Archive | September 2007

Sun sets; work ends

I have been a complete workaholic during my time in the Army. From my first assignment at Fort Knox through my sentence  at Fort Hood, I’ve tried and tried to give as much as I could to my job, if I do say so.

At Knox, I’d use my own equipment, use my own car and even came in on the weekends, at first, to get the mission done. All I got was more work.

At Hood, it was expected that we’d work weekends and into the evenings. There was the time in Iraq, seven days a week, 15 hours a day. Then, on our return, more nights and weekends. All I got was more work.

My apartment at Hood was bare–a futon, a mattress, a table I never used, and a lamp. I went out to clubs once during my two and a half years there. I never got to Austin more than two times. I never saw San Antonio. There was always work.

Now I’m at Meade and there’s the chance to be different. I actually have the chance to go out in the evenings. Work has challenges, but things are manageable. I am pretty stoked about the chance at socializing. There are concerts, things to see, places to try. It’s amazing!

So, when the day is over, I’m out. I’m going to pledge to leave work at work. The do-gooders and high speed soldiers can feel free to go above and beyond–I’ve tried that for years and it’s left me miserable.

My super soldier days are through, I’m afraid. You can have all those soldier boards, volunteered weekends and word-related side projects. Salmons is officially out of the running!


Can’t say I’m surprised

The more attention paid to a thing, the more flaws become apparent.

The private contracting firm, Blackwater, now faces an arms-smuggling probe. This comes just after the recent hub-ub where the fledgling Iraqi government banned the company’s license to operate in Iraq.

Turns out an incident involving Blackwater employees resulted in some civilian deaths. There are differing opinions as to what happened and we don’t know for sure; but, the Iraqi government, in response, wanted this company out of Iraq.

That introduced a problem for the U.S. and the efforts in Iraq. Since we rely on the extensive use of these mercenaries in theater, Iraq’s objection to their presence is problematic. Blackwater and other private military companies cover areas that the Army just can’t—diplomatic escorts, various convoy security operations, etc. If they were taken out of the equation, diplomatic travel, camp security and a smattering of other military operations would stall.

The U.S. response to the Iraqi edict? Promise action while proceeding with business as usual. Iraq, powerless to force the U.S. to do anything, has expanded its probe into Blackwater’s past, showing evidence to previous incidents in an effort to press their plea to get them out of the country.

So, once U.S. lawmakers actually start paying attention to how this firm operates, more bad news follows. I can’t say I’m surprised.

There have always been concerns about the current use of mercenaries in this conflict. They are not held to any sort of overarching standards for ethical conduct. There is no sort of international watchdog organization that regulates the behavior and operation of these private military firms. Some have wondered since the invasion’s inception whether or not non-regulated mercenaries could be trusted with lethal force amongst civilians in a shattered country.

In the military, servicemembers are governed by the uniform code of military justice. We also attempt to abide by the Geneva Conventions, although current combatant rights are debatable in the absence of a conventional enemy. That means that, typically, if a servicemember kills, rapes, steals or, in some other way, acts outside of the normal ethical bounds of killing people, he would be punished.

Private military companies aren’t legally bound by the same standards. They are free to operate as they internally see fit. If an employee misbehaves, that person is fired and sent home.

Again, some people have a problem with this. Should mercenary companies, who make billions off of dollars in the wake of the invasion, be used at all? Given the immense profitability of the perpetuated conflict, is there room for negligent use of lethal force? Can the employees within these private military companies be trusted to operate ethically? With no recourse apart from a job loss, can there be a binding set of standards imposed on these companies?

After years of ignoring the issue, we might finally see a good discussion and examination of how mercenaries are utilized in our conflicts.


False start, more later

I had, in my intent for the evening, a period of writing where I would produce another entry for the blog. Before that, however, there would be some time devoted to unpacking the last large box of my things that had been in the kitchen for a week.

I began the unpacking. Paper, paper paper, dish, paper, dish, bowl, paper…”What’s this?” I asked myself. “Oh, there they are.”

My plaques and things also were in the box, which turned out to be a hodgepodge of random stuff. I unwrapped each one and set them all down on the dining room table.

