Friday, November 23, 2007


Thanksgiving quickly became my last meal in Baghdad. A quick change in plans had me leaving a few days earlier than expected and only 12 hours to pack; I spent half the time sleeping.

So I spent most of Thursday packing, shipping, and turning over equipment but no big loss; it's not like I had much else to do here. At least I could spend the day with a few thousand family members I didn't know – my fellow soldiers.

The Dining Facilities have been preparing for the day for the past week. Decorations have been slowly going up for days and small indicators have been slowly revealing themselves. On the day itself, the decorations came up in force. They had carved and painted large sculptures from Styrofoam and had a large turkey made from what looked like napkins.

The meal was actually quite remarkable, at least for cafeteria style food. I have really been quite impressed with the quality and quantity of most of the food in the DFACs. On Turkey day they had roast pork, ham, turkey loaf and, of course, carved turkey. They had mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn meal stuffing that was too gooey, and stale roles. I took a small sampling of most and topped it all off with pumpkin pie a-la-mode.

Our exit from the DFAC was delayed a little when some Iraqis tried to add some of their traditions to ours. I had just picked up my pie and was headed for the ice-cream when the alarms sounded followed by the recorded, "incoming, incoming, incoming." Most dove for the floor, I wanted my ice-cream. The DFACs are some of the best protected facilities around with plenty of overhead cover and high concrete barriers all around. I got my ice-cream and sat back down. I wasn't about to leave until I heard the all clear. After all, we saw the burn marks from a mortar that landed just outside the protective barrier, little more than 50 feet from where I was sitting at the time, only a couple days before. I heard no impacts but finally the all clear so I left with my pie and ice-cream.

One night on a cot and I caught a flight out of Baghdad International. I expect to be home in the next day or two so don't expect to hear from me for a while.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Veterans Day

In Mike Royko fashion, I spent Veterans Day working. Not that you could call what I do here working but I was away from home and ready to pounce on any machine I am responsible for that may decide have a hic-up. After all, it's not my fault these machines have a reputation better than Maytags.

For me, the whole holiday weekend was rather noteworthy. On Friday, I was stuffed into a Blackhawk with a dozen other people along with all our gear and flew up to Balad. At least I was stuffed against the window with access to my backup camera so I sapped a few photos before it rebelled; something to do with batteries being stored in the device for four months without use. I still got a number of good shots of Baghdad and the countryside. After being stuck on base for over 3 months, where all vegetation seems to be discouraged, I was surprised to see how much green was out there.

Friday night was painful. I was stuck in a plywood shack with walls that seemed to amplify any conversations outside. About 10 other guys meant at least one of them snoring loudly at any given time and there was a constant stream of people coming and going with flashlights flickering around and metal bunk beds creaking all night long. And the AC was set to near meat locker temperatures.

Saturday, I had the pleasure of the company of a bunch of Navy Customs inspectors. They had invited me out to provide some training on the equipment I service. They were open and friendly with many of them from my corner of the States. They really made the day enjoyable in spite of it starting early and ending late.

Saturday rolled into Sunday at the passenger terminal. My scheduled return flight was not until Monday but I didn't want to experience another night in the transient quarters so I signed up for stand-by for the next flight back even though it was scheduled for 1:00 AM.

While waiting I watched Michigan get a spanking from Wisconsin. That improved the day even more since it helped illuminate the corruption that is the BCS. It just disgusts me that, after 3 loses to nobodies, Michigan has a better chance of a BCS game than undefeated Hawaii.

I did get a seat on that middle of the night flight and was once again stuffed into a Blackhawk. This time I stuck the ear buds of my mp3 player under my ear muffs, propped my helmet, and fell asleep. I always wake up on an airplane as soon as it starts its decent and apparently this is also true with helicopters in spite of their low level flight. Something changed so I opened my eyes and recognized military spacing among the lights below. The familiarity became more so as I recognized landmarks from Camp Victory/Liberty. I landed around 3:00 AM and didn't want to wake anyone at that hour. The night was cool and was only about a mile from my quarters, so I left my body armor on, threw my bags over my shoulders and enjoyed the walk home.

I slept late, attended church services among friends, and spent the evening at the freshly rebuilt RC track that wasn't quite ready for racing. It was another good day.

Monday, I cleaned and packed my RC car along with some other belongings that I will not need this next week and shipped a box home.

I was originally scheduled to be home for Veterans Day but I do not mind the extension. I can think of few places I would have rather been on this day than in the company of so many Veterans. These guys know the meaning of the word sacrifice; to give something of value for something of greater value. They believe in something greater than the individual and are willing to pay the price for it. They are generally selfless and caring. I can think of no better place to be on this weekend (other than perhaps Uncle Jimbo's imagination).

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