Archive | March 2006

Living on bread alone

They look harmless. They'll steal you blind, the second you look away.

They look harmless. They’ll steal you blind, the second you look away.


“Mista Mista, give me a dollar!”

“Mista Mista, I want a football. You give me football.”

“I want bullet. You have me bullet.”

“I want dollar. You buy me bike!”

“You come back tomorrow? You bring ball!”

“You come tomorrow. You bring light. Give me light.”

“You give me camera. Give me camera.”

“I have chili Cheetos? You have me chili Cheetos.”

“What ursmames? What ursmames? I am Hasul. What ursmames?”

The girl had the most striking sapphire eyes.

The girl had the most striking sapphire eyes.

“Wow,” I said, above the din. “Cute kids.”

“Oh yeah,” one of my patrol mates said as we waded through the sea of youth. “They’re cute at first, but try back on visit three or four.”

We wound our way through the living maze to a plain hut across a trash-riddled field. There, crossing into the dark interior, we shed our flock and were awash in the scent of fresh-baked bread.

The man's hands moved with the speed of a thousand times before.

The man’s hands moved with the speed of a thousand times before.

Fire danced from a hissing gas pipe that ran along the inside of the brick oven. A flat opening sat low in the room, and the baker worked raw dough into flat triangles on a long pole that nearly stuck out of the door.

After shaping them, he used the pole to place them deep inside the oven. One dollar bought a full bag’s worth, according to my translator. A young boy took the money and readied a small, black plastic bag.

The man chucked the bread down the line.

The man chucked the bread down the line.

A few minutes later, the baker again worked the pole, and out came the finished bread, scooped up with some sort of learned technique. With a shove, the baker sent the bread flying over the brick counter. It skittered across the flour-slick surface into a trough at the end of the counter, where the boy counted out 16 pieces per bag.

“Mmmmm, breakfast,” I said. Our patrol was coming to a close. Nothing significant to report. One response to a possible IED earlier turned out to be nothing.

“All the better,” said our staff sergeant patrol commander. “One less to do before home.”

Our three-vehicle patrol took a turn before hitting Camp Taji and wound our way through a village who’s name I’ve forgotten already. A small collection of huts and houses lined mud streets, flanked on all sides by a peppering of recently-desposed garbage.

“They don’t get rid of the garbage,” my interpreter explained, “because the goats need something to eat.”

“Well, that’s one way to recycle,” I said, and took a bite of bread.

Delicious and cheap. Can life get better? I submit that it cannot.


Character piece

Recently, a captain was caught with a junior-enlisted female. She was busted down two grades, he was sent to our office.

Just the other day, he was caught again. She’s being chaptered out of the Army, he’s going up to Anaconda to work there.

He’s married with a newborn son. I asked him if he had told his wife.

“Yeah, I told her. She knows,” he said flatly. “Sucks, because her mom is dying of cancer…has about three weeks left. So, yeah, she’s got that.”

He’s been waiting for his flight up to his new job. Stripped of his weapon and relegated to just the latrine, his room, the office, and the DFAC, he stays in the office and watches television in the evenings. Laughing at “The Simpsons,” or “The Family Guy,” you’d never think the guy had been through what he had.

But then it didn’t seem like he was too concerned.

There’s a strange disconnect with that man. The sort of cool, calculating, sociopath sort of disconnect. That sort of creepy “sure there are rules, and I’m breaking them,” informed malice.

The other day, during “The Amazing Race,” he made the comment “My wife and I would be great on this show. We hate each other.”

He’ll just laugh. Maybe it’s how he deals with life. He laughs about being chewed out. He’ll laugh after a botched briefing, after dropping the ball for an awards ceremony. He’ll just chuckle, like it had been 20 years and he was looking back, telling a story to an old friend.

There’s someone he calls at night and talks to. The conversation is one of those lovey-dovey, flirty sort of calls. We’re all wondering if he’s still talking to this lover of his. Maybe there’s someone else.

I hope the wife is doing okay. Yikes, new kid, deadbeat father, dying mother. That’s quite a lot to work through.

As for the good captain, I’ll have to watch that one. Anyone that unfeeling makes me nervous.


Definite articles

Whew  I made it back to my room. Traveling outside has become very hazardous, not from enemy fire, but the threat of Article 15s – the military’s “shame shame, you knew better” Uniform Code of Military Justice article.

You get one of these babies for disobeying an order or instruction and usually are given out to soldiers who have a discipline problem and need a wake-up call.

Supposedly our seniors are starting to hand them out like candy – like some gang of traffic cops waaay behind on their ticket quota.

You see, there was a new memo from our command: after a certain time in the afternoon, no one can travel outside without a “battle buddy.” This makes heading home from the office for guys who aren’t blessed with a nine to five “fluff” job an adventure, as I’m one of the last to leave my office.

“Battle buddy,” “fighting friend,” whatever the hell you want to call it, is the Army’s way of reducing what’s called “non-battle injuries.” By traveling in neat pairs anywhere and everywhere, soldiers will, among other things, cease to be raped or robbed or hurt in any way – at least that’s how it’s briefed in meetings.

Ok, ok fine. Instructions received, “just get it done” and all that. Hooah!