Unfortunately they set off a deluge of memories, reflections, etc., which spread throughout my whole disposition, leaving me in this sort of brooding melancholy about past assignments, regrets, missed opportunities and the general state of things.

So, rather than get into all of that, I’ve decided to sleep on it and try again tomorrow. On the one hand there is the writer’s honesty to consider—the fact that readers are a fan of a writer’s particular articulated perspective; however, there is also a reader’s tolerance for moody crap.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in a good place, I don’t regret my day-to-day. There’s just a lot about friends, war, God, love and the brokenness of man that kicks the sh*t out of me from time to time.


Bilingual crap

As we enter a more globalized world, we should learn to expect certain things (one being, I would think, that the globe would already be global as it were, but whatev). Outsourcing jobs, international businesses, a mingling of cultures and technology, all are aspects of life that will probably be tweaked as the world becomes one.

A side effect that I wasn’t anticipating was Spanish spam in my inbox.

Spam. Got to love that stuff. I never knew there were so many thousands of Kenyan bank ministry officials waiting to give me money, so many ways to enhance my “libido,” so many loans I qualified for, etc.

And now I get bogus offers for shady services in languages in which I’m not fluent. Perhaps it’s the worlds way of calling me an ignorant, unilingual bum cover. “Get on the ball, you! Learn you some Espanish.”

I do admit the Spanish spam is much more colorful than the regular deluge of stock tips and offers for other men’s wives. Mirroring vibrant Latino newspapers, I suppose it’s no surprise that spam is the same.

What I don’t get are the people who propagate this stuff. Obviously, this form of marketing works—sort of like those websites advertise in banners that say “Whatever you do, don’t click this button!!!” Sure enough, you click it and it takes you to some peddler, hawking a ware. All it takes is such and such of a percentage to keep it going. I assume spam works on the same principles—if they can snag a certain bit of business from the “Wow, I won an iPhone, I just click here!” then I guess it will continue. So long as there are people looking, it’s working.

But Spanish spam? I guess I’m as likely to speak it as anybody.

Just you wait, you’ll get some soon enough, I’d imagine.


A frosty reception

I’ve been to war.

Not saying I’ve had it nearly as bad as some people I know (I pray for my boys at the Korengal Outpost every day!), but still. There I was, suited up, with little bits of metal zipping by.

Now I work in an office.

There’s a bit of a switch there. I should say, a shift in priorities. You have imminent death and bodily harm on one hand; paper cuts and meetings on the other.

In this office there is a refrigerator.

In this office there also reside around 30-ish souls who work there. I like the place. There are a lot of good-natured people and well-meaning cats around. I get along with everybody and all is well in the kingdom.

I was told when I left Fort Hood by those who had worked at my present employ before that things can get stretched to the limits of rationality, based on the phenomenon that humans enjoy puffing up everyday situations into hugely dramatic episodes. When at war…understandable; when in the office…what’s the big deal?

You see, 30-ish souls + working lunches + refrigerator = mess. Nothing overly unsanitary, but a regular-enough routine of “Someone’s yogurt is moving. Probably a little far gone.” There goes out a rallying cry for people to clean the thing out and it happens. The end.

Or at least you would think so. There was an email passed around the other day, chiming in on the issue, that drew a bit of a curt tone. I’m new to the office, so I’m a walking lack of information when it comes to who’s angry at who. Due to the aforementioned “time at war,” I could give two apes f*cking about gossip. That’s not really how I enjoy burning chemicals firing my synapses, but whatev. Some people need that sort of stuff.

So the email went out, throwing down a bit of an ultimatum about time limits on food or some such. I didn’t think anything about it. The sender of the email was new, apparently, which was the source of the rub.

For me, I go to the fridge with a parcel of food, open it, if it’s full, I leave…end of scene. I’m not calling down God himself to deal with the situation. I’m a combat veteran. Yogurt’s warm? I can deal.

However, during our weekly meeting the curt email’s author went on a bit of a tiff. I wasn’t quite sure if he was serious, and stayed reclined in my seat, waiting for the air to pass. Something about respect and others. Not that I’m putting down his points, respect and others is important; but I was itching about the fridge at that moment for another reason–my lunch was in there and this debate was infringing on my time to eat it.

The soliloquy ended and enough seconds passed to let the man know we had internalized his message. Sparks started to fly from people here and there. What’s the issue? Let’s get rid of the fridge! Let’s put a lock on it! Tempers started to flare and there was this impression that this guy was not making any friends. A month into his tour here and he had established himself as the fridge guy.

Eventually the meeting ended, but not before fridge guy went for an encore and curtly rebuffed the nicest, sincerest lady in our department. He even got a rise out of me on that one. Something about milk. I have no idea.

Fridge guy, is that really the hill you’re choosing to die on? All respect to your years of service, your passion and concern, and, well, bluntness, apparently; but can I get back to the uncomfortable circumstance where I sit and check email while some poor bastard takes an IED in the face? See, that’s already somber enough for me. I don’t need Frigidaire up in my business.

But thanks! Cool yogurt is nice.


In flux once more

Roommate Adrian and I are in the process of moving to our new apartment. Our Internet has been removed and I’m currently filching access from the University of Maryland Library. Don’t tell!

When Adrian and I first entered the new place, there was an issue that needed immediate deciding—who would get the “big” room. There were two bedrooms in the new two bedroom apartment (surprisingly). One was a little smaller than the other and had its bathroom in the common hallway. The slightly larger room had its closets and bathroom off of the room itself.

We both wanted it, of course. While Adrian had a steady girl who frequently stayed over, he was magnanimous enough to give me a shot at it. We decided to throw down with a bit of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to decide.

Adrian showed me how each round would go. Two fist throws and then the final choice on the third hit.

“Like this,” Adrian demonstrated, to make sure I got it. “Ready?”

“Sure,” I said, as a bead of sweat began down my face. Maybe it was from that last load of crap we’d hauled from upstairs, or maybe it was because IT WAS THAT INTENSE! I could hear the drums of war in the distance.

“Go!” he said, and we were off. We’d hit our fists in our hands twice before throwing our choice.

What would he pick? Adrian was a very straightforward guy. He’d want strength, not the flimsy paper. He’d choose rock.

I went with paper.

And he chose rock.

“Aaaww!” he shouted, and walked away, like a batter leaving the box after a strike. He took a second to compose himself and reentered the ring.

“Ready? Go!”

What would he choose? Hard to say. I was one up, so I chose paper again.

He picked paper.

“Tie. Ready? Go!”

I’d thrown paper twice. Would I do it again? I figured he figured I was quirky enough to not change. I’d choose rock, since I bet he’d go with scissors to get me.

I went with rock.

And he did pick scissors.

“Two nothing? Awww!”

And the room was mine.

No more sleeping in the dining room for this guy. Now I have an actual space and a room large enough to lock myself away on occasion when schoolwork dictates. Ikea here I come!

I’ll be back after the Internet gets hooked back up. For now, I need to finish my research paper for Managerial Economics. Good luck!


Either it is or it isn’t

Yes, there are parts of life that are shades of gray. But, in the seconds, we choose either to step away or step toward a goal—black and white.

That’s enough sappy thoughtful crap. What I’m getting at is there is a hefty living to be made at all of this “self help” stuff. A person can write books, plays, movies, produce DVDs, all telling people a new method of “realizing” their goals.

And it’s all BS. Either what a person is doing at this very minute is or isn’t bringing him/her closer to whatever. It absolutely blows my mind how much effort we all put in to not accomplishing anything. People buy up those self-help things by the millions, like someone else telling you to do something is more convincing than your own voice.

Diet? Please. Grapefruit and Kiwi, five times a day? Nothing but shakes and well wishes? Bah! What are you doing this very second to burn calories, tone muscle, etc? Get down on the ground and do some sit-ups. Put shoes on and go run. Seriously. Right now. Map your daily meals, cut back on the crap. What’s the big deal?

Writing a book? One page at a time, friends. Figure out the steps that need to happen to write the damn thing and start. What’s the wait for?

Getting a degree? Obsessing about the mountain won’t shrink it. Worry doesn’t wear through stone. What have you done in the past five days to get you closer to the degree–to the top?

IRA? Investments? It’s not THAT complicated. Pick up a book, do some reading. Let’s go! Compound interest waits for no man!

