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Friday, May 30, 2008

To the mountains

Jack Bauer and I are heading off to the mountains of Colorado for a little rest and relaxation with his parents at 9,000 feet. We'll be forced to rest and relax at that elevation -- what else is there to do?

But I am leaving my computer behind. His parents only have this thing called "dial-up." I am not sure what that is. I think it is like a typewriter or rotary phone: an alleged something from the past that people make up to talk nostalgically.

Anyway, what I am really trying to say is that I won't be around here and I will be going through some severe computer and doggie withdrawal.

Catch y'all later.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ooops!

When Jack Bauer and I got home from Pilates yesterday, I sat down and started reading and responding to emails. And like most evenings for the past 2 years, I quickly became engrossed in what I was doing. It was very quiet, the dogs were eating dinner, some mindless TV show was playing in the background. Ten, 15 minutes must have passed before I realized that Jack Bauer was home. I had completely forgotten that he was here. Really. I forgot he was back from Iraq.

Once it dawned on me that Jack was in fact in the US and was supposed to be in the house, worry quickly set in. I had no idea where he was. Was he laying on the bed reading? Was he in the basement doing more cleaning? Was he upstairs going through the stuff he brought from Iraq back in foot lockers? I called for him, but no answer. It was quiet and my concern began to grow.

By the time I made it to the backyard, he was walking in from the garage where he had been putting new license plates on my car. Boy, did I feel stupid. First, for forgetting that he was home. Then worrying needlessly about his whereabouts, especially when I am gone all day long at work.

Once back inside I told Jack about forgetting he was home. We laughed it off. But what a thing to forget.

Good News from Iraq: 29 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Businesses Display Wares at Expo.

BAGHDAD — More than 70 Iraqi business owners gathered in the Babylon hotel on the Karadah Peninsula in southeastern Baghdad for the inaugural Rebuilding - Karadah Expo and Conference, May 23-24.

Entrepreneurs and shopkeepers met at the hotel to display their products and services and to meet other Karadah business owners and community leaders. Participants setting up booths represented businesses in the fields of retail sales, construction, durable and industrial goods and even a beekeeper selling honey. In addition, several non-government agencies and municipal officials set up and visited booths, and various Arab media organizations covered both days of the conference and expo.

The Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Industry hosted the two-day event, which Baghdad-2 embedded Provincial Reconstruction Team (e-PRT) officials estimate more than 2,000 visitors attended. Conrad Tribble, leader of Baghdad-2 PRT, a Washington D.C., native, said this was the largest event of its kind to take place in Baghdad outside the International Zone in a long time.

“The event was a success because it sent a strong message to government leaders of Baghdad that business owners are an important voice of the community,” proclaimed Tribble. The business owners of Karadah have a positive message, he said.

Baghdad-2 e-PRT, based at Forward Operating Base Loyalty, sponsored 10 booths at the expo for local small-business owners, while the main Baghdad PRT, based in the IZ, sponsored 10 booths too.

In addition to leading the team, Tribble serves as the e-PRT’s political specialist, drawing on his 20 years of experience as a State Department foreign services officer. He said his mission is to bring civilian development and diplomacy to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division operating environment.

“What we are trying to do through our participation is to stimulate the private sector as well as see what kinds of businesses would come out,” explained Tribble, crediting the Iraqi Chamber of Commerce and Industry for planning and executing the expo and conference.

Madeeha Hasan Odhaib, a Karadah business owner and member of the Karadah District Advisory Council, whom Time Magazine recently named one of the world’s top 100 most influential people of 2008, attended the event. She employs 100 Iraqi women in the sewing factory in the district.

“I’m happy that Iraqi ladies of Karadah are allowed and encouraged to participate in events such as these,” said Odhaib, whom Queen Rania of Jordan nominated for the Time Magazine honor.

Baghdad’s provincial governor, Hussein al Tahan; Sabir al-Isawi, the mayor of Baghdad; and Mu’in Hamid Abd al-Majid al-Kadhimi, Baghdad Provincial Council chairman, attended the event to support Karadah businesses.

Baghdad e-PRT-2 and Baghdad PRT sponsored the Business-2-Business trade show in February, in which more than 300 businesses from throughout the capital participated. That “monumentally successful” event, explained Tribble, spawned the idea for each local district to have its own expo, highlighting local business owners and addressing their concerns. Next month, the Rusafa District of Baghdad will host their expo, and it won’t be long before every district in Baghdad has celebrated their inaugural business expos.

Tribble commented that “this is sort of developing a Baghdad-wide wave of enthusiasm and attention to the private sector, which we all like to think is the primary stimulus for economic growth … the main potential for employment growth over the next several years.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

I'm still here

We had a busy weekend, but tried to take it easy. Jack Bauer is getting settled in and is balancing working out with working on the house. He has done a great job working on cleaning out our basement and doing some yard work, both of which I have put off, well, for years.

Yesterday, Jack and I were coming home from yoga in separate cars. We pulled up to a light, me just ahead of him. For some unknown reason, this light has a "No right on red" sign and we needed to turn right. I looked in my rearview mirror, smiled, and picked up the phone and call Jack. I asked him if I should turn despite the red light and the sign. I called him, just because I could. :D

I think Jack is enjoying yoga. He was able to do a shoulder stand last night, with some help, after snickering at the seemingly impossibility of such a pose. But he did it, even though it is super scary the first time. I am so proud of him.

The doggies are very happy he is home to give them the love and attention that they haven't been getting for the last couple of years. Last night, Jack was reclining on the couch with Moo all leaning up against him for an hour-long tummy rub. Poor Moo definitely get did not that from me; she was luckily if she got 5 minutes. (And it sounds like our dear sweet cat is having a grand time with grandparents.)

Bottom line: It is great to have Jack Bauer home saving the world one house at a time.

Good News from Iraq: 28 May 2008

From MNF-I, IA Soldiers seize numerous weapons in Sadr City.

BAGHDAD – Iraqi Army Soldiers seized a number of weapons caches while conducting clearing operations in Sadr City during Operation Peace May 25.

IA Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 1st IA Division, searched several buildings and warehouses and discovered six explosively formed projectiles, 20 one-liter cans of TNT, 11 car engines filled with homemade explosives, three Russian anti-tank mines, an anti-tank round, five rocket-propelled grenades, four RPG launchers, seven RPG charges, and one RPG radar system. They also found a 60 mm mortar round, an 88 mm mortar round, 11 120 mm mortar rounds, a 100 mm artillery round, five 130 mm artillery rounds, three 155 mm artillery rounds, a Katusha rocket, four 30 mm anti-aircraft rounds, a blasting cap, two Glock 9 mm pistols and a flare pistol, 30 AK-47s, four rifles, a Russian Smirnov rifle, 51 loaded AK-47 magazines, and 1,152 7.62 rounds, as well as two detonators with batteries, four camcorder tapes, a binocular sight, a spool of wire, and a cell phone with a charger and battery.

IA Soldiers from the 4th Battalion, 34th Brigade, 9th IA Div., seized four RPG launchers, four RPG warheads, seven RPG chargers, and a grenade.

“The Iraqi Army continues to be successful in their efforts to make Sadr City a safer place,” said Col. Allen Batschelet, chief of staff for MND-B and the 4th Infantry Division. “All weapons and munitions seized help make Baghdad a safer place.”

