Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bass Pro Dude...

There's a guy here at Taji - I don't know his name - but he's about 6'4" and every bit of 300 lbs. He's heavily tattoo'd and has those hole things in his ear lobes. Nice guy...really.

Anyway, I see him in the DFAC once or twice a day, everyday. Every single time I've seen him he's been wearing shorts and a Bass Pro Shop t-shirt. All different colors. He must have 20 of 'em.

I asked him about his attire one day, and he said he's got one close to his place down in Texas, and loves it. He's even been to the one in Springfield. Evidently, it's a kind of Mecca for the outdoor crowd.

So, nearly 7000 miles away from home, and I feel right at home.

BTW, our PX also sells BPS gift cards (amongst others). Who would have thought...


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Upcoming posts...

'Fee-lings. Nothing more than fee-lings...'

'T-Ball? No, no: T-WALL...'

'Is that a banana clip in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?'

'Don't pack it in, don't pack it out...'

'Days of Our Lives...'

'I love you, Skype...'

And photo essays on the colors around here: reds, yellows, blues, greens, and a metric butt-ton of tans and browns...

Stay tuned, stay cool...

Tulsa Hardware...

Our PX, as large as it is, seems to stay about half empty of merchandise. It relies on truck/convoy shipments that are brought up from Baghdad. Yes, I know it's only 17 miles, but for some reason the convoys are few and far between.

Enter Tulsa Hardware.

TH is a store owned and ran by locals. They carry a very diverse variety of things: home hardware and tools, office supplies, mattresses, chairs, TVs, electrical equipment, bicycles, and general fix-it stuff.

The place is unique because there are NO prices on ANYTHING. If you want something you have to ask one of the three guys on the floor. And yes, they're open to a bit of haggling. It's a combination of used merchandise, swap meet quality new stuff, and some fairly nice name brand items.

...all jumbled together.

It's an absolute mess inside. Crap piled on top of crap. It's like a scavenger hunt when you're trying to find something. Throw in a bit of a language barrier and things get even more interesting.

Still, we've found it to be a great place to go for those hard-to-get items (if you need a spool of Cat 5 cable, whatever color, see them).

I'm half-tempted to get a bicycle there. New ones are only $160...

This pretty much says it all.

Two of the guys that DO drive in the convoy when there is one. They're both from Massachusetts, both sergeants in the Army. Their rig is made by Oshkosh, in Wisconsin. It's pretty well armored. They say it's like driving a tank...but up high, and with no mounted guns. Keep it movin', guys - that's all we ask...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Around the town...

This is my hood - Pod 27. I'm officially well-paid trailer trash.

Just for my Arkansas kin. They even got the colors right, didn't they?

Our version of an ambulance.

I'm always a little nervous taking pix around this sort of stuff. But, of course, you all can't see what's REALLY behind the fence...

Yes, it's from Burger King. It was my day-off. Didn't feel like going into the DFAC for lunch. :P

Something's eatin' away at me...

Let's talk about food...

A number of you (yes, two is a number) have asked about the food down here, and how it compares to the ice.

Well, let me tell you...

The ice was nice for what it was/is and the parameters they had to work within. Typically, menus would be devised, and food ordered, about a year and a half in advance. It would then come in on a ship in February, be put away, and used when necessary. Sous Chefs would then 'create' dishes using what they had at hand.

Frankly, I'm opposed to anything that has a foreign and/or unpronounceable word in the title...and there were a bunch.

Used to be we got two entree choices, but with the NSF budget cuts of 2007-2009, the selection dwindled down to only one, and that's not really a choice. Okay, there was always PB&Js one could eat, but I don't claim that as a choice.

Freshies (fresh fruits and vegetables) are hit and miss, and pretty non-existant during the winter. It's expensive to fly down a pallet or two on a C-17.

The last couple of years down there I took to eating more snack foods out of the Store. Not nearly as fulfilling as a hot meal AND I get the privilege of paying for it.

Iraq, on the other hand - FANTASTIC! (much to my waistline's chagrin) The dining facilities (DFACs) are huge, and serve thousands over four meals. There are two main lines, serving a variety of entrees, vegetables, rolls/bread, etc. There's a specialty line which does themes (i.e. Taco Bar, Wing Bar, Mongolian BBQ, etc.). There's also a full-service sandwich line that puts 'em together just how you like 'em, and can even make a panini for you. I also just discovered a small stand in the DFAC that only does rotisserie chicken - different flavors on different days. It's VERY good.

Once your entree is selected, there's a wonderful salad bar. I've taken to having one at both lunch and dinner. Ample freshies everyday!

Soft drinks and juices are free for the taking. Drink up!

And then, to finish it all up, there's the DESSERT BAR! :P Imagine this - a glass case, filled with fresh carrot cake, chololate cake, cookies, and pasteries. Next to it is a hot bar with apple, blackberry, and cherry cobbler. Mmmmm... And if you go the other direction there's a man that will scoop-up Baskin-Robbins ice cream for you, and allow you to visit the topping bar.

I swear, it's difficult to not eat too much.

Oh, and get this, there's one man, in a little cube, and his sole job is to cut fruit. Offerings are watermelon, honeydew, canteloupe, and sometimes pineapple. He wields his knife like a samurai, removing the fruit from the rind, then with a few stacatto chops, slices the fruit into manageable portions. He will then place as much as you want on your plate. This guys is GREAT!

I'm eating more fruits and salads here than I ever did back home. It's so much easier when someone else is doing the preparing. :)

So, temperance and restraint are key. Not easy attributes with so many choices. Still, I've vowed to be 80% of the man I was when I left home. Jan deserves that, and so do I.

Good thing there are four gyms here at Taji...

Monday, April 5, 2010

My Address...

If you're bored, and need to make a trip to the Post Office, here's where you can send something to me:

Atlas Craig
16th TIN / ITT
Unit #6007
APO, AE 09378

Ah, Taji...

Night and day = the difference between Baghdad and Taji.

I arrived in Taji lastnight, after a three-hour wait at the helo terminal. There were about 10 of us, mostly military, trying to get up here. We boarded the Chinook, carrying all our gear, and joined about 12 others already onboard. it was a full flight.

It was warm, wearing body armor, helmet, and feeling the heat of the twin, turbine engines blow into the open rear ramp. All gear, including my two, heavy duffles, were piled into the middle of the aircraft. No one fastened their seatbelts, and none of the crew cared. No one sat on their bullet-proof vest, either, contrary to all the stories I'd been told.

The rear ramp remained down and open the entire flight, with an Army soldier manning the fixed machine gun. Yes, they were on a safety leash. I had fears of our bags tumbling out, but they stayed fast.

The entire duration of the flight was a little over 10 minutes. It's not far from Baghdad to Taji - only about 17 miles, but the pilot flew a zig-zag/S-turn pattern. Flying the same, straight route would be an open invitation for target practice.

I didn't mind.

Landing at Taji was uneventful. On the ground at the same time was our sister Chinook (all helos travel in pairs), two Blackhawks, and a C-130. it was busy, noisy, and smelly. The worst part, however, was having to then tote our gear about a quarter-mile to the terminal. Two 50 lb. duffles, a 20 lb. carry-on, and 30 lbs. of of body armor and helmet really weigh a person down. I had to stop a few times to regroup...

A representative from ITT picked up the two of us, and secured temporary/transient housing for us. It's basically a 12'x13' 1/3 part of an ATCO trailer. Very basic. No plumbing. Pretty darned comfortable compared to the tents we'd been sleeping in recently. We slept like rocks.

I still awoke around 6a, and found my way to the D-FAC (dining facility) for breakfast. The food was tasty and ample. In fact the people serving the food ALWAYS give you too much. I need to work with them on this. My co-worker joined me about 20 minutes later, and we discussed exploration of the base.

Taji is a former Iraqi military base, whose primary mission was the repair of tanks and armament. It sits just west of the Tigris River. Saddam himself had a bunker here - long since destroyed by one of our Bunker-Buster bombs. The original buildings (sitll showing damage) are still around. Some we use, most are shuttered.

The current Iraqi Army actually share the base with us, but there is no inner-mingling. One day, when we pull out, we'll hand the keys to the place over to them. Rumor has it, that might be next year. I wonder how much of the equipment we have here will be turned over to them, returned to the States, sold, or destroyed.

If you're REALLY curious as to how the place is laid-out, look up Taji, Iraq on Google Maps. The base lays to the west of the long runway.

We scouted out the PX (moderate size, but had all basic needs covered), MWR (morale, welfare, and recreation) facilities - all very good, including two, very well-equipped gyms, and one, smaller one. Regular classes in spinning, aerobics, martial arts, and P90X.

There goes my excuses for not working out. Did I mention they're all FREE, too?

We walked from the centrally-located D-FAC up to the NE corner of the base, down through the middle, and over to the SW corner. Believe it or not, they even have a POOL here! They hope to have it open sometime this month. Just in time for the (oh so very) HOT season.

There's also a movie theater (which shows first-run movies), another, smaller D-FAC, a miniature golf course, and numerous other small stores and facilities.

It's so much quieter and cleaner here than in Baghdad. Practically pleasant. I'm going to like it here. The base is relatively small - maybe 2x2 miles, but large enough that it's hard to see it all. Very good since I won't be allowed to leave the base during my tenure here. home.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Baghdad, I hardly knew ye...but b'bye...

Just found out we have a helo ride this evening. Yea! Looking forward to trading this hot and dusty place for...well...another hot and dusty place about 17 miles away.

It's been a good stay. Wish I could have seen more, but will take what I can get. At least I can say I was here. So, packing up my duffels yet again. One more hop and I can unpack them! I can also pack-up my body armor. Won't be needing it after today. (Yes Honey - I'll sit on it when we fly in the helicopter) :)

If you're wondering why I haven't posted too many pix lately, it's because photography is highly restricted. Walked by one place yesterday, and a sign said, "Authorized Personnel Only - No Photography - Use Of Deadly Force Authorized."

They ARE serious about this stuff. However, below are some snippets of my stay here. Sorry, it's hard to capture dust accurately.

Signing-off from Baghdad. Will be back with you from Taji, tomorrow. :D

Thursday, April 1, 2010

I know Ali Baba is from somewhere around here...

I've been in Baghdad a day and a half. Only seen a small part of Camp Victory, the base that surrounds the airport. I've got to say, it's breathtaking. Literally, it's so dusty you can't breathe. Evidently, the rainy season just passed, and now all the mud is turning into dust. It gets on everything. Lots of dirt roads around the base, too, and that doesn't help any.

I'd like to think of Baghdad the way I did when I was a kid - home of Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, flying carpets, and things that opened when one said, "Open Sesame."

Baghdad has an extremely rich history. I'm hoping to learn more about it in the year I'm here. I mean, THIS is the 'cradle of civilization' and where the Garden of Eden was supposed to have been.

Heady stuff.

Too bad all the politics and war had to tarnish that image and culture. It will never be the same again.

Still no word on our Blackhawk reservations to get up to Taji. Enjoying another day of leisure, ensconced in our wonderful tent. (BTW, there really is an Omar the Tent Maker)

Like my new blog heading? Thought I'd spice it up some. Jan and I both love Life is Good merchandise, and it's the attitude we try to carry with us. Speaking of Jan, we did our first Skype call today. Worked...semi-well. The first time she could see me, but I couldn't see her, then the second time things were reversed. For some reason we can't seem to see each other at the same time. Still, it's not bad, and it's FREE. :)

We're still working on adjusting to the difference in time. Iraq is eight hours ahead. I like to talk to her before she goes to bed, but that means I need to call between 5-6a. I can always call her in the middle of her work day, when it's my afternoon/evening, but I hate to bother her. Once I get settled-in at Taji we'll figure something out. But very happy with the Skype plan. :)

Well, it's 9:25a on Friday. I've been up since 4a. Time for a nap.

Don't just have a Good Friday - have a Great Friday! :D