Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Random Thoughts and Pictures for August

It is time for another random thoughts and pictures post, so here you go.

I promised a picture of the women who don’t dress very conservative, the power rangers, so here are they are. The first picture is taken just outside of the Basrah University and the second is taken in the market area near the Hyall Shuala area of Hyanniyah. What is remarkable about the second picture is that is a fairly conservative area and I was shocked to see a woman not wearing the black abaya.

Yes, folks that is me sitting on the hood of a late 1990s Mustang V6. This bad boy, with it’s optional bolt on, off center, hood bulge, was sitting next to an Iraqi Army checkpoint that I was visiting with the Brigade Chief of Staff, I couldn’t resist taking my picture next to it. The interesting thing is this isn’t the first Mustang that I’ve seen in Basrah, we passed a late 1980’s GT being towed about a month ago. I was scanning the side of the road looking for IEDs and almost didn’t realize it was a Mustang until we had gone completely past it, if it was an IED it would have got me. In the glimpse I got I think it was also a convertible but all I can be really sure is that it was a Mustang and that it did have the ground effects of the 1980’s GT.
So, how do you swap the transmission out of one HMMWV into another? Well, I would put the truck up on a lift and drop the transmission out or take both the engine and transmission out at the same time. Well the Iraqi solution, since they don’t have a lift, is to tip the HMMWV up on its side and then take out the transmission, then put the new one in. It's a good thing there is no Iraqi version of the EPA as well or else we would be in trouble for the oil/fuel spill spreading from the side. Oh well it's an Iraqi solution for an Iraqi problem.

Here are a couple of pictures of me out on patrol with the Brigade Chief of Staff, helping him check on the platoon and company positions with the Battalion Commander. Interesting story here is the British officer to my left in the picture. He just completed a two year tour teaching at the Armor Captain’s Career Course at FT Knox, where he taught with a good friend of mine Jesse Bell, and was his next door neighbor. Small world isn’t it?
Here is a picture of me reenlisting SSG Patrlja. He signed the rest of his life away to the Army for a bonus and the chance to be stationed in Hawaii. Sorry Shantel, the only way I can get to Hawaii is to volunteer for Iraq again, the Army’s already got me to 20 years.

Finally a picture of our toilet, you put a plastic bag into the plastic toilet, do your business , tie the bag off and then put into another plastic zip lock bag and then it gets burned. I never thought I would really like to have a port a john, but I really would in this case. Next to the toilet you can kind of see the wooden shower stall we built to take our bottled water showers. Personal Hygiene is oh so much fun in Iraq.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Iraqi Intepreter

Many of you guys have wondered about our Iraqi interpreters. These are the guys who let me understand the language and actually get my point across to my Iraqi counterpart and they are my link to the local population when we are out on patrol and I’m trying to get a feeling for what they think about certain issues that are important at the time. These guys share the same hardships we share, face the same dangers I face every day and even more when they return home on vacation and have to say they are working in other areas of the country but never admit that they work with the Americans. I know all of the Terps real names but we call them by aliases so that the locals don’t catch on to their real names and if they are insurgents use it against them.

We’ll start with Tom. He’s originally from Baghdad and is quite a character as you can tell from the pictures. Even though he’s from Baghdad he’s constantly telling the people here that he’s from Colorado, why I don’t really know but I think it is because the Team Chief lives in Colorado. We don’t let our interpreters carry weapons but we want them to know how to handle a weapon in case the situation comes up where they have to use one. That’s Tom in the second picture firing an M4 like he’s been doing it all of his life. When he got done on the range I told him that his last job must have been as an al-harbi (terrorist) and that is where he learned how to shoot. He just got really red faced and stammered a little bit. I give Tom a hard time quite a bit. He was very nervous when he first started working with us and I jokingly threatened to fire him one day. It has become a standard joke between the two of us and I have to tell him he’s fired at least once a day. Tom’s mom even asks him if I’ve fired him lately when she talks or sees him and wants to make sure that I’m keeping him in line. Tom is convinced that when he has enough time in service to the US Army that he will emigrate to the States, take his mom with him (he’s single) and join the Army. When he does go to the States he wants to change his name to Tom Ron Jeremy. For those of you who get the humor in that, I told you he was a character.