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Moo 6

Today is my military princess dog's 6th birthday. Moo is a wonderful girl. She is funny and willful and thinks she is a little lap dog even though she weighs about 95 pounds. That's silly. She has been a great deployment companion. So as a special reward we got her a birthday cake from Three Dog Bakery. They decorated it all pretty with pink coconut and rosettes, wrote her name on it, and put her age. It reads "Moo 6." The first thing I thought of was Moo is a unit commander. Oh boy. We're in trouble if she ever finds out. :D

Good News from Iraq: 24 May 2008

From MNF-I, National Police seize weapons cache (Baghdad).

FORWARD OPERATING BASE LOYALTY, Iraq – Iraqi National Policemen with the 8th Brigade, 2nd National Police Division, uncovered a weapons cache during an operation in eastern Baghdad, May 22.

The National Police found the cache while patrolling New Baghdad to clear the area of illegal weapons and bomb-making materials.

The cache included more than 20 AK-47 assault rifles and a long rifle. Additionally, NPs detained one suspect and seized an Iranian passport belonging to the detainee’s brother.

Following the operation, NPs detained three suspected IED emplacers. The Iraqi men were dumping trash and concrete along streets in New Baghdad.

“Operations such as these are occurring every day in Baghdad, and they attest to the professionalism and commitment of the National Police to go after militants and to protect Iraqi citizens,” said Maj. Joey Sullinger, a spokesman for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Friday, May 23, 2008

A thunderstorm and fireflies


Those are my birthday whimsical wishes. I didn't have much in the way of thunderstorms growing up and I find them fascinating still. I first saw a firefly when I moved to North Carolina when I was 21. And just about every year we've lived here in Middleville, the first fireflies come out about this time. They are simple and they simply make me smile. And it is good to smile on your birthday.

Good News from Iraq: 23 May 2008

From MNF-I, Four-legged Defenders Sniff Out Trouble.

KIRKUK REGIONAL AIR BASE — Prompted by a few words of command by his handler, military working dog Charlie sprints ahead and attacks a simulated enemy during a training session here.

For Charlie, a German shepherd deployed here, this attack is no less a priority than if it were a real insurgent attempting to harm coalition forces. Despite temperatures hovering near the century mark, Charlie makes no bones about pushing his paws to the limit for the seemingly small reward of some praise from his handler.

"The dog sees everything he does here as a game," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Patrick Carroll, 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. "Even when the dog does have a big find, the dog never sees it as work. Seeking a reward and praise from their handler is the primary reason the dogs do the work for us."

While these military working dogs may be unable to comprehend their important contribution to the global war on terrorism while playing "the game," their capabilities are vital to the safety of coalition forces both inside and outside the base perimeter.

Air Force dog handlers at Kirkuk are assigned to either 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron or 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. Both squadrons have separate kennels and missions.

The 506th ESFS military working dog team conducts missions with the goal of protecting the more than 5,000 coalition forces personnel who reside at the base. While working inside base confines, 506th ESFS military working dogs conduct frequent patrols and assist security forces airmen at entry control points.

"Explosive detection is one of the main things we do with the dogs," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Nelson, 506th ESFS military working dog trainer. "The dogs are also trained to protect, deter, identify and apprehend any unauthorized personnel or contraband. Basically, the dogs prevent anything from getting on base that isn't supposed to be here."

The 732nd ESFS team typically works with the U.S. Army's 1st Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, during the brigade's missions outside the wire in the city of Kirkuk and surrounding areas.

Similar to the 506th ESFS, the 732nd ESFS military working dog team frequently is on the lookout for explosives during its missions. The team is composed of airmen filling "in-lieu of" taskings -- U.S. Army positions augmented by the Air Force.

"Everything we do in this capacity is outside the wire," said Carroll, who is deployed from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii.

The 732nd ESFS team conducts a wide range of missions that include raids, cache searches and vehicle searches. The team's missions can last for more than 10 days outside the wire, Carroll said.

Carroll is not new to the military working dog career field, but he said he feels his current deployment is unlike anything he's ever seen.

"People can tell you what you're getting into, but after leaving that gate you realize it's different than anything you've ever seen," he said. "But I build on each and every mission, and it's been satisfying to help assist the Army mission with Air Force canines."

Carroll, who volunteered for the position, said soldiers have helped his transition into the Army's working environment.

"The Army has made me very comfortable incorporating the dogs into their mission," he said. "I've been working with canines for more than 12 years now, but nothing comes close to what I've seen here. Working outside the wire with the Army has been a very rewarding opportunity."

To accomplish such a wide variety of missions both on and off the base, dog handlers rely on the keen senses of their canines, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andrew Esparza, 506th ESFS kennel master, said.

"A dog's scent is far more advanced than a human's," said Esparza, who is deployed from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. "In comparison, humans can't distinguish the individual ingredients when we smell a pizza. [Dogs] can smell the cheese, pepperoni, oregano and all of the other ingredients individually."

Each handler typically has his or her own assigned dog during a deployment. These dogs often travel with their handler from the United States, and spend much of their deployment patrolling and sharpening their skills.

Since handlers spend so many of their hours with the dogs, the commonly known bond between "man and his best friend" often forms, said Nelson, who is deployed from Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

"You can't help being attached to the dogs; they depend on you," he said. "You are completely responsible for the dog's health and safety. But you also always have a partner that will lay down their life for you - these dogs aren't scared of guns, knives or anything else. They are extremely loyal.

"For us, a dog is similar to another person on the team," the sergeant added. "The dog is treated the same as if they are an airman, because the dog won't be any good at his job if we don't take great care of him."

Carroll's dog sleeps in his bedroom, thus making their relationship an around-the-clock endeavor, seven days a week.

"There is definitely a bond that forms when you live with a dog every day for six months," Carroll said. "My dog, Jack, makes the time away from my family not as bad."

While military working dogs will never receive retirement checks or re-enlistment bonuses for their abilities to sniff out weapons caches, these canines are a vital and valued capability in the deployed environment.

"These dogs are basically tools that we use to help save lives," Carroll said. "I know for a fact that my dogs have found weapon caches that would've otherwise been used against coalition forces. Whether it's protecting the base from within or going off base, these dogs play a major part in helping to keep us safe."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

pity party

I'm still sick. My voice has gotten better but I keep having spasms in my throat that cause me to have violent coughing attacks so bad my eyes water up and my head hurts. I haven't slept well for 4 nights. It is beginning to take a toll. And I am grouchy.

Work has started an hour earlier but finishes at the same time. We call this torture "Summer Hours" and try to make it appealing by working for just 4 hours on Friday. It is only nice on Friday. The rest of the week I curse this schedule.

Waa waa waa!

But of course, the throat will heal, I will start to get more sleep, and I've only got a few more weeks of work. OK. Pity party over. Everyone go home.

Good News from Iraq: 22 May 2008

From MNF-I, New Sons of Iraq Stand Up to Help Secure their Communities.

KIRKUK — Approximately 75 new Sons of Iraq members witnessed their leaders sign three Sons of Iraq contracts in a signing ceremony in the Ta’mim Province May 19.

Iraqi Security Forces, Coalition forces, local tribal leaders and Sons of Iraq members were on hand to witness the signing of three SOI contracts, representing more than 600 hundred SOI members, at the Jawalla Middle School in Rashaad, 48 kilometers south of Kirkuk.

The new members complete 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division’s efforts in employing 2,000 SOI members in the Rashaad Valley to help protect its citizens from insurgents’ violence.

