Friday, March 18, 2011

Apathy Reigns...

I'm down to 11 days left in Taji. Hard to believe, isn't it? I've been over here for darn near a year.

I left Springfield one year ago tomorrow. A week in Ft. Benning, a long flight across The Pond, four days in Kuwait, three days in Baghdad, and finally here on April 1st, 2010.

There's so much left to do. Oh, I mailed four boxes home today, and have the final packing pretty much planned out, but I've let my blog fall by the wayside.

I need to post about my trip to Cairo (the same day the violent rioting began) and my four days in Dubai. I need to post at least two more photo assignments. I need to wrap-up my life here in the Middle East before I can turn my attentions to home, and imminent marriage.

So much to do, so little time.

Still, I'll have at least three, full days in Kuwait on the way out. I'm hoping to tie-up those loose ends while there.

I'm sorry I haven't done more on this blog, but like I mentioned in a previous post, that last third of a contract can be pretty brutal. Once the end is in sight, you tend to put on blinders to everything else.

Please be patient with me. I'll do my best to entertain you for a couple more weeks. :)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

Okay, the wish is a little late, but it does not diminish with time.

So far, 2011 is okay with me. The skies are getting lighter, the temps aren't getting any colder, and my countdown to redeployment marches on.

I've only got 81 days left in Taji, more/less. When I'm in my room my mind surveys the possessions I have laying around and categorizes them: What to take with me, what to mail home, what to sell, what to toss. It's not going to take long to pack up, once March gets here.

It's an exercise I've done a dozen times before, when I was on the ice. You work to acquire things to make your life comfortable, but at the end, everything gets dispersed. That last day is always a good feeling, because all you have on you is all that you really need for the trip home.

Life is good.

But I get ahead of myself. I still have over 2 1/2 months to go. And later this month I'm taking a little mini-vacation of my own. I'm headed to Cairo for a couple of days to see the ancient sites there, then fly to Dubai where I'll see the modern wonders of the world. I'm sure the places will be the ultimate contradiction.

I'd be remiss if I didn't set foot in Africa while in this area. Afterall, it's my sixth continent. :) Only South America to go. Maybe Jan and I can visit Machu Picchu sometime.

Life in this part of the world is challenging. I'm glad I got to experience it, but have no need to see more. I just want to enjoy springtime in Missouri, float a quiet river with my Honey, and enjoy the freedoms that we take for granted. For all its problems, we really do live in a great country. I'm very grateful for the perspective my travels have allowed me.

Again, life is good. :)

Enjoy it, live it, and have a great New Year.

Seeing Red...

Hello, All --

Here's the second in my photo series of looking for color in Taji. This time, red is the magic color. Enjoy...

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...