Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas Eve in Kuna

Being a single dad, I usually end up being alone for at least part of any holiday, and this year was no exception. I got together with family early on Christmas Eve, but then after about 1600 I was alone. I sat around the house for a few hours, scanned some old family photos, a watched a little TV. I got antsy around 2000, and decided to see if the movie rental place was open.

It wasn’t, so made a pass through town to see if anything was happening. The only two places open were a gas station and Cowgirls saloon, so I figured “What the heck” and went in Cowgirls.

I was surprised to see about 30 other patrons in the bar. Who’d figure that in such a small town, 30 people would have nothing better to do on Christmas Eve than go to a bar. Kind of pathetic, in a way.

Inside the bar, the Tequilaria was open, I guess for those last minute Christmas gifts of t-shirts, cowboy hats, underwear and the like. The bar was having a promotion for the best Santa costume, but only a few women were participating. One of the waitresses, a shapely, statuesque six foot tall in two inch heels, was wearing a Santa hat, a small red bikini top lined with white fur, and chaps over jeans. Quite the festive outfit. Her top was apparently a bit small as she kept …. adjusting.

Another waitress was wearing a low cut red mini-dress, lined with white fur at the bottom. She wore a normal cowboy hat and knee high patent leather boots with 4 inch spike heels. A female patron wore a similar mini-dress but without the fur. A guy wore a cowboy hat with a Santa hat pulled over the crown.

The most interesting activity was on the dance floor. The DJ played music from a laptop computer, so he had time to leave it and dance. He was the only guy dancing, and he danced with a couple of different women. One had spiky blond hair and a black t-shirt with two arrows pointing up bracketing text that said “My eyes are up here.” She and the tall waitress ended up dancing on the bar later on.

The DJ had two flashy dance moves to liven up his usual country swing. For one, he somehow got his partner’s leg over the front of his shoulder with her foot hooked behind his neck. He held her hands, and with her head pointed down at the floor, he would swing the gal up and around.

For the other move, the woman would bend over and stick both hands out behind her between her legs. The guy approached her so the top of her head was against his legs. He grabbed her hands and yanked her up, and she flipped over and ended up sitting on his shoulders with his face pressed against her lower abdomen.

One of the soldiers I helped a few times in Iraq was working in Cowgirls as a bouncer. He was excited about having transferred to a Special Forces reserve unit in Utah. He was a Ground Surveillance Radar operator in Iraq, but got into a little trouble and had an unforgiving First Sergeant, so he was looking forward to a fresh start in a different unit.

So, that was Christmas even in Kuna.

Friday, December 16, 2005


I stopped by the armory today to pick up the form that will allow me to get National Guard plates for my car, and to pick up some shoulder patches. Now that I’m a combat zone veteran, I get to wear our unit patch on my right shoulder as well as my left. A snake sandwich, as it were.

A young female OIF veteran came into the Armory seeking tuition assistance, as she has enrolled in college part time. She also just started a new full-time job. And she just moved into a new apartment. And she just filed for divorce. She said that she was married about three months before being deployed. During the 18 month separation, she and her new husband grew apart, and now they’ve decided to call it quits. I guess you could say she’s putting her life back together after redeploying.

I came across another OIF vet, a middle-aged master sergeant. I understand that his wife went to Ft. Lewis to be with him upon deplaning. However, once back home in Boise, his wife also filed for divorce, which apparently took him by surprise.

After leaving Gowen Field, I went back to the mall for a bit more shopping, and ran into a full time soldier whom I’ve known since our ROTC days. We got to discussing all the changes that will occur now that we’re back. This soldier did not deploy, but stayed on the job here. He said that he’s already seen a difference in approach from the deployed soldiers toward the non-deployed. For one thing, email requesting support or assistance don’t really request it, they demand and expect it. I think this is more due to the way we did business in a war zone than it is due to resentment between deployed and non-deployeds, but the resentment is there with many soldiers and we will see it surface.

Readjusting takes many forms.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Where's Our Stuff?

A couple of weeks before we left Iraq, we packed up everything that we couldn’t carry on our backs, and shipped it home. We first laid it out for the MPs to do a customs inspection, which is what’s going on in the picture. After the inspection, we loaded the stuff into the 4 x 4 x 4 wooden boxes you can see. The boxes were then placed in a CONEX container for shipment. When I left the FOB, the CONEX with my stuff in it was still sitting there, baking in the sun.

The plan was to load the CONEXs on trucks, take them to Kuwait and load them on a ship, ship them to Beaumont Texas, put them on rail cars, and ship them to Boise. Truck them onto Gowen Field and then unload them, probably in February during our drill. If they’ve arrived by then.

All our section equipment, and most of my personal stuff, is supposedly floating somewhere right now.

Like most other Guard units, we lost a bunch of our equipment to our replacement unit. We left all the up-armored HMMWVs, of course, but also radios, machine guns and weapons, night vision devices, trucks, etc. We will not have equipment to train on when we start drilling again, and if we get called for a state mission, such as floods in the spring, we may not be able to do it, at least not well.

To my knowledge, we did not get much equipment from our predecessor unit, an active unit, but we did leave a bunch with our successor unit, an active unit. I was told that we tried for six months to get an ONS approved (Operational Needs Statement) but never got it approved. (I think we got one early with a few things, before arriving in country.) The 101st arrived, looked over our equipment list, selected what they wanted, and got an ONS approved in five days reassigning our equipment to them.

An ONS tells Dept of the Army what you need, in addition to your assigned equipment and manning, to do a current assignment. Surprisingly, the 101st, a light infantry unit, asked for our Bradleys. They don’t have trained drivers, operators, or mechanics for the Bradleys, but they got the request approved. I understand a political fight ensued, and we eventually got them back.

We have full time Guardsmen employed to maintain the Bradleys, so losing them would also mean losing jobs here at home.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Power Shopping

I’m still not back at work, figuring that a few weeks off are in order. Like most soldiers in my unit, and no doubt in any unit, I did not have a day off in the last 18 months, except for two short periods of leave. I’m returning back to my job with the State of Idaho on January 2 (or 3, if Monday is a holiday).

So today I went into Boise to knock out some shopping. In Best Buy I ran into a friend I’ve known since second grade. He said he was taking a day off to do “power shopping.” We chatted for 20 minutes, and spent most of the time talking about people we used to know but who are now dead.

On the way into my power shopping day, I noticed a bunch of pigeons hunkered down on top of a run down farm shed. It has been cold here, and even the pigeons looked cold.

I spent most of the day wandering around our mall, and most of that time I spent looking for pants that would fit me. I did get most of my Christmas shopping done. I saw a soldier in green BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) shopping in Target. It looked odd to see the green uniform after spending so long surrounded by the tan DCU (Desert Camouflage Uniform). I also saw two Marines in Toys R Us, hawking their Toys for Tots program and taking donations.

Not having been in the mall for so long, I was kind of getting a fresh look. Two things really struck me. One, the large number of people walking the mall and in stores eating or drinking something, and two, how many people were talking on a cell phone. And regarding cell phones, I saw several with a cell phone headset hanging on their ear. They weren't talking; they were just wearing the headset. I guess it's a new fashion accessory. Odd that people will pay $6,000 for a hearing aid that is tiny enough to avoid notice, yet others will hang a brightly colored very large hearing aid looking thing on their ear and sport in in the mall.

On the way home, I noticed a car parked in my subdivision. It was seriously TPd. I think it was squirted with catsup, wrapped with toilet paper, egged, and sprinkled with some white powder, possibly powdered sugar. It has been there for a week now, and my girlfriend had speculated that some guy was cheating with a gal in the subdivision and his wife found the car. Of course, it has all frozen solid by now. The name Scott is written in catsup on the hood.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Home Town

I live in a small town, about 6,000 people, but it seems smaller because it is a bedroom community for Boise. It has only a tiny business community. In fact, main street is a single street about 3 blocks long, and almost all the businesses in town are located on the three blocks. The picture at right shows main street. All of it.

Two banks (one so new it's in a manufactured home), two pizza places, three gas stations, two Mexican restaurants, one regular restaurant, four hair and nail places, four bars, four churches that I know of, two car washes, a feed store, and a couple of car repair places. One grocery store, one liquor store, one car parts place, a hardware store and a lumber yard. One lawyer. Two movie rental places. Two coffee shops. One fitness place. Zero stoplights. A few other odds and ends, but that's about it. Until you get used to it, the trains coming through at night wake you up. You can often stand outside and not hear any noise, except wind or maybe a dog barking.

The town has been very supportive of the Guard, and many Guardsmen and women live here. For the first few weeks, I saw many signs welcoming us home. The community hall flew a flag with our unit patch. The city park is partially fenced, and the fence bears yellow ribbons each with the name and rank of a soldier from town. I think they included pretty much all the soldiers from town, though I got overlooked somehow.