“Today is a very important day, and my people have waited a long time for this opportunity to protect our neighborhoods,” said Hassam Archer Salih. “We want to be a part of a new Iraq, and to help bring peace and prosperity to our communities.”

Dari Salman Khalaf, Hassam Archer Salih and Gaze Thappl Talub signed the contracts for their respective SOI members. Following the signing, the SOI members recited the SOI Oath; pledging their support to the ISF and their commitment to protect their citizens against extremist violence.

“Today marks yet another milestone on the road to improved local security, stability and normalcy. It is the continued support of the ISF, local leaders, and most importantly, the local villagers who have made security and the benefits which come with it a reality,” said Lt. Col. Dennis Sullivan, commander 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry regiment, 10th Mountain Division.

The Sons of Iraq have been attributed with helping in the reduction of violent activities in the Ta’mim Province. There has been a 60 percent decrease since the SOI inception, early December 2007. Furthermore, there has been almost an 80 percent drop in violence in the neighboring Hawijah District, once called the “Anbar of the north,” according to Col. David Paschal, commander, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 21 May 2008

From MNF-I, ‘Sons of Iraq’ train to protect own communities.

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – Throughout Anbar serves a unique group of men whose sole mission is to protect their community.

Since the summer of 2007, Sons of Iraq have answered the call to work the seams between conventional Iraqi Security Forces, augmenting the combined effort to deny our enemy a safe haven in Anbar.

Currently about 5,000 in number, they are trained by Marines on how to protect their neighborhoods and people.

“I do this for all of my village,” said Mohamad Hassan Dakheel, a checkpoint guard from Alnu-Amiyeh’s Sons of Iraq, May 15. “We’re all safe because we all work together.”

The Sons of Iraq, or SoI, are paid volunteers who live in the areas they guard.

“They’re responsible for identifying who’s not supposed to be in the area of operations,” said Staff Sgt. Jennifer K. Richardson, platoon commander, Mobile Assault Platoon, Guardian Company, I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward). “Every 500 to 800 meters in the Alnu-Amiyeh area there’s a SoI checkpoint. These are great for keeping insurgents out of the area.”

The men from the local area divided into teams for each checkpoint, with rotating shifts throughout the day, explained Richardson.

“They let us know when there are people in the area that shouldn’t be,” said Richardson. “Then they report to us what they look like and what they’re driving.”

Thanks to the SoI, the people of their villages live in a safer and relatively violence-free environment.

“They don’t get paid a lot of money for this, and it’s not easy for them to support us when they get threatened and their lives are on the line,” Richardson said. “It’s really admirable what they do.”

Though the SoI are paid about $150 dollars a month, most also make money through other means.

“My payment will last for only a week, but I also make some money by farming,” said Dakheel.

Since most had jobs to begin with, most of the Iraqi volunteers said they did not join for the money.

“I do it because I learn from the Marines how to make it safe in our country,” said Eiad Abid Sathan, a checkpoint guard from Alnu-Amiyeh’s SoI. “When the Marines leave, we can keep security in our country because of the training.”

The Marines of Guardian Co., based at Camp Fallujah, have been training the SoI, not only to be better guardsmen, but ultimately to aid them in their efforts to become Iraqi Police.

“The goal these guys have is to become police,” Richardson said. “Everything we teach these guys is geared towards making them IP’s, from shooting positions and shooting fundamentals, to the physical fitness test.”

Today the Marines went over the basics of handling the AK-47 assault rifle, practiced the fitness test, and also gave a short martial arts class to the Iraqis.

“The training is very good, because we have to be very strong and have power and know how to attack the enemy,” said Sathan.

The training is given so they can better protect their communities and continue to take more responsibility for security from the Coalition forces.

“I see there is a terrorist destroying my country, and I want to stop him,” said Wajdi Mohammed Selaman, a Fallujah SoI. “We are a peace-loving people.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Still learning

It is interesting what things I am learning about myself now that Jack Bauer is home.

Sunday night I was still not feeling well, and before I went to bed, I made a pass through the kitchen. Staring exhaustedly at a sink full of dirty dishes, I sneered at the plates and forks and wondered why Jack Bauer hadn't finished the dishes before he went to bed. "Screw it," I thought. And I went off to bed without raising a finger in the kitchen or my voice in the bedroom.

Monday morning came super early as we've started new hours at work and I don't really want to be hitting snooze 25 times in the morning (lest I get smacked in the nose from Jack crawling over me to turn off my alarm). I stumbled into the kitchen to make some morning brew. Those same dishes were there, dirty, staring at me, mocking my frustration. Then it occurred to me, I really like to have the kitchen clean, especially in the morning. Perhaps that is why for the last 2+ years I have cleaned the kitchen every night before I go to bed. (Mom, I blame you for passing this gene on to me.)

So this takes me back to the night before. Why hadn't Jack cleaned the kitchen before he went to bed? Wait, wait, wait. Could it be that cleaning the kitchen isn't as important to him as it is to me? How could that be?!? Maybe I could get him to do it? And then for the second time in one morning and before a single sip of coffee, I got struck with insight. Since the having a clean kitchen is important to me, maybe, just maybe I should just make sure I that it happens. You know, do it "myself."

Now, I know, you are probably sitting there thinking "duh," but to me this was an epiphany. Old me habits showing themselves and finding a new me solution to the problem. I think this is representative of the new me working along side my new husband. I think it will work just fine.

Good News from Iraq: 20 May 2008

From MNF-I, From “Ambush Alley” to Peaceful Ally.

RAMADI — Step after step, combat boots hit the pavement. It’s been a few hours for the Marine squad walking the Ramadi streets. Fatigued yet steady, the young men push forward on their routine foot patrol despite the mid-day desert heat; each squad member maintaining a constant alertness with eyes scanning the environment in every direction.

The squad leader passes by a familiar face; a local vender who he sees almost every day. Instantly, the look of exhaustion washes away, and a smile is brought to his face. Lifting his hand, he warmly greets the vender with, “Al salaam a’alaykum.”

Every day, Marine infantrymen like those with Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, patrol neighborhoods and actively engage the community of al-Anbar province. But the Marines are not alone on these patrols; they are walking side-by-side with Iraqi policemen, mentoring and providing guidance as they take responsibility for the safety of their own community.

According to Lance Cpl. Jonathan R. Chapman, rifleman with Company A, the Iraqi police are doing a remarkable job in the lead role.

“The Iraqi police are doing very well,” Chapman said. “They are excellent policemen. They’re all very tactically sound.”

The Iraqi police have taken giant steps over the past year in becoming more independent. This can mostly be attributed to the “al-Anbar Awakening” where tribal leaders supported the coalition forces’ efforts, and took a stand against al-Qaida in Iraq last year. Sheiks throughout the province encouraged tribal members to join the Iraqi police ranks and protect their streets, resulting in Ramadi’s Iraqi police recruitment to sky-rocket. Today, they are more than 9,000 Iraqi police serving in the province capital.

“The Iraqi policemen lead the patrols since we’re in an advisory, we just guide and assist them,” said 2nd Lt. Derek J. Herrera, a platoon commander with Company A. “Either their sergeant or lieutenant lead the patrols.”

Units throughout the city routinely conduct daily joint patrols, focusing on the community’s safety and the citizens concerns; a stark contrast from the kinetic activity and violence a year ago.

“We try to do joint patrols as often as we can, usually every day,” Herrera said; a different circumstance compared to past units in the city. “I’ve heard from friends and other cohorts, you couldn’t go on patrol in Ta’meem for more than five to 10 minutes without receiving fire. The way the Iraqi policemen describe it, Ta’meem used to be at the forefront of the insurgency. It was once referred to as “ambush alley.”

