Thursday, January 31, 2008

9 months old

Macen has had another big month. He started off the new year by saying dada. A couple of weeks later he started saying mama and a bunch of other sounds. Usually he just plays and jabbers but when he wants to have a 'serious' talk with toys or books, he uses a deep grunt with a very serious face.

He got his two top teeth this month and those were not fun. They brought more pain than the bottom ones. Around that time, he realized he could use his teeth to eat. So I got him baby mum mums and he loves them. He also started refusing solid food so we went to puffs and cheerios only. He has enjoyed feeding himself. I've slowly started to reintroduce solid food again. I have finally accepted that he is just a snacker. I thought that would change when I got him sleeping thru the night (Yipee!) but no such luck. So he eats all day it seems. On a positive note, I have finally stopped pumping. I have enough milk frozen for him until he is a year old, maybe longer. I had forgotten what its like to not be attached to a machine every 3 hrs.
Macen has gotten brave in the tub and has started playing on his tummy occassionally. I've started a little bit of sign language with him which he thinks is funny. I probably should have started it when he was 5 months old and mimicing itsy bitsy spider but I didn't. He does try to mimic some gestures I do as well as words I say.
Macen is still as active as ever. He likes when I lay on the floor and he can crawl over me and then back the other way. A couple of weeks ago he started taking steps. It was always just a few steps to reach me or the sofa. He wasn't showing any interest in actual walking on his own but last weekend he started walking. James and I were both early walkers so we were thinking Macen would follow in our footsteps. And he hasn't wasted anytime taking on more than he can handle. He thinks he is ready to run. He falls often as he gets in a hurry and starts breathing heavy thru his nose and mouth in excitement.
He gets to hear a story from daddy every night. James recorded stories before he left (thanks for the idea Misty) so we listen to one every night before bed and I go thru the story book with him. He recognized James' voice when we started about a month ago. I also got a poster of James for Macen to say goodnight to. He has always smiled really big when he sees "daddy" and last night he leaned toward it for James to kiss him.
This is such a fun age as Macen continues to learn at leaps and bounds. We are so amazed with him.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Settling In

Well January is coming to an end and we are getting settled into a routine finally. I'm staying busy working with my Iraqi counterpart, taking care of my duties as the Team XO and trying to work out regularly.

I'm working with the Iraqi G-1 section, for those of you who don't speak Army, that is personnel and Admin, not exactly what I thought I was going to be doing when I began training for this mission. As I have been observing the G-1 section I have noticed several areas that I think I can help them, Pay, Promotions, and Personnel Manning. Today I'll just talk about the Personnel Manning. One of the complaints from the Iraqis is that they don't have enough people to do all of the jobs, well its all a manner of how you look at things. From an American perspective they are way over strength. The brigade headquarters is supposed to have 189 people and they actually around 330. The actual number makes sense when you understand that at any given time 30% of them are on vacation (mujaas). Leaving only 200 or so available for work at any given time. The Iraqi Army has a very liberal vacation policy every soldier gets 9 days off a month, this is mainly in order for the soldiers to take their pay home since the banking system here is undeveloped and not really effective. I've been working with the G-1 to assign all of the "extra" soldiers so that things don't crawl to a stand still when the primary personal go on leave. Give me a couple of months and we'll see how I do.

I have been busy working with the Navy SEABEES providing input into the design process for the compound they are supposed to be building for us when we move to western Iraq at date to be determined. I'm trying to make sure that our compound is as nice as it can be but still falls within military budgetary constraints. That's pretty hard considering the budget is set by people who are living in palaces in Fallujah and Baghdad and have all the amenities they could ever want. I am having some success though, sometimes the squeaky wheel does get the grease.

I stayed up 23 hours straight the other night to watch the Dallas Cowboys playoff game. The picture shows me at the start of the second half when the Cowboys were still winning. The clock on the wall shows 3am, the game started here at about 1am and was over at about 430am. I was useless the next day. That wasn't too bad though because the guy on the far left of the picture, sitting on the couch, is my boss and he was up all night watching the game too and he was as wiped out as I was. The bad part about that is that he is a Giants fan and I had to listen to him gloat all week about the Cowboy's loss.

The first picture is a photo of the whole team minus MAJ VanAlstine, who had wandered off somewhere, with Santa Claus during the Christmas day dinner we had at Taji, that is me just to the right of Santa with the bald head . The Iraqi cooks really went all out and the head cook is the one dressed as Santa. It was a pretty good time.

The third picture is me out and about at one of our subordinate battalions outposts in a small village just outside Ramadi. The Iraqi Brigade Commander is addressing the Iraqi platoon in the background. Amazingly enough the Brigade Commander sounded just like an American Brigade Commander would have upon inspecting an American platoon outpost, talking about all the good things the soldiers are doing, making sure they do maintenance on their vehicles, and keep their area picked up.

