Friday, October 31, 2008

I'm alive

Over the last couple of weeks, I've started about 5 blog posts and run out of steam before I could get them developed.

I'm busy settling in here. I'm still looking for a job; I've applied for about 20 so far. Our house in Middleville is still on the market, in case you are interested in buying it or know someone who is.

We went to a backyard BBQ for a visiting general. That was great. Met a bunch of spouses who seem like wonderful, smart people.

I still have several boxes to unpack. We still have not found the toaster. I mean really. It's a toaster oven, there are only so many boxes that can hold something that big. Naturally it will be in the last place we look. ;-)

I'm having a great deal of trouble adjusting to the altitude here. Which is to say that I am going to bed early and sleeping up to 10 hours a night, every night. People say it takes a couple of months to adjust.

I'll be back to full-writing steam soon, I am sure.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Good News from Iraq: 27 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Rainy Day Doesn’t Stop Sadr City Business, Employment Fair.

BAGHDAD — Heavy rains flooded the streets in front of the Sadr City District council building, but that didn’t stop a deluge of more than 150 Iraqi business owners and hundreds more Iraqi residents from the first business and employment fair in the popular Baghdad district, Oct. 25.

A colorful tent longer than a football field was erected on the street in front of the Sadr City District Advisory Council for the Sadr City Road Show where business owners from the region compared services and highlighted their wares to an anxious crowd of citizens and non-government organizations (NGO).

Organizers said the overall purpose of the event was to establish a business directory, highlight services available to business and to the people, and to demonstrate economic development in the region.

“The idea is to spotlight local business owners and NGO, to gather everyone in one place, get national and local government involved, and let the people voice their concerns,” said Raad Omar, CEO of the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Omar, members of the district council and regional market councils organized the event to demonstrate to the rest of Iraq and the world that after months of destructive fighting and subsequent reconstruction, Sadr City is open for business.

“A key objective is to make people see how safe the area is now,” said Sheik Mohammed Haraj Azeez, chairman of the Jamilla Market council.

The Jamilla Market is the largest market in north Baghdad and during the months of March through May absorbed much of the fighting between Multi-National Division – Baghdad Soldiers and their partners in the Iraqi Army against Special Groups criminals who extorted money from business owners to fund their attacks and intimidation of civilians.

Azeez said business in the Jamilla Market is growing rapidly again thanks in part to reconstruction efforts and economic development programs like micro-grants from MND-B and the government of Iraq.

“A few months ago, many businesses were destroyed,” Azeez said. “Today we answer the question on how we are doing now.”

Omar said Sadr City now joins five other districts of Baghdad where the road show has promoted growth and development, creating jobs and new opportunities for entrepreneurs ready to put violence behind them.

“We want to show the people that Sadr City is ready to move on,” Omar said.

The Sadr City Road Show culminated Oct. 26 adding to an expