour ended back at the gate that separates the two sides. Our IDs were checked, and a cursory inspection of our vehicle was done, then *poof* we were back on 'safe' soil.

It was a good lunch, and the kind of boondoggle I really needed.

Now, I can REALLY enjoy my day-off. :D

P.S. Sorry, no pix. :(

P.P.S A boondoggle is a term we used on the ice for time off from work to get out and do something different, usually out of town, and always someplace scenic.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

They say your brain turns to liquid about 120*. I guess we'll see...

Aloha, Everyone! Yes, I know it's been a while. My bad. With only one day-off a week there's just not enough hours in the day. I hope this makes up for it.

Taji's been pretty quiet lately. Yes, there's been some unrest and not-so-good stuff happening in and around Baghdad, but we're fine here. Got more helos up in the air scouting things out. Happy to have 'em watching over us.

The temps have now hit 100*, and I can tell's warm. The people here say during the height of summer the temps will be over 120*. It'll be just like living in Phoenix again...except for the paved roads...and malls...and stuff to do...and green lawns.

The best part of hot summer days are the hot summer nights. Always enjoyed them when I lived in Phoenix, where it used to still be over 100* at 11p. Perfect time for a dip in the pool to cool off.


Okay, back to realtime.

Work has My job title is ADPE Tech. ADPE means Automated Data Processing Equipment. What does that sound like? Yeah, a computer. We service laptops and desktops owned by the military. Not a whole lot of real tech work involved, but it's still enjoyable. And they come to us, we don't have to go to them. I'm thankful my building is very well air-conditioned. Good bunch of people I work with, too. They help the days pass.

Across from our building is a much larger, 2-story structure. The building itself, and the surrounding area are OFF LIMITS to ALL personnel. Rumor is it's where the guy called Chemical Ali had his bio-weapons lab. No reason do doubt them. I also heard the labs had been sealed with poured concrete. Again, no way to verify that.

There are a number of abandoned buildings around the base. No idea what some of them were used for. Some are of interesting designs and layouts.

Taji, at its busiest, had a population of 18,000 people. Today, it's down to about 4000. Many of the local vendor shops have closed-up, making things harder to get, or eliminating services. Still, we're doing fine. Some say Taji is a long-term base...others say it'll close within the year. No one really knows. Hope I can stay here for the duration.

The place is also home to a number of TCNs (third-country nationals) that have been contracted to come work here. They're from a variety of places: Turkey, India, The Philipines, Germany, South Africa, Uganda, and a host of other countries. Everybody has been exceptionally nice. Everyone gets along, and that's always good.

Life has also improved dramatically since I bought a TV for the hooch. It wasn't easy, though - the first one had a built-in DVD player that didn't work, so I had to carry it the half mile back to the PX for a replacement. Then I realized that the coax cable that runs inside didn't go anywhere. So, I had to buy an antenna, climb ontop of the hooch, and affix it to a post with the help of a shovel handle, and three, big zip-ties.

It works fine.

Of course, I only get 10 channels, and they're all AFN (Armed Forces Network). Thought once I left the ice I'd never see it again. Well, it's back. Same bad commercials, too. At least it's entertainment, and I can watch current news.

One thing AFN does do is show alot of PSAs, all geared towards the military. Most prominent are the ones telling you to not smoke, and to avoid smokeless tobacco. Funny, but the PX stays well stocked in both. 'Don't do this!...but if you do, you can purchase them at your local PX.'

I've just about had my fill of second-hand smoke. I swear, smokers comprise 40-50% of the population. The Army tries to herd them into pavilions (since the government has banned smoking inside all government buildings), but few adhere to the rules, contactors included. I'm getting pretty good at holding my breath. Hard to imagine how someone can inhale that hot smoke into their lungs when it's over 100* outside.

I guess that's why it's called an addiction.

Last week, 2-ply toilet paper showed up in our ablution (shower and toilet) trailer. It's quite a luxury. Nothing like Quilted Northern, but not bad. It's the little things.

The food, stellar in the beginning, has become a bit monotonous, and gone downhill a bit in quality and eatability. A new Army company took over a couple of weeks ago, and who's ever over the DFAC decided to shake things up a bit. One of the most annoying things they did was to start putting onions and either red peppers or pimentos in all the veggie dishes - corn, green beans, succotash, potatoes, steaks, and much more. Thankfully, this week they seem to have eliminated the 'extra stuff.'

I find myself eating less, and feeling better. I've never been one to do three squares a day, and discovered my body doesn't care for that scheudule, anyway.

I'm working out regularly, and that's good. The gyms are packed in the evenings with testosterone-charged military types, so it's difficult to get on some of the machines. I find walking the 1/2 mile track is more to my liking. Just have to wait till the sun gets low, and the temps cool a bit. The track is covered with ground-up tires, so it's very cushy. I usually bump into one or two co-workers there after work.

Just a block away from the track is a new spa! Just opened up a week ago, and getting rave reviews. I stopped in there today to look around. It was cool, subdued, and very quiet. Prices are reasonable. It's going to be a very popular place. :) Three people from work have already been, and fully endorse it.

Down the road from the spa is the pool that opened, closed,then re-opened. Guess it doesn't do well with dust storms. It's a popular place, but a bit of a walk away. It also complicates things when you're not allowed to carry backpacks/purses/bags into any area where people congregate. One has to hand-carry things alot, which is never convenient.

The bag ban is for our safety. Too easy to pack explosives into one.

Still, life is good in Taji. Hope everyone back home is doing well. I miss you all.

Oh, I was kidding about the brain turning to liquid at 120*. I think it's more like 118*...


Pool dress code - yes, there is one

My 'Antenna on a Stick'

This 'terrorist' is a dead-ringer for an old boss of mine. This was from Ft. Benning. Forgot I had it in my phone.

What we're all looking forward to.

Close-up of an MRAP. Almost looks like it's smiling...

People with too much time...and lumber...on their hands.

No, I have no idea what the Sneaker Box is. It's locked and empty.

Secret communication satellite dishes? Hardly. They're a few of the dozens of personally-owned TV satellite systems. Some people aren't happy with the 10 channels AFN offers.

Me and AT playing Army