The last picture shows the cooking area of our 1st Battalion, recently the Iraqi Ministry of Defense canceled a feeding contract that the Coalition Forces had arranged for them. The contract cooks were kicked off of the Iraqi bases and the Iraqi Army soldiers took over feeding themselves. No big deal right? An Iraqi solution for Iraqis, not one provided by the Coalition. Despite the rickety look of the grill here, this is a success story. This cooking area along with another that is just to the right where the rice (timmon) is prepared feeds over 750 Iraqi soldiers three times a day. There is a cooled semi trailer that has two freezers for chicken (dejaaj) and fish (simach) and holds vegetables that are purchased daily. A typically Iraqi lunch or supper for the soldiers meal consists of chicken, rice mixed with raisins and nuts, some cooked vegetables and two pieces of bread. Not all Iraqi units were able to maintain this standard after the contract was terminated. This battalion came up with it on their own and continues to run it and take care of their soldiers and the soldiers were very proud of it making me sample a little of everything that they had cooked that day, and it was all quite tasty. I also sat down for a meal afterwards that was prepared by the soldiers in the picture and once again suffered no ill effects.

Well that's enough for now. I hope everyone enjoys this update from Ramadi.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

1 month down 11 Months to Go

Greetings from Ramadi, Iraq. Well today is officially the one month mark, only 11 more to go. This first month has been pretty busy, The team and I spent almost two weeks in Kuwait going through more classes and training, then a week at Taji, where we did some more death by power point classes. It was nice to be at Taji though. I got a chance to see how much it had changed since 2003-2004. My old building is still there complete with the howitzer that we decorated for Christmas 03. After Taji we spent a couple of days at Marine Expeditionary Force II headquarters in Fallujah doing some familiarity training on how the Marines do things, since we will be under the Marines the whole time we are here, basically what I learned is that is the same difference between American English and British English, we are saying the same thing we just have different words for it. Finally about a week ago we arrived at Ramadi where we were greeted with open arms by the guys we were to replace.

Things are going well here as I figure out what my role in advising the Iraqi's is going to be. I am the G-1 advisor, which means that I make sure the Iraqis pay the soldiers on time, keep accountability of their soldiers, get them promoted when they are supposed to and that that assign their soldiers in accordance with their Unit Manning Roster. Pretty simple things in the US Army, but a whole different ball game when it comes to the Iraqis. I'll go it more details in later blogs.

The pictures show me, yes that's me with the bald head and mustache, enjoying a typical Iraqi feast at one of our subordinate battalions on the celebration of the birthday of the Iraqi Army. the guy next to me is our team medic Doc Colon and the guy with the clear glasses is our team intel officer Maj VanAlstine. The food is not too bad and I haven't gotten sick yet, so I'm still eating it. Two of the pictures show you what my half of my room looks like. It is about 8x8 and most of the stuff in it was either made by guy before me or I bought it from him as he was leaving. The other picture is of the snow that we had the other morning. Rumor has it that is the first time that it has snowed in this area in over 40 years. The last picture is of the outside of our team house.

Right now life is pretty good in Ramadi, so for those of you who have been asking what I need the short answer is nothing, but thanks for the thought. Soon though we are going to move out to an extremely remote location in Western Iraq and I'll probably need some things then. Until then keep me in your thoughts and prayers and check back regularly as I will try to update the blog about every two weeks or so.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

8 months old

Macen has been an active little boy. He isn't walking on his own yet but he is getting braver and braver as days go by. He can walk behind his larger toys and he cruises along the furniture pretty well. He is quite the side walker. He has started to let go of whatever he used to pull himself up and just stand on his own. He loves getting chased - I pretend I am getting him and he will crawl as fast as his little knees allow then he'll stop to see if I am still after him. He just recently started getting on all fours and rocking, he skipped that before crawling. He loves music and loud toys and does his version of sit down 'dancing' to them. His arms flail, his body rocks and one leg moves back and forth.

Macen has gotten better with eating solid foods (still on Stage 1's though) and absolutely loves squash. We took him out of the infant/toddler tub at the beginning of Dec. He was using the front section to pull himself to standing. He loves being able to crawl around in the big open tub and does occassionally stand but he is learning that is not okay. With some sleep training, he finally started sleeping thru the night right around the time James left for Iraq. Of course, our holiday travels has thrown all that out the window so we are back to sleep training again. Hopefully within a week or two, we'll both be getting more sleep.

Macen had a wonderful Christmas and got to see alot of family. He's having a blast playing with new toys. He also got to play in the snow for the first time and he enjoyed it. He posed for a few pictures and then took off crawling in it.