This next interpreter is Angel. He’s our family man, since he is the only one with a wife and kids. He and I talk about kids quite a bit since he’s oldest daughter is just a little bit older than Macen and seems to be just about as ornery as Macen is. His wife just recently had a second baby girl and I know the team was as worried about the delivery as he was since we had him stuck in Basrah away from her when went into labor. Once he had his vacation he came back just like any proud dad showing off pictures of his newest princess and telling stories f how his oldest was jealous of the new addition. Just like Tom Angel wants to emigrate to the United States when he is eligible and take all of his family with him. He is amazed by the pictures of my house, yard and neighborhood, since you don’t really see anything like that over here and he can’t wait to get his piece of the American Dream. You'll have to cut him a little slack on the second picture I got him when he wasn't expecting it so that is why he looks so spaced


This is Tony he is the athlete/work out fiend. He’s always working out and can run rings around me with a soccer ball (that’s not hard though, it’s the ease with which he does it that’s amazing). He’s also Angel’s little brother, so that kind of makes our terp group more of a family affair. Tony and Angel are trying to get us to hire their other brother, but unfortunately we don’t need another terp at this time, so he’s got to go work with someone else. Tony had just finished college when he joined us so he’s English was actually a little better than the others because he had been practicing it more. The second picture of Tony is what he does when he's not working out, sleeping.

Lyon is our President or El Presidente. If you look at the pictures of him you might notice an uncanny resemblance to Saddam. Tom started calling him the president and it just kind of stuck. I tried the same “you’re fired” joke on Lyon one day and he just looked at me and said that I couldn’t fire him he was “The President”, with Tom vehemently nodding his head in agreement. That put me, the team second in command, right back in my place. Evidently I can’t fire a president. But I found a way to get back at him though, Lyon likes to sleep and will sleep in every chance he gets. Angel and Tom taught me the Arabic word for wake up, ogud, and I wake him every morning with a very loud ogud! Typically he opens one eye and tells me to leave him alone since he’s The President and goes back to sleep. Darn I just can’t win with him.

Our last terp is Yassir. Yassir is a little different from the other guys. He’s a little more soft spoken and quieter than the others, he’s also a little bit older, although maturity wise I’d say he was much younger. He’s a little more arrogant than the other guys, mainly because he was the previous Team Chief’s primary interpreter and he does a lot of interpreting for our current Team Chief. With the Iraqis position is prestige and he tends to lord it over the other terps that he mainly works for the Team Chief. With that said there has been a little re ordering within the terp ranks since we moved from Ramadi. When the main part of the team moved, Yassir was on leave and he stayed in Ramadi with me as we pushed out the last of the teams equipment, so by the time he got down here Tom and Angel were doing most of the interpreting for the Team Chief and Yassir was pushed down in the pecking order.

These are good guys and they are the future of Iraq and they definitely make my life much easier, since, despite what I write here, I know just enough Arabic to get in trouble. Unfortunately they want to immigrate to the States because it is safer there and they can make more money. My hope is that they go to the States but that they return when Iraq is stable so that Iraq can benefit from their knowledge and their drive.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

15 months

Macen has finally reached 20 lbs - 20.3 to be exact (and 30 in tall). So he is now a forward facing tot in his carseat. The doctor we saw did express some concern about his low weight. She did give me some ideas to get him to eat more so we'll see how it goes. Speaking of eating, he LOVES strawberries. I lost count as to how much he was eating but if I had to guess... atleast 10lbs. Did I mention he LOVES them? He also took some bites out of a fresh nectarine and enjoyed it. Macen was down to one bottle for most of June and within the first week of July he was completely switched to sippy's. It was a really easy transition so that was a relief. Macen now has 11 teeth. Last month was a crazy teething month. Poor guy!

Macen has spent the last month climbing more or trying to climb. Myles ended up on top of the armiore and Macen was convinced he could climb the side of it to reach him. He started practicing his ball throwing skills. Unfortunately, he also throws them in the house. Macen discovered his artistic skills as you can see in the pic above. I brought out the crayons and he loves coloring. He also mastered some signing in the last month. He can sign more, dog, bird, fish, hat and telephone.

We are still spending alot of time outside - taking walks, playing on the slide, going across the bridge, and playing in the pool. He spends more time in the pool if he is dressed in regular clothes though. Not so much when I put his trunks on. He is getting good at holding my hand when I request it. The other night we took a walk around the "block" (it's kinda more like a triangle) in front of our house and he held my hand almost the entire time and walked it all. I was prepared to put him on my shoulders but he was a trooper.