So, if I have to use the latrine (down the street), I should wake up my roommate?

What about going to the gym? I’ve tried to ask around the past few days, but people are lazy, so I’m out of luck. Does that mean no exercising for me?

Shoot, I need to take my laundry to the drop-off point…anybody going? Hello? You? How about you? Not today? No? Crap.

I need some money for some toiletries…anyone going to the PX? I need a buddy. You? Going to finance first to get some money? No? Don’t need to go? Ummm, how about you? Shoot.

Take this down to battalion? Um, it’s past the magic time. So? Well sir, that means you need to send someone with me — two in fact, if I need to stay down there, so they’ll have someone to walk back with. Yes sir, I’d love to “just get it done” but…Hooah, getting it done. Roger.

Taking care of personal business just got a whole lot more complicated. So how are the seniors handling it? Oh yeah, they are exempt. It’s just the lower enlisted that has to deal with it, and the lower NCOs that get to answer “why?” every time I stop someone outside.

Look friends, I’m just trying to run my section. If some judicial action has to be taken against me because I was trying to perform my Army mission and do my part in defending freedom, liberty, and “Dancing with the Stars”…well then, I’ll just take my licks.

To the older veterans out there. Has the Army always been this way? How did we ever win any wars?

Between composite risk management worksheets, command climate surveys, equal opportunity gender sensitivity courses, chaplain sessions, mental health awareness training, sensitive item daily checklists, NCO professional development meetings and safety stand down classes…and then the seventeen briefings every week…I just don’t see much time for fighting the bad guys

Heaven help us if we ever fight an enemy that doens’t stop attacking us because it’s nighttime or raining.


Different faces, same crap

Two men walked into our office this morning. Confident strides, pistol holsters – they were field-grade officers, come in from some far-flung office a block or two south.

I was in the process of preparing slides for a briefing (big surprise) when I noticed their looming shadows.

“You PAO?” one of them asked, his face unrecognizable, silhouetted against the bright green lights of the office. I stood, out of protocol, and recognized him as a major from one of our battalions on Taji.

“Yes sir,” I said, looking for a notepad to scribble down whatever it was he was going to ask me.

“We need a training video made of our briefing area. We were showing it to the general when she was here and she loved it. The colonel said he wanted the video, did he mention it to you yet?”

Mention it to me “yet”? That implies he wanted it, which is suspect for two reasons. First, he has talked to me about 12 times since the general was here, and no mention. Second, if it was locked in, why did two majors need to walk to our headquarters, into the public affairs office and stand before an E5? They had tipped their hand with a big opening bet.

But, I digress.

“No, he hasn’t said anything about a video,” I said.

“Well the general wants about a 30 minute video and she wants it by the 20th.”

This sounded like a kiss-up project. ‘Hey, we’ll get the sergeant to do it, ha ha! Then we’ll give it to the general to show off.’

Wait a minute! The 20th?! That’s a week and a half!

“Sir, we don’t have a video camera. We’re going to have to interface with another unit.”

“So?” his eyes got wide, annoyed.

“So…it’s not going to get done by the 20th. There’s only one video camera on Taji, and the unit who owns it uses it for their mission.”

“Look sergeant,” the other major countered. “When the general says she wants something done, it gets done.”

“Wait, the general wants it?” Ha! Caught ‘cha! You guys aren’t gonna bully me into it that easy.

“Well…the…um, colonel wanted it by the 20th. You better get on finding a camera.”

They were off-balance. I decided to flank.

“Sir, a 30-minute video will take a hours of raw footage, and then days and days to edit. You’d need a script, graphics and voiceovers. And your briefing area is classified. We aren’t supposed to film that stuff – maps, routes, procedures, rehearsals and all that.” And that’s not to mention a training video was completely outside of our news-gathering mission.

“That’s okay, as long as it’s finished by the 20th,” one first major said. Afterwards they turned and left.

This one was easy. With no camera, no mission mandate, no clearance to film, and no time, I have no problem watching this one crash and burn.

Sorry sirs, I didn’t “just get it done” this time.

News flash to leaders: You’re not God. Sometimes the laws of the physical universe do apply.

Otherwise, everything is swell.


Untapped potential

One of the greatest forces known to man is forgiveness.

It’s a force often overlooked, as are the weak and strong forces keeping atoms in their patters, keeping you from dissolving into the ether.

Such power is difficult to bring to bare correctly. But with focus and diligence, humans too can wield this changing force and create ripples in eternity.

Forgiveness is the means to ascension. Those who can forgive can transcend this Earth and re-emerge – not in a matter of physical newness, but be born into a new dimension of reality.

Those with the spirit to forgive are touched by God.

After all, it is God himself who forgives, and our power to do so is a vestige of his image, in which we were made.

Some think about Jesus and feel what happened was a cop out. “I’d have come down and wiped every one out!” Many think this, and so have I on occasion. It is in my warlike manner to think of retribution as a matter of physical violence – the factors of suffering and supplication from a superior source.

But what happened at the physical death of Christ was far more powerful than any legion of angels eradicating humanity. The passing of the Lord was spiritual atom bomb of sorts – not in the dramatic fall of a being of grace, but in the unleashing of forgiveness.

