Archive | January 2006

I’m good

One of the blackhawks that ferries people from base to base crashed Sunday, killing all 12 aboard.  I wasn’t on it, so don’t freak.  I fly Monday.

Pray for the families of those 12, and the 5 Marines that died this weekend.  140 civilians were killed Sunday in the deadliest day in four months.

Crazy.

P.S.  I’ll be hopping to different spots around Baghdad until Thursday, so probably no posts until then.  Keep the faith, kids.

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Distant thunder

It’s so weird how isolated a FOB can make you.

I’ve watched the news over the past few days. Attacks rock the country. The insurgency has unleashed waves of bombings against the civilian Iraqi population. 30 dead here…40 dead there…14 wounded…80 wounded. There are kidnappings, spectacular attacks on convoys, assassination attempts, resignations of government officials.

Some would think the soldiers would be here in careful silence, watching from the sidelines like the second or third string, watching a struggling defense.

But things here on our FOB are strangely quiet. I’m sure the commanders and leaders hash out all the particulars in their private meetings, but the rest pay little attention to the war.

Most soldiers don’t even watch the news. “Oh more died? Hrmmph.” The big crisis today at the office was that the cable went out. No SportsCenter. Wow. The big crisis yesterday was that the sandbags they’re putting around the trailers block the stairs to the doors.

It’s like we’re playing a video game. Sure, we’ll tune in and hunker down to get past level 13, but after that we’ll put things on pause.

I get to head out on mission again next week – on some chopper missions south around Baghdad. It’ll be a good chance to see if all these rumors are true that there’s still a war going on out there.

Part of me is glad for the shelter, but most of me wonders why the Army brought so many people here to attend meetings, when they could have attended meetings back in the states.

War is delightful to those who have not experienced it — Erasmus

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I hear music

Weeks ago, a lieutenant heard me singing some random bit while in the office.

I’m known to do that, but you’ll never know what you’re going to get.  My mind is a jukebox, playing back any song I’ve ever heard, be it gangsta, folk, rock, or a song from a play.  A phrase from the news or a co-worker might set it off.  Sometimes my internal concert spills out into the open, but not too much.  I’m leery of those constantly in song.  It’s unsettling.

Regardless, she piped in after my “Drop it like it’s hot” rendition, “You should come sing in the church choir.  It’s every Tuesday and Thursday night.”

Church choir?  I hadn’t done that in a while, church or choir.  Sure, I thought, why not?

Practice was at 1900 (7:00 p.m. for you non-regs), just on the trail of the day and enough to get me out of the office just a little early.

The chapel was in a building just down a little south from the brigade.  In keeping with our aversion to street lighting, roads on most FOBs in theater are pitch black.  So a ‘little ways’ at night is normally an expedition through broken fences, rocks and ditches and over broken tank tracks that we use as makeshift speed bumps.

While quiet on the outside, once in, the chapel was a buzz.

The choir was large, about 20-25 people.  The protestant services here started out with a bang, filling the small chapel immediately, forcing them to move to the nearby movie theater to hold the extra people.

In the weeks following the premiere, attendance had abated, the swell to be resumed upon our unit’s first casualty, the holidays or near the end of tour as soldiers realize their real-world problems will be in the states when we get back.

So even though the chapel building wasn’t used very much, choir practices were still held here, as the movie theater showed movies in the evenings – funny.

1900 came.  1915 came.  Talk talk talk.  I was all about clipping off of work a little early, but there were still things to do.  I began to wonder if I should head back to the office.  1930 came and the major who has claimed the choir as his finally quieted the group down.

“Alright people lets go.  Let’s bring it together.”

Eyes rolled and a few side jokes were made.  Apparently there was a lot of resentment within the group about how this guy took over.  Who cares, as long as we finally got started?

The troops gathered around and I was given the eye a few times.

“So you can sing, huh?” another major asked, the rest of the bass section looking on.