Today shows a more peaceful environment, where Iraqis and Marines patrol the neighborhoods, and receive positive response from the citizens.

“The locals are very friendly towards coalition forces and the (policemen) as well,” Herrera said. “They really appreciate what we do. We’ve never really had a negative reaction from anyone in Ta’meem. The kids run to us and beg for chocolate and the adults really appreciate our help.”

With the positive changes in the Ta’meem area and the progressive steps made by the Iraqi police officers, the station, like many others, is looking towards taking community safety to the next level and bring the city of Ramadi closer to a state of normalcy.

“Our push now, is to make it more police oriented,” Herrera said. “Instead of having ten policemen walk down the street, now we’re trying to make it about only two. That way they can just sit on the corner, talk to the people, and walk the beat around the same block all day. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the next push.”

Monday, May 19, 2008

This deployment brought to you in part by ...

I think it is time I thanked all the people who helped me through the whole 28-month, 5-day separation that was this deployment.

  • My wonderfully supportive parents, who made several trips out here to help me, who answered all my phone calls and listened to me whine and cry, and gave me great advice when I needed it.
  • My sister and nephew, who liked to entertain me with weekend morning phone calls.
  • Jack Bauer's parents, who gave us such a supportive gift, the depths of which are beyond words.
  • The BFF, who always listened to me and distracted me well, and her family who treated me as one of their own.
  • The vet, who helped me through going from a 4-kid family to a 3-kid family, operated on the kids, saw us through a couple of crazy doggie illnesses, waived his fees on more than one occasion, always asked how Jack was doing.
  • The ladies at Three Dog Bakery, who always told me about the doggies calling in and complaining that they weren't getting enough treats.
  • The therapists, gosh, I learned a lot about myself.
  • The pilates instructors, who taught me that exercise can be fun and funny and who pushed me to the next level.
  • The ladies at the Origins counter, who taught me a lot about make-up and got me having fun with make-up again and taking better of my skin.
  • The super secret boss for listening to me much more than any man I am not related to ever should and for giving me a great opportunity to expand my career horizon.
  • The doggies for keeping me grounded and keeping it all so real. (Easily could write a book titled, "Everything I ever needed to know I learned from my dogs".)
  • Jack Bauer for being the greatest husband I could ever wish for, for listening to me, for putting up with all my spouting about (and adopting some of) my self-improvement, for willing to grow with me, for willing to communicate with me, for willing to be himself when it could have been easier to shut up and shut down.
  • And, of course, you, my readers who have opened me to a new world of virtual support and sisterhood that is more tangible than anything else I have encountered, offering me words of encouragement, for laughing and crying with me. Thank you, my friends.
As with most thank you speeches, I am sure I missed someone. There are so many people that touched my life of the past 2+ years, good and bad, but I have learned from them all, and to me, that's what matters. For that is how I got to be me today.

Good News from Iraq: 19 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqis, servicemembers connect through tennis (Bagdad).

BAGHDAD – Military volunteers brought a bit of joy into the lives of Iraqi children as they introduced them to a little-known sport at Area 4, Iraqi Army base in western Baghdad, May 17.

These volunteers brought tennis to Iraqi children through the gift of donated tennis equipment. This equipment, for the children, brought joy to not only the young players, but to the Iraqi and Coalition servicemembers as well. Ernie Rains, the Central Alabama Tennis Association Community Coordinator, thought up the idea of donating tennis equipment to Iraqi children in order to hopefully soften a harsh lifestyle. His gift was realized through the coordinating efforts of friend, fellow CATAC member and Air Force Maj. Willliam O’Sullivan, a Multi-National Corps – Iraq Joint Operation Center chaplain.

"The idea Ernie thought up would enable us to connect with the local populace -- the folks who are distracted by the war," said O’Sullivan, 46, from Tampa, Fla., who is currently serving in Baghdad.

Before teaching the Iraqi children the sport of tennis, the servicemembers volunteered their time to first teach the sport to Iraqi Army Soldiers. These soldiers welcomed the chance to learn the game and interact with their Coalition counterparts.

“It was a good way for Coalition forces to interact with Iraqis in a more casual environment,” said Marine 1st Lt. Jessamy J. Buban, 25, from Black Diamond, Wash. Iraqi soldiers don’t usually have time for recreational activities. But, when they are engaged in sports, they are usually playing soccer or volleyball.

“For most of these guys it’s their first time playing tennis,” said an Army Special Forces master sergeant who was volunteering his off-duty time.

Following the round of tennis, the volunteers were treated to a “hospitable lunch” by Maj. Raheem, an IA civil affairs officer who coordinated the event for the Iraqi Army. After lunch, the Iraqi children made their appearance on the court.

The excited children were noticeably more chaotic to teach than the soldiers, especially after the balls and rackets were past out. The children were “just children” a point that struck home for many of the volunteers who were there.

“Kids playing games isn’t something that changes drastically among societies,” said Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Aaron A. Carr, 35 from Denver.

Carr, a father himself, couldn’t help but notice how much the children reminded him of his own son at home, despite the cultural differences.

“We thought an introduction to tennis would bridge the gap culturally,” O’Sullivan said. “We were right. When people get together, they can share a mutual joy over a sport. It’s something all cultures have in common.”

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sick as a dog

Where do these "dog" sayings come from? Sick as a dog. Working like a dog. Really, what dogs are working that hard? Granted my poochies have spent some time sick in the past couple of years, but I probably wouldn't have said they were "as sick as a dog." And they certainly don't work hard. Their only jobs are to patrol the camp and to keep us company. I'd like that job.

Anywho. I am sick as a dog today. Jack Bauer must have brought home some upper respiratory bug with him. I can barely talk. I've got chills, even though I am perfectly warm. (Thank goodness for Tylenol.) I probably didn't sleep more than 30 minutes at a time last night.

So it looks like it is truly a day of rest. Man, the couch is looking good right about now.

Good News from Iraq: 18 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police find large munitions cache in Mosul.

TIKRIT, Iraq – Iraqi Police in Mosul discovered a buried weapons cache of nearly 500 rounds of munitions while acting on intelligence, May 18.

An inventory of the unearthed items consisted of 120 60 mm, 220 82 mm and 100 120 mm rounds as well as 50 artillery rounds with rockets.

All materials were taken to 1 West for exploitation.

“The Iraqi Police are becoming increasingly proficient in discovering these caches,” said Maj. Peggy Kageleiry, spokesperson for Multi-National Division - North. “The Iraqi Police are paving the way for a safer and more prosperous nation.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Priceless

In less than 2 months, we will no longer reside in Middleville. So we are looking at the things we want to do around town before we head out.

Today we are doing one of them. I scored some sweet seats to today's baseball game. We haven't been to a game in the new stadium. (Those old law firm contacts sure come in handy for unwanted season tickets.)

Let's see what we need to take with us:

  • Sunscreen? Packed.
  • Binoculars (necessary to properly check out those guys in their white pants)? Both sets are in the car.
  • Umbrella (in case that sprinkle the weather guy is talking about actually pans out)? Thought about and almost in the bag.
  • Appropriate sports gear (hat, shirt, large finger, beer sipping cap)? Well, maybe just the hat and polo shirt.
  • Cash so we can buy $10 for a diet coke, $12 for a beer, $8 for a hot dog? Still need to get that.
  • Jack Bauer? Oh yeah, won't forget to take him.
This should be a fun day. You all doing anything fun this weekend?