Warrant officers

I ran into a couple of warrant officers last night, watching Monday night football in “Cowgirls”. Cowgirls bills itself as a “Coyote Ugly” type of establishment, complete with straps hung from the ceiling over the bar for bar dancers to hold. Last night there were only about 10 guys there, and one waitress. She was wearing a denim miniskirt, but also fur lined boots, and did no dancing that I saw.

Anyway, one of the warrant officers lives in this small town, the other came over for a visit. I hope he got home okay; he drank a bunch of whatever he was drinking, bourbon and Coke or something like it.

One of them, the single one, didn’t have much to say about his transition back to pre-war life. Mostly he went off on his wartime boss, bluntly saying “He’s a piece of sh*t!” several times. I’m not a big fan of his former boss, but POS might be a bit too harsh an assessment. Luckily, the warrant now has a different boss. Both warrants, and the POS, are full time Guardsmen. I guess they’ll have a bit less adjustment, since they will continue to work in a military situation.

The other warrant, the married one, has been having adjustment issues. He returned home a couple of months early, as his wife was having mental health issues related to his absence and needed him here. But, he said, after getting here he tried to get involved and start taking care of things, but his wife didn’t want him to. “She wants me here, but she doesn’t want me to do what I do,” he complained. They have not been married long, and it’s his second marriage, so he’s trying hard to make it work.

Monday, December 12, 2005

You should get out more

I followed a link on Andrew Sullivan’s blog to Julian Barnes’ blog (US News & World Report), and read about activities of one of the units that replaced us. Barnes wrote about how the 101st soldiers seemed to have a better grasp of the area than preceding units, i.e., my unit. I don’t recall him spending time with us so I don’t know upon what he bases this opinion, but it may well be true. The 101st has been there before, and that experience has to help.

It got me thinking about information flow. The military gets out and about and mixes with Iraqis, and I suppose the CIA does too, and these agencies report up the chain to the national security decision makers. The group that doesn’t get out is the State Department employees.

Kirkuk had a Regional Embassy Office, and the State Dept employees stayed there in a secured compound. Sometimes they’d come to our FOB, but more often we’d go there to meet with them. Iraqis would also go there for meetings, after passing through security of course.

However, the SD folks would seldom if ever go out and meet with Sheiks or muktars, or just rub shoulders with Iraqis. I didn’t hang around the State Dept at all, but a colonel who went there at least weekly told me about this. When the SD employees would seek to leave the compound, they’d have to get it cleared through Baghdad, and Baghdad would never give permission. The word always was, too dangerous.

There was danger, but it wasn’t that bad, and precautions can be taken. The denial was based on the recommendation of the SD’s security group, Blackwater Security. Of course, Blackwater’s job is to avoid injury to its protectees. If anyone gets hurt, Blackwater looks bad, so they recommend against risky behavior. Naturally. The SD types, according to the colonel, seemed pretty uninterested in leaving the compound anyway. He said that the SD employees just seemed interested in getting their ticket punched as having had an Iraq tour, and then getting out of there safely.

All of this is understandable behavior, and I’m not criticizing it. SD employees are civilians, not soldiers, and can’t be expected to risk their lives more than necessary. I just think that the SD recommendations are probably not as well informed as they could be because of their isolation. And, a great many political decisions defaulted to the military leaders

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Can you trust a general's advice?

I saw that President Bush recently affirmed that he intends to stay in Iraq, and that he will listen to his generals and follow their advice about when and how to draw down and eventually exit.

This seems reasonable, but I’m not so sure it is. Staying or leaving is a political decision, not a military one. Generals don’t decide national policy, politicians do. If a general is told to pull out, the general can then figure out the best way to do that and can advise of the expected consequences. That is not happening yet, so asking a general about when to leave is pointless.

If the President is determined to stay the course, and you ask a general about pulling out, of course you’re going to get an answer that says pulling out is bad. Generals support the president. They’re military men and women, and it’s in their nature and training to agree with the President. Also, the example of General Shinseki, who famously opined about the large numbers of troops we’d need contrary to the administration, and whose career then immediately suffered, reinforced the need for generals to support the administration position.

Which they should do. We don’t want generals to set national policy. Being military, they will believe that a military solution is best, just as if you ask a surgeon and a non-surgeon about how to cure an ailment, the surgeon will recommend surgery and the non-surgeon will recommend drugs or physical therapy. A person always turns to what they know.

President Bush should listen to his generals about how to accomplish a mission, not whether to accomplish it.

Of cooks and outlaws

I’ve run into a few soldiers since we’ve returned, and we all agree; the adjustment back to civilian life is not as uneventful as we thought it would be. Not difficult, but not a seamless process, either.