I spend waaay too much time on idle. There is waaay too much to do or that can be done.

So, for those who still need some motivational-type speaking, here’s something for free:

Either your life is or isn’t what you want. If it isn’t, figure out what you want and do it. Go get it.

So much of being considered extraordinary is just doing the ordinary well. We spend a lot of time dreaming, waiting for someone to carry us across the street, when others just walk.

What’s so amazing about someone who has achieved what you want to achieve? Are they geniuses? Genetically enhanced super-people? I doubt it. Odds are, they just picked up a book, or started moving forward.

I’ll make a pledge to the Internets and all therein: I’ll do more.

The world doesn’t need anymore Never-has, Could-have-been, or Thinking-about-it’s; let’s go!

Besides, life is in the journey, not the destination.

With that, I’m going to work on this damned research paper I’ve put off.


A year back!

August 29th of last year I flew out of Camp Taji for the final time. We spent the next few days in various spots in Iraq and Kuwait, in that long, but gentle process of “leaving theater.” It takes several stops, several agonizing days of loading and guarding bags in the heat, but when that flight leaves Kuwait on the way home, it’s a bit of heaven.

Now I’ve been back home for nearly a year. Time has blown by! It doesn’t seem like that long at all. I guess just looking at the list of months in my archives should remind me.

Today I tried to get to Fort Meade early. They had a car shop there on post that could do alignments and oil changes. It was about time to get the oil swapped out and I noticed my girl took to drifting left a little during the course of my Texas exodus. The plan was to hit the car shop first thing then on to the thrift store, where they were having a sale on ACUs.

ACUs are the new Army Combat Uniform. Where soldiers could expect to get 5-10 years out of their old Battle Dress Uniforms (BDUs), ACUs last less than a year. Oh, and they cost more to replace. Your tax dollars at work.

Anyway, there was a big announcement that the thrift store on Meade got a shipment in and would be selling ACUs for half off. Nice! I’d hit the car shop then mosey on over to the thrift store and get some threads, as I’m down to two serviceable sets.

I arrived at the car shop.

“No mechanics today,” the clerk said. I was free to buy some windshield wiper blades, but no car services would be rendered. Hrmph.

Walking out, I ran into a sergeant I’d run into a few times at work.

We swapped the normal small-talk stuff. We got to talking about former duty stations.

“Where were you before this?” he asked.

“Fort Hood. Ugh!”

“You deploy?” I had forgotten he didn’t have a combat patch.

“Yeah, been back almost a year. Crazy that it’s been that long.”

“How long were you over there?”

“Just a year. Lucky. They started with that 15-month stuff just after we left.”

“Yeah I need to get over there…”

Now normally I give people the silent “yeah, right” eyes when they start shoveling that stuff, but he continued.

“…I know it’s stupid to actually say I want to go to war, but seriously. I’ve got to get out there. Seems silly to be teaching these students what to expect when they get to the field when I haven’t even been there yet. I can’t be a leader without going. But that’s just me.”

“Oh, I hear you friend,” I said. “It’s not the best way to spend your time, on a personal level, but it’s good to have done what you’re asking others to do.”

We finished out and headed off. He let me know of a good Firestone just off post and I told him about the ACU sale. We figured getting in line at the Firestone was probably the best bet, as customers tend to pile up at those things. He lived nearby and just dropped his van off, telling the store people no rush on his and to take care of the others there waiting first.

I’d always liked that guy in the times I’d talked with him before. And it’s not just that he wants to suck sand for a while, like it’s some sort of initiation; but he has a good, humble way about him which is contrasted by the sizable chunk of fat bodies who would just as soon send wheelchair-bound grandmothers to combat before themselves.

I waited my turn at the Firestone. Two nails in two tires had been the culprits of my slow leaks over the course of the past two months. The remaining two tires were beginning to show wear, so I went ahead and slapped on new tires. Three-hundred-sixty-some bucks later I drove toward the thrift shop to swing some new ACUs. No luck. Packed and picked over.

Still, the car’s fixed and I can always buy more ACUs at the regular rate. Hell, why settle for one set when you can have two for twice the price? Woot.


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