Good News from Iraq: 17 May 2008

From MNF-I, U.S. General Cites Steady Progress in Baghdad, Basra, Mosul

BAGHDADIraqi and U.S. forces are making progress while performing counterinsurgency and reconstruction missions across Iraq, a senior U.S. military officer posted in Iraq said May 14.

Iraqi and coalition forces continue to make gains in establishing security and enforcing the rule of law in Baghdad, Mosul and Basra over the past week, Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, a Multi-National Force - Iraq spokesman, told reporters at a Baghdad news conference.

In Basra, Iraqi forces involved in an operation dubbed “Sawlat al Fursan,” or “Charge of the Knights,” are busily removing illegal weapons, fighting and arresting insurgents and other criminals and providing assistance to local citizens.

“The Iraqi security forces are maintaining a strong presence” in Basra, Bergner reported, noting Iraqi soldiers and police are setting up security stations throughout the city and chasing down insurgents.

About 3,000 Basra residents are involved in cleanup operations as part of a nearly $60 million program designed to improve the city’s health care system, municipal services, electricity provision capability, public communications and youth services, Bergner said.

Iraqi soldiers and coalition troops recently provided medical services to residents of Basra’s Qibla district, Bergner reported. And, at the Umm Qasr port, Iraqi sailors increased water-borne patrols by 20 percent, he added.

In Baghdad, Operation Enforcing the Law, or “Fardh al-Qanoon” in Arabic, continues onward, Bergner said, with Iraqi and coalition forces working in tandem with residents to increase security, restore essential services such as water, sewage and electricity, open businesses, build schools, and repair streets and dwellings.

A recent economic seminar held in Baghdad’s Hurriya sector drew more than 150 local businesses, Bergner said. Members of the neighborhood council told budding entrepreneurs how to obtain micro-loans to start up businesses, he said.

A Baghdad-based school for gifted students was reopened after being closed for seven months, Bergner said, and a new public works substation was opened in the Ghazaliyah district. The substation will provide four more sewage-collection trucks, six trash trucks, and other equipment to provide essential services.

However, Baghdad continues to be plagued by insurgent violence, Bergner acknowledged.

“Criminal violence continues to disrupt efforts by the government of Iraq and coalition forces to restore services, encourage business development, and ensure the safety of schools and other municipal activities,” Bergner said.

For example, an Iraqi army detachment in Sadr City was recently attacked by an insurgent’s roadside bomb, the general said.

“These attacks have caused loss of life and considerable hardship for innocent Iraqis, and seeing the attacks stop would be heartening,” Bergner said.

In Mosul, Iraqi forces have launched a new counterinsurgency offensive, Bergner reported.

The initial phase of the Mosul effort “has featured intensified operations by the Iraqi security forces and it is building on the operations that have been under way for the past several weeks,” Bergner explained.

“These Iraqi-planned, Iraqi-led operations have established bases and checkpoints in Mosul,” he continued, “and have featured numerous raids on al-Qaida in Iraq cells that are using indiscriminate violence to intimidate, assassinate and wound innocent people in the city.”

For example, the Iraqi and coalition forces-conducted Operation Lion’s Roar in Mosul has resulted in the detention of some 500 terrorists and criminals, Bergner reported. Scores of enemy weapons caches containing explosives, machine guns, mortars and ammunition, and more have been uncovered across the city, he added.

“Much of the recent progress we have seen in Basra, Baghdad and Mosul is due to the efforts of Iraqi security forces,” Bergner said.

Iraqi police posted in Baghdad’s Kut, Yusufiyah and Radwaniyah districts have embarked on security patrols in recent weeks to uncover corruption and to improve neighborhood security and police station operations, Bergner said.

And recent police and recruiting drives for “Sons of Iraq” citizen security groups across Baghdad have shown Iraqis from all communities volunteering to protect their country, Bergner observed, adding that nearly 500 new Iraqi police officers recently graduated from the Baghdad police academy.

In addition, about 43,000 new Iraqi soldiers completed basic combat training this year, Bergner said. In April, some 700 Iraqi army engineers completed six months of extensive training in electrical and pipeline repair and explosives ordnance disposal, he added.

Several Iraqi military engineering graduates helped to build two floating bridges in Beiji that connect Salahuddin and Kirkuk, Bergner said.

By these accomplishments, Iraqi military forces demonstrated “that they are not only improving security, but they are also providing reconstruction support to help local communities,” Bergner told reporters.

Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces continue to gain the confidence of the citizens they serve, while “increasing their capacity to hold onto hard-fought gains,” the general said.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Back to work

So it is Friday and I am going back to work. Hmmm.

I've had a whole week off to spend with Jack Bauer and get some of the big things done around the homefront. We bought a new car, got some of the house moving-selling things done. Luckily, a big potential problem was inspected and seems to be just fine and dandy. Even got a video of its fineness and dandiness!

I hope we set things up enough for Jack to begin to feel like he might be able to settle in before we pack up and leave for good. Which is a crazy notion. But, hey, this is the Army and it's going to be a crazy 7 weeks until we hit the road for school and a Residence Inn with 2 dogs.

Good News from Iraq: 16 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Army captures Special Groups cell leader in Husayniyah.

BALAD, Iraq – The Iraqi Army captured a mid-level Special Groups cell leader in Husayniyah, responsible for coordinating improvised explosive device, rocket and smallarms fire attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces, approximately 30 km north of Baghdad, May 15.

Iraqi Army soldiers conducted the operation to capture the Special Groups cell leader whose cell conducted attacks against the ISF and CF as recent as April 22.

These criminals emplaced explosively-formed penetrators and conducted indirect fire attacks against static Coalition force positions. Three additional suspects were detained.

“The capture of this cell leader will likely affect the ability of Special Groups criminals in Husayniyah to conduct attacks against Iraqi Security and Coalition forces,” said Col. Bill Buckner, MNC-I spokesman. “This will prevent Special Groups leadership from exploiting the city as a safe haven.”

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A man doing man-like things

Obviously it is wonderful just having Jack Bauer home.

This morning, Jack is doing manly things. He is talking and watching and hanging out with the sewer guy who came to inspect our 70+-year-old sewer line. He is walking around with a coffee cup in his hand and asking all sorts of boy questions that I would never think to ask.

It is so cool to have a man back in this house. :D

Good News from Iraq: 15 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Security Forces Obtain New Counter IED System.

BAGHDAD — Coalition military police forces here will soon be freed up on extra convoy duties that Iraqi security forces will take over.

As of 2006 the Government of Iraq has engaged in a $51 million contract to purchase 411 Symphony counter-improved explosive device jammers. After numerous technical and administrative delays fielding is now underway within the Baghdad area of operation.

“Along with tier one and two vehicles the system will also be distributed to a number of Iraqi forces as well,” said Coen McFarland, Program Office Liaison. “These forces include the Iraqi Special Operation Forces, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of the Interior elements to include the Iraqi Army, police, national police and explosive ordinance disposal units.”

The contract was funded through Foreign Military Sales for the Symphony systems. Along with the 411 Symphony systems which cost around $78,000 a piece the contract will include a nine month support and sustainment contract from original equipment manufacturer Lockheed Martin to ensure the units function properly and the Iraqis can properly utilize the systems to their full advantage.