I went into the Red Robin Restaurant to celebrate my birthday a couple of days ago, and saw a master sergeant who had served in the Headquarters Company of the Support Battalion. He said that when he drives in traffic, he feels hemmed in and nervous.

I stopped into the Red Eye Saloon to catch a bit of the Seahawks-Eagles game, and saw a young married couple shooting pool. They had both been in the Supply & Transportation company of the Support Battalion. I guess they fell in love while we were training in Texas, as they married while on leave in November. Now that they’re back, they’re beginning their lives as husband and wife. In Iraq, as I’ve written, they weren’t allowed to be together except in public. They admitted last night that they pretty much ignored that rule, as did many others. So about all the rule did was make outlaws of good soldiers. Including their First Sergeant.

This couple told me that they, like me, are not in the swing of cooking. When they want to eat, they head to the chow hall, i.e., a restaurant. I like to cook, but I’ve found that I’ve forgotten much of my cooking knowledge. Example; I used to have a bunch of meals and options stored in my head that I could sort through and select from at meal time. Now, I don’t. When I shop I don’t think of the items from which meals are made, so when it comes time to cook I don’t have the stuff to cook up. So, I either go to the grocery store, or a restaurant, or skip the meal. This is slowly changing.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Lunch, with pix

I wrote a while back about a trip I took into the hinterlands south of Kirkuk to meet with a sheik to tell him about election preparations. The sheik was in town, and while we stood around debating what to do, his sons and nephews killed a sheep and the sheik’s wife and daughter (I think)cooked it up for lunch. We were invited to lunch while waiting for the sheik to return.

Here are some pictures from that trip. The first shows a couple of soldiers watching the sheep being skinned. Note the horizon; nothing there. Also note the plants around the fence. Mrs. Sheik had planted some shrubs for color.

The next picture shows one of the nephews inflating the sheep. He poked a hole in its leg and blew into it, and pretty soon its belly was extended and its legs poked straight out. I guess this was an aid to skinning it.

They gave us Chai tea, and fixed a nice meal of rice, mutton, tomatoes and cucumbers, and a tomato stew. Excellent food, even if I was a bit leery of gastrointestinal side effects, which did not materialize by the way. This sheik was a Sunni, and was certainly hospitable to us. They even took Chai to the gunners who stayed on the machine guns maintaining security.

The last picture is of a beautiful young girl, a daughter of one of the nephews, I guess. I suppose the woman who helped cook lunch could be a second wife of the sheik's, and the little girl could be from that union. Second wives are common in Iraq. Our soldiers would sometimes get offers to have a marriage arranged, and when they'd protest that they are already married, the objection would be waived off as irrelevant.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Love and Marriage

After demobilizing, we don’t have to drill for 60 days. Since drill is usually the first week in the month, and most of us finished up around the 15th, we will drill again in February. Rumor has it that Annual Training is optional, but that remains to be seen.

I was picking up some broccoli for dinner last night, and saw two soldiers, a husband and wife, whom I got to know in Iraq. They looked happy. The first time I met the wife was at a combat lifesavers course. As part of the training, we all had to “stick” an IV, and have one stuck in us. Mrs. Soldier has an aversion to needles, and she was looking pale and jumpy. Turns out that she successfully avoided the needle that day.

In our division, the 42nd Infantry Division headquartered in New York, male and female soldiers were not allowed to enter the CHU of the other gender, pretty much for any reason. Didn’t matter if there were several soldiers there. Husbands and wives thus had to discuss family matters in the chow hall, or sitting outside, somewhere with no privacy. Outside wasn’t always that pleasant when it was 115 degrees and mosquitoes were buzzing around. If they wanted to discuss their children left back home, or money, take it outside.

The real point was that soldiers weren’t supposed to be having sex. However, sexual relations weren’t forbidden; you just had to find a bunker or a vehicle or an office to have sex. Other FOBs allowed married soldiers to live together. On our FOB, even soldiers who worked together all day couldn’t watch a movie together off duty. Several soldiers lost rank for being in a CHU with the other gender.

So, the husband and wife saw each other probably daily, but had to ignore the physical aspect of their relationship. Public displays of affection were forbidden, so they couldn’t hold hands, or lean against each other. No wonder they look happy now.

At right is a picture of a male soldier, taken about 0700 a couple of weeks before we left. Note the pajama bottoms. The female soldier is packing up her CHU. He is entering the items she packs onto a packing list (some DA form) as she packs them. He couldn't go in her CHU, so he sat at the doorway.