As Christ died – as the weight of the world’s evil was brought to a focused point of physical space, a critical mass was achieved – a chain reaction started as evil touched good, and in an instant, all was made right.

The world was forgiven.

The effects of this are still being realized. And it, like most things that God does, is happening in ways contrary to how we’d do things. “Why doesn’t God just fix everything?” I don’t know. I’m not God.

But maybe, just like when he didn’t come down and kick everyone’s butt when Jesus was dying, there’s a purpose to the temporal order of God’s will.

The Bible says things like “No weapon formed against me will prosper,” and “Nothing can separate me from the love of God.” And it’s true, with the enormous power of forgiveness, nothing can harm me.

“Do not fear man, who can destroy your body; but fear God, who can destroy your body and soul.” This isn’t a threat, but a new perspective on the evils of the world. With God and the realization of this all-encompassing forgiveness, nothing can harm me. The pains of the world will pass and drain off like a summer rain, but this new creation in me – a restored spirit through the forgiveness of God, will remain.

Sadly, many of us do not use our power to forgive – our greatest weapon. We cling to suffering and pain, needlessly wallowing in the mire of the world. Even when made whole through forgiveness, we continue to sit in our sorrow, unwilling to forgive ourselves and others.

God would have us rise above the dirty hollows and moors of the shadows. And it is through forgiveness, an outpouring of love, that we can become free.

Withholding forgiveness is withholding love. Love is the light. When we live in darkness, it is our choosing. Darkness is only the absence of light. Darkness cannot exist in and of itself, but there must be a conscious decision to restrict the light.

Did you know that there is no such thing as cold? There is only the absence of heat. Heat and no heat. There is no cold. It is the same with light and darkness. There is only light and the absence of light. No one opens a door and floods a room with darkness.

Similarly there is God and the absence of God.

We think of things as a continuum. On the one side there is good / light / heat, and on the other side there is evil / darkness / cold. But this is a flawed perspective. There is only good, and while evil exists, it has no power over good other than what is willed by those who have the ability to exercise their God-given goodness.

So forgive, that you may be forgiven, and realize your true potential.


Job poll

As my time in the Army begins to draw to a close and as I finish my current educational endeavors, the time is coming to choose a path for the rest of my life. During my time on Earth, I’ve involved myself in several areas and have grown fairly competent in a few disciplines. But locking in a set career has been tricky. I decided to put up a poll. Help a brother out.

Current potential career paths include:

A) Air Force navigator / pilot (packet’s in, waiting for final confirmation)

B) Army officer (they’ll take anybody)

C) Journalism instructor (as a civilian at my military alma mater)

D) Newspaper editor (town or city paper…start small)

E) CIA agent (no, really)

F) Author (finally write that blasted book people keep telling me to get on with)

G) Entrepreneur (put that MBA to use, boyieee!)

H) TV news director (I love the rush, and I’m actually pretty good at it)

I) Radio station personality (I have a decent broadcast voice, razor wit and a face for radio)

J) Freelance graphic designer / photographer (carve out a niche; take no prisoners)

K) Clergy (use GI Bill to get a doctorate in divinity)

Ok, any input? Should I do ‘em all?


Low fuel

My section sergeant is about to go on leave. I’ve been learning my new schedule – when and where to be now that our two-person shop will be but in half.

There’s the morning commander’s directive brief, the morning executive officer update, the “stand up” for staff personnel, the campaign update brief, the admin update brief, the trends brief, the brigade update brief, the battalion commander’s call, the division call, and finally, the FRAGO publication briefings.

All require PowerPoint slides, which I’ve been learning how to do. Lovely. Bill Gates should get a medal. The American military wins it’s wars through PowerPoint. Then again, I’m sure the few billion bucks he’s made off of licensing his software makes up for that.

The rub is that I have no time to do journalism stuff, which is sort of what I went to war for. Our higher headquarters is sending down someone to help take up the slack, but we’ll have to see how things turn out. I can’t expect her to go to these things.

There’s a picture slide show that the colonel likes playing in the background during a weekly Sunday briefing. The original idea was for us to showcase the photos we had taken that week. Simple, no problem. It was nothing more than eye candy and had nothing to do with our mission. Covering two or three stories a week would yield 15-20 decent pictures. No biggie. I mean, how many shots of a guy checking oil can you really squeeze out of a story?

But 15-20 wasn’t nearly enough. The command stepped in and, to make sure we were taking “enough,” dictated that the weekly slide show be at least 130 pictures. Oey!

One hundred thirty new, varied photographs each week? With the rest of this crap to do? Impossible. I even went in and stood my ground. “Sir,” I said, “with the number quota, I can’t give you that quantity and make them quality shots.”

“I was in the recruiting command,” replied our stand-in executive officer. “I expected my recruiters to give me quantity and quality.”

HA! That was worth a post in and of itself.

“Yes sir, but –”

“Just get it done!”

Oh yes, how silly of me. I had forgotten.

P.S. A new “Wrangler” is out. Enjoy it while it lasts. We might be discontinuing it. Have to make cut-backs somewhere.


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