“If an electronic module is determined as faulty, a spare is provided while the module is repaired at depot level which will then be cycled back into the spares to replace what was taken,” said McFarland. “They will also be providing the most up to date electronic threat fill that will determine how the system operates when in use.”

The system is already up and running in a few vehicles with more slated within the next month and the rest of the systems to be fully employed by summer.

“To field the remaining systems this summer the fielding efforts will be transitioned from here to Taji,” said McFarland. “The Taji National Depot will be our long term Symphony installation and maintenance facility after the transition.”

The new Symphony system along with freeing up additional coalition troops will provide many added benefits to the Government of Iraq in the near future.

“This system will afford the Iraqi security forces long tern, independent counter-IED protection and relieves coalition troops from this responsibility sot he latter may perform other tasks,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Willie Flucker, MNSTC-I Theatre Symphony program manager. “This system is a critical part of security transition from the Coalition forces to the Government of Iraq and integral to developing ISF into a long-term partner in the global war on terror.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This and that

Nothing quite like vacation to throw off the schedule. I've been off work for a few days so Jack Bauer and I could take care of stuff and begin to readjust to living together.

After a couple of test drives, a ton of emails, and more phone calls received than during the entirety of the deployment, we bought a car. Once we got an email with a nice low quote, we went back to the dealer and negotiated a great price. And with financing in hand, we were able to get a better interest rate, too. So WOOHOO, I got a new Honda CRV! Dark blue. Since I was 18, I have driven red cars. This must be me entering my "Blue Period." Anyway, I am super excited. And a new car is definitely better than jewelry as a "surviving deployment present." (OK, so we actually needed a second car, and we had decided long ago that I get the next new car. Of course, we didn't need a second car until Jack came home.) But now we've got a red car and a blue car sitting in our white garage. :D

Also yesterday, I registered for the September 6 SpouseBuzz Live Event in Norfolk, VA. Jack will be in school not to terribly far away. Might even bring other spouses who are also at this school. I am very much looking forward to meeting those of you who live in that area. See you then.:D

Good News from Iraq: 14 May 2008

From MNF-I, Kazakhstani Troops Keep Water Flowing at COP Murray.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — Six Kazakhstani soldiers completed a transfer of operations at Combat Outpost Murray May 8 that will provide Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, with clean, drinkable water.

The Kazakhstani Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit (ROWPU) team’s equipment pumps water directly from the Tigris River and filters it in large bladders that desalinate and distill it, reducing the risk of waterborne diseases. Their equipment has the capacity to produce 2,500 gallons of drinkable water per hour, enough to provide Soldiers with clean water for laundry and shower facilities.

The ROWPU team took over water purification operations from the 26th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. The 26th BSB’s ROWPU team had been treating water for Soldiers in the area since late May 2007.

The Kazakhstani team arrived at COP Murray May 4 and spent the following three days setting up their operation. By May 8, their water was tested and approved for use.

“Kazakhstani Soldiers have a good relationship with American Soldiers,” said Capt. Ilyasov Askar, translator for the Kazakh unit. “The base we came from had soldiers from six or seven countries on it, and we would invite each other to celebrations of the different holidays.”

The team was previously stationed at FOB Delta in Wasit Province. There are 29 Kazakh soldiers currently deployed in Iraq, Askar said.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 13 May 2008

From MNF-I, Raiders conduct clearing operations, net weapons cache and detainees (Baghdad).

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq – Multi-National Division – Baghdad soldiers conducted clearing operations that netted a weapons cache and seven detainees, suspected of attacks on Coalition forces and Iraqi civilians, in the West Rashid district of southern Baghdad May 10-11.

At approximately 5:30 p.m. May 10, in the Bayaa neighborhood, soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, detained a suspected criminal wanted for attacks against Coalition forces and the killing of innocent Iraqi citizens.

At approximately 12:11 a.m. May 11, soldiers from Co. A, 1-22 IR, seized two rocket-propelled grenades, a hand grenade and a high-explosive anti-tank round while conducting a combat patrol in the al-Amil neighborhood.

Soldiers from Company B, 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, attached to the 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div., detained three suspected criminals while conducting point-specific operations in the al-Risalah neighborhood May 11.

Soldiers from Co. C, 4-64 AR, attached to the 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div., detained three known criminals while conducting clearing operations in the al-Risalah neighborhood May 11.

“Information from concerned Iraqi citizens greatly contributed to the finds made by Iraqi Security Forces and the Raider Brigade,” said Maj. Dave Olson, spokesman for 1st BCT, 4th Inf. Div. “The Iraqi citizens are a powerful source in stopping the violence.”

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thinking about what's next

So Jack Bauer's been home for a few days and I don't have to go back to work until the end of the week. We've been hanging out, thinking about all the stuff we've got to do for our next moves. We're both anxious overthinkers so we kinda have to think through some of this stuff and come up with a plan to move twice in the next 6 months. And attempt to relax and have some fun while doing that. It's a challenge for me, but this is the stuff I have been working on myself for the last 2 years so I plan to make it will stick.

Today's project: test driving for a new car purchase. Will it be the Honda CRV or the Toyota RAV4?

Then it will be laundry list of things the real estate agent gave us to think about.

One other project: Do as many things as possible from the local magazine's list of 101 things every ____an must do. First up today is coffee at my favorite coffeehouse. :D

Good News from Iraq: 12 May 2008

From MNF-I, Village of Hope Graduates Ready to Rebuild.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — The Village of Hope graduated its first class of students May 8 in a ceremony held at Patrol Base Stone in Hawr Rajab, south of Baghdad.

The 42 graduating students spent the past three months learning plumbing, electrical and construction skills at the Village of Hope training facility. The program is aimed at teaching local citizens valuable career skills, with the added benefit of rebuilding their community. The students, many of them former Sons of Iraq, will continue their training outside the classroom by renovating structures in the area.

Hawr Rajab was devastated last year by al-Qaeda in Iraq, said town council chairman, Sheikh Ali Majid, who attended the graduation ceremony. AQI fighters burned houses, stole goods and used many structures for storing weapons and building bombs, he said. Now that violence has subsided in the area, its residents can move on.

“The first thing we need to do is rebuild our homes,” Majid said.

As part of a year-long program, Airmen of the 557th Expeditionary Red Horse Squadron, working with Soldiers of the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, will continue their work with students by providing on-site supervision of the reconstruction efforts.

“The real concentrated effort is to make sure the students, after their 90 days of academic and technical training, continue to develop their skill sets so they become true craftsmen,” said Air Force liaison Senior Master Sgt. Casey Wieland.

The new graduates will achieve this by renovating damaged houses in Hawr Rajab selected by the town council, Wieland said. Then they will progress to commercial and industrial projects, developing a wider range of practical skills and knowledge.

Community rebuilding will also reinforce the training they’ve received at the Village of Hope, said training superintendant Air Force Master Sgt. Steven Brooks, of Navarre, Fla.

“Hopefully, by the time they get to that point, the renovations will have trained them to the level we need them to be, so they can go out and work on their own,” Brooks said.

Part of the continuing program is to train students to be not only tradesmen, but supervisors as well, Brooks said.

“Our guys will actually be out there with them initially supervising and still training, but eventually these guys will be doing it themselves,” he said.

Air Force Capt. Michael Askegren, Village of Hope site commander, encouraged the graduates to continue their training as they work in the community.

“You have a long way to go,” he told the graduates. “I want to challenge you to stay with the program. When you’re done rebuilding Hawr Rajab, you’ll feel a great sense of pride in your community.”