“Yeah, I’ve been in a few groups growing up.”

“Well, we’ll see,” he snipped with a cold indifference.  Jeez, what was that?  I slid down the line of guys.

“What part do you sing?” asked a signal Pfc.

“Mainly baritone, but I can slide up into tenor or down to base for parts.”

“Well don’t stand next to me, you’ll throw me off.”

“Okay,” I said flatly, and shifted back toward the finance officer.

“Think you can hang with the big boys?  Heh heh heh,” the major said, chuckling to himself.

“I’ll try,” I said and managed a smile.

The major in charge was still tuning his guitar, shuffling papers around.

With every strum, the Pfc. I had just left let out a mimic, I guess trying to tune his voice?

“If you think you’ll get into the Christmas pageant, don’t count on it,” the finance major leaned over.  “We’re top notch, and you just got here.  It wouldn’t be fair.”

“Okay,” I said.  Apparently this was an audition.

By this time the talking had started again.  Cliques began to break off and socialize.  The signal Pfc. continued to sing to himself, now on the verge of belting out his flat monotone to overpower the ambient conversation.

“Enough!  Stop talking and stop flirting,” our leader barked.

The flock began to gather around again.  The noise was now just a murmur.

But the star diva, a medical specialist of battalion-renowned singing quality, stormed off and sat in the back of the chapel, her groupies close behind.

“He can’t talk to me like that!” she said to her five-guy entourage.  “Flirting?  He can’t say that to me!”

Although she spoke loud enough to hear, some of the group ignored her; but some broke away, putting half the crowd in her corner as the first few notes of the first song were pecked out on the keyboard.

The rest of the practice went by in the same boisterous, plodding manner. Tempers flared at each verse, over how the keyboard was being played, or if the altos were coming in too late.

“Stop singing the melody, learn your parts,” the leader snapped every few minutes.

With each go-round, the parts changed, making learning them a bit tricky.  The ensemble pushed through each composition with brute volume, sprinkled with enough in-tune vocals to pass for a song.

By 2030, I had enough, excused myself, and went back to work.  No one said goodbye.

It wasn’t a problem.  I had enough to worry about without the extra drama.  I had forgotten all that came with organized spiritual enterprise.

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Middle of the road

Not as blah day.

Not as blah day.

The air has warmed again, staying tepid, at an unusual temperate temperature for the region.

We’re behind in our rain – apparently very far behind.  No complaints here, though.  No rain means little mud, which I’m all for. Were I to run for office here, it would definitely be on a no-rain platform.  That, and a “How about we not bomb the Americans?” vibe.  Good stuff.

Things have settled in to a day-in day-out sort of operation.  It’s a normal thing, I hear, to hit this hum-drum lull at month four or five – where you’re far enough in to the year to be established, but shy of the half-way mark.

The first go-‘rounders of people who went on R&R leave are coming back.  “It was harder to come back the second time,” many have said.  They’re already shuffling along with long faces.  With nine straight months of Iraq to wear through now that their break is spent, I hope they can manage.

I’m hard at work on the first edition of the brigade newsletter.  I’ll be sure to post a link for the .pdf once I finish.

While at first I was ready to part the waters with its magnificence, the lackadaisical enthusiasm from the command has reserved me to produce a simple, clean publication.

They didn’t want it at all, so I won’t bear my soul to make it divine, but I’m sure it’ll be a solid contender with most other Army pubs.  Just being consistent with a design is half the battle in making something well received in the journalism community.  I’ll be eager to hear what you all think.

Being “brilliant” at something seems to involve nothing more than a mastery of the basics – be it grammar, public speaking, or firing a rifle.

So the newsletter will be a tad blaaah, in keeping with the recent motif of the camp.

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How many is that?

Hey 2006, how are ya?

I suppose I should hash through a quick “Then and Now” sort of thing.

2005 was a bummer year.  Here’s hoping ’06 isn’t so bad.

That’s it.  Back to work.

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