Majid congratulated the students and said he looked forward to what they will accomplish next.

“Now they can rebuild Hawr Rajab on their own. They won’t need help from someone else,” he said.

Three more classes of 50 students each are scheduled to follow over the next year.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 11 May 2008

From MNF-I, MND-B soldiers rescue kidnap victim (Baghdad).

CAMP TAJI, Iraq – Multi-National Division – Baghdad soldiers rescued a kidnapped Iraqi citizen May 8 near Ibrahim Bin Ali, northwest of Baghdad.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment “Gimlets,” 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team “Warrior,” 25th Infantry Division, acted on tips from Iraqi Army soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, 1st Iraqi Army Division, in addition to tips provided by Iraqi Police and Sons of Iraq (Abna al-Iraq) members.

The suspected kidnappers were detained and are being held for further questioning.

“U.S. soldiers, in full partnership with Iraqi Security Forces, are aggressively pursuing criminals and terrorists, especially those who directly threaten the lives of Iraqi citizens,” said Col. Bill Buckner, MNC-I spokesman. “With the restoration of security, we see the Government of Iraq more able to provide essential services for the people – and that’s the goal.”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

1,000

So that friendly competition where Jack Bauer was rushing to get home before I finished writing 1,000 cards for our wounded soldiers for Soldiers' Angels Germany. Well the competition is over. Jack Bauer made it home. But I had finished writing all the cards two days before. But we mailed 159 cards yesterday.

Running total: 1,000

Here's the link to the post that got me started. If you want more information on how to start your own letter/card writing campaign (or other volunteer opportunities), visit Soldiers' Angels Germany (look at the "Year-round Projects" in the right-hand column of links).

Thank you, AWTM, for making me aware of the incredible opportunity. And a HUGE THANK YOU to MaryAnn who dedicates countless hours to Soldiers' Angels making sure that no Soldier goes unloved. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Good News from Iraq: 10 May 2008

From MNF-I, Inaugural Anbar Security Conference held (Fallujah).

CAMP FALLUJAH, Iraq – Multi-National Force – West hosted the inaugural Anbar Security Conference aboard Camp Fallujah May 8.

Approximately 40 key leaders from the Iraqi Army, police, Department of Border Enforcement and the Provincial Security Force participated in the event.

Anbar’s security situation and Iraqi Security Force organization were discussed during the conference.

As Anbar Province progresses toward significant events, such as voter registration, elections and Provincial Iraqi Control, ISF coordination will be essential to ensuring the security and safety of Anbar’s citizens.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

There's no place like home!


He made it home.

Oh, happy day!

T-1 hour

We went from waiting and waiting to hurrying and hurrying.

I learned abotu 4 hours ago that he was coming home tonight. And now I just found out he'll be here in 1 hour rather than 2.5!!

Gotta get dressed! My life is about to change. :D

Still waiting

Gotta a little snafu at the demob station. Homecoming is now waiting on one piece of paper. One little piece of paper. One little teeny tiny piece of paper that is worth a whole lotta money.

Hopefully it will get straightened out in time for him to come home tomorrow. If not, then maybe the next day, or the next day, or perhaps the day after that. Or not. I am sure he'll get here ... some day.

Good News from Iraq: 8 May 2008

From MNF-I, First Iraqi Comedy in Wasit since 2003.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELTA — Actors from the popular Iraqi sitcom, “Mud House,” performed the first comedic play May 4 in Wasit Province since 2003.

“People and People” conveyed Iraqi life from a comedic perspective to entertain the Wasit audience and give them hope and optimism for the future, as described by the actors, An’am al-Rubay’ai, Ali Dakhil and Majid Yasin.

Fifteen hundred people filled the Municipality Hall in al-Kut to see the play, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of State in coordination with the 214th Fires Brigade and the Iraqi Police.

The IP estimated another 3,000 people were waiting outside the theater, said Vanessa Beary, public diplomacy officer for the Wasit Provincial Reconstruction Team.

“The large turnout was a positive indicator of Wasit’s desire for a return to normalcy,” she said.

Colonel Peter Baker, commander of the 214th FB, said the event was very well received.

“It was impossible not to be caught up with the audience’s laughter,” he said. “It was a very light and joyful mood.

“Attending the play, I was challenged by the language barrier, but the actors were so good at acting their comedic parts that it transcended both language and cultural barriers,” Baker said.

The event granted the people of Wasit an opportunity to forget their troubles, if only for a night, Baker said.

“Perhaps it is a turning point for the quality of life for Iraqi citizens in Wasit,” he said. “I see it as a high point: life returning to normal for people in Wasit.”

Iraqi Security Forces handled security for the event.

This showed a big step forward in security and a good community gathering, said 1st Lt. Randy Heath, a platoon leader for Company F, 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), from Fort Campbell, Ky.

“The community had trust in the security provided by the Iraqi Police and the Iraqi Army,” he said. “They seemed to really enjoy the play.”

Baker said ISF remained conscious of the opportunity for mishap because of the large number of people gathered. “It’s an indication of the growth of their capabilities. They are more proactive and organized. There were no incidents.”

Because of the large turnout, the actors held an encore performance May 5.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

It is different from leave

Waiting for Jack Bauer to get home this time is different from waiting for him to come home on leave. Now that he is in the US, I've relaxed a bit. I guess it now feels like he is on a business trip. The chances of him getting hit by a stray mortar is unlikely. He is more likely to get injured using his cell phone in a rain storm or a storm of flying cheese curds.

Oh, I am still excited about him coming home in a few days. But it is a calm excitement. The frenetic vibe that accompanies scurrying around to get last minute things done is not happening here. Sure, I'll get the laundry put away, and I might even get clean sheets on the bed. Maybe I'll get something other than yogurt and bottled water for the fridge. Maybe we'll stop at the grocery store on the way home. Or maybe we'll just get some take-out.

Good News from Iraq: 7 May 2008

From ABC News, Lifesaving Mission to Repair Iraqi Boy's Heart.

For the past year, a group of Marines in western Iraq have gone on patrol with an Iraqi police lieutenant, Hammad Muhammad. Muhammad gradually became their friend. When they learned that his 5-year-old son, Ammar, had a life-threatening heart problem, the Marines made it their mission to save the boy.

Ammar suffered from a fairly common congenital heart defect called tetralogy of fallot, which deprives the blood of its oxygen. In the United States, it is treated by a routine operation before a child's first birthday. But Ammar, without surgery in Iraq, was expected to die in a few years.

"I can't think of a better way to demonstrate our friendship than to try to save the life of a young child," Maj. Kevin Jarrard of the U.S. Marines told ABC News.

The Marines collected $7,500 for two round-trip tickets from Iraq to Jordan to Charleston, S.C., and the Children's Hospital of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Marines had convinced several Rotary Clubs there, through a Gift of Life grant, to pay for the needed surgery.

"This is an innocent child whose father is risking his life daily with the United States Marine Corp," Rotary Club member Steve Peper said. "I'm an old Marine and it tugged at my heart. I said, 'Look, we've got to do this'."

Peper and his family housed the Iraqi family for more than a week while the boy underwent preoperative tests. A Google Web site helped the two families communicate by translating English sentences into Arabic.

"I'm a father, and he's a father, and there is no language barrier between dads trying to protect their children." Peper said.

Finally, Ammar was ready for open-heart surgery. During the four-hour surgery, doctors patched a hole in Ammar's beating heart and widened a critical blood vessel to his lungs. The operation succeeded. Within a few days, Ammar was feeling much better, and his heart was finally working normally.

"I thank them," his father said. "These are people I will never forget."

Here is the link to the video.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Competition where losers are winners too

Jack Bauer and I have a friendly little competition going on. The kind of competition where we all win in the end. He is trying to get home before I reach my one stated goal of this deployment: to write 1,000 cards for Soldiers' Angels Germany.

I was on schedule to do this no problem until March became an insane month. And, well, life happened and card writing got pushed to the bottom of the list.

As of March 13, I had sent 841 cards to our wounded Soldiers. That means only 159 left to do. I started writing them again a few weeks ago. But picked up the pace dramatically last weekend when I cranked out 41; never made it to the post office though. So the cards piled up on my dining room table (glad to see the table is being used for something useful these days).

And now that Jack Bauer is much closer to being home, I thought I would just try to crank out as many cards as humanly possible. A great representation of the end of this marathon of a deployment and typical of me working best under pressure. Jack is going to try to get home as soon as humanly possible, but we don't really know when that will be. Maybe the faster I write, the sooner he will get home.

Well, I'd better be getting back to writing cards. I've got just 14 left to go. And I better prepare MaryAnn for the box she is about to get. :D

Good News from Iraq: 6 May 2008

From MNF-I, SOI recover cache in Kartani Fahal village.

BAGHDAD – A local citizen’s tip led to a cache find in Kartani Fahal village in Sadr al-Yusifiyah, about 25 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, May 3.

After receiving the tip, Soldiers from 187th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), arrived on the scene to find Abna al-Iraq, or Sons of Iraq, already recovering the cache, with Iraqi Army troops providing security.

The cache contained 36 mortars, 17 rocket-propelled grenade rounds, 11 rocket-propelled grenade launch motors, an improvised rocket launcher, two rockets, a hand grenade, seven 50-pound bags of homemade explosives, over 300 rounds, and 400 blasting cap primers, a mortar tripod and three mortar tube sites as well as other bomb making materials.

The items were detonated on site by explosive ordnance disposal personnel.

Monday, May 5, 2008

CDT

Jack Bauer is now in the same time zone I am. WooHoo! We get to talk on the phone now and not wonder about how many hours different it is. The math has gone out the window.

Yesterday I think we talked on the phone at least 7 times while he was trying to transit from the East Coast to the middle. That is really special for us. We hardly ever spoke on the phone during this deployment. It was just too much pressure to try to fill some time when we'd basically said everything that was going on in e-mail and IM. He'd call me when he needed to hear my voice.

But now, that has instantly changed. I can pick up the phone and call him. Whenever I like. Aside from leave, I haven't been able to really do that for almost 2 years. I might have to call him on my way home from work. Just because I can. Yes, I am feeling quite smug about this. :D

Good News from Iraq: 5 May 2008

From MNF-I, EFP Cache Found in Warij.

FORWARD OPERATING BASE KALSU — Coalition forces found a weapons cache of explosively-formed penetrators in the southern Baghdad community of Warij May 2.

Soldiers from 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division were on patrol in Warij and found four EFPs hidden in an office closet shelf of a factory. A brand new 107 mm rocket was also discovered. The EFPs were covered with foam and had wires leading from the back.

Forty pounds of unknown bulk explosives, a rocket sled and blasting caps were also found.

A guard at the factory was detained after it was determined that he lied about having prior knowledge about the rocket and EFPs.

The cache was taken to a nearby forward operating base for investigation.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

CONUS

Jack Bauer has officially made it to the US.

Now it is on to his demobilation station. He is dembbing by himself. We don't know how long it will take; hopefully just a few days.

Then he'll be home.

And this whole deployment will be done.

Good News from Iraq: 4 May 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi, Coalition Soldiers Distribute Food, Toys to Families in Need.

FOB DELTA — Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and American Soldiers recently gave humanitarian assistance to more than 200 families in the Zuwarijat district of al-Kut, 163 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, as part of Operation Thunder II.

The humanitarian mission furthered the operation’s goal of establishing a permanent ISF presence in the area.

During Operation Thunder II, ISF occupied three buildings to serve as temporary joint security stations until a permanent facility is built, said Col. Peter Baker, commander of the 214th Fires Brigade.

“This is the first time since I came to al-Kut that ISF has come into and stayed in an area with no permanent ISF presence,” Baker said.

Zuwarijat, like the Sadr area of Baghdad, was used by Saddam Hussein as a place for people he considered undesirable, said Capt. Hayder Ali Adnan, of the Iraqi Police (IP). The standard of living is very low.

The ISF moved into the area to show residents of Zuwarijat the strength of the security forces and give them the opportunity to support ISF in finding criminals, Adnan said.

The Iraqi Army led the mission, with the support of IP and assistance in planning from American forces, Baker said.

“I think the joint security mission and the assistance mission was very effective and successful,” Adnan said. “The distribution mission was good.”

Baker said the missions were a good example of ISF growth.

“They are more skilled and better with planning. It’s a tremendous growth in capacity in a short time,” he said.

Baker said he was pleased with the results of the operation, but warned that the future stability of the area is far from assured.

“It’s only been a week, but it’s been a good week,” he said.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

A shift

A noticeable shift has happened in the last few days.

I'm not sure how else to describe it. Small things, barely perceptible to me. But enough little things to make me notice. Things like noticing that the grass is greener. (OK, yes, it is spring, but you know what I mean.)

I'm finding myself wanting to do things that I used to all the time when Jack Bauer was home. I've begun listening to more music. I want to pull out my camera, which has been sitting neglected in its bag hardly used in the last 2 years. A lightness is emerging.

I think this must be me starting to exhale.

Good News from Iraq: 3 May 2008

From MNF-I, Sons of Iraq Help Secure Fuhail Village.

PATROL BASE YATES — As part of their commitment to keeping insurgents away, members of the Sons of Iraq built a checkpoint on a narrow stretch of road through Fuhail Mujeer Village, 25 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, last week.

As recently as December, Rakkasan Soldiers of 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), established a presence in the area, which was previously an insurgent safe haven.

Now Soldiers from 2nd Platoon, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, assigned to their battalion’s Company D, are living at the newly built Patrol Base Yates and working with the SoI to maintain security in the area.

The first of eight SoI checkpoints was constructed in mid-March approximately 400 meters north of the site where a Rakkasan Soldier was wounded by an improvised explosive device. Working their way toward the patrol base, checkpoints have been placed in strategic locations along the road to deter insurgent activity.

Increasing the SoI’s ability to maintain the security on the road benefits both the Soldiers and the village, said 1st Lt. Michael Nolan, from San Antonio, platoon leader for 2nd Platoon.

With the SoI working to maintain security, there is less need for Coalition Soldiers to patrol the area, keeping the Soldiers safer and the road less congested for traffic. It also brings peace of mind to the Soldiers when they do patrol the village.

“When we first went out there, there weren’t any SoI checkpoints,” Nolan said. “It was a little nerve-wracking … Now that we have SoI checkpoints nearly 500 meters apart, with clear lines of sight between them, we know it will hinder insurgents’ abilities to plant (IEDs).”

With the SoI improving their hold on security in the village, Nolan is able to increase his platoon’s reach and presence in the area while reducing the enemy’s capabilities.

“Having a presence in (the area) and having SoI checkpoints on the road through the Fuhail Mujeer Village shows we’re taking the area back from the insurgents, pushing them further and further out and giving them no safe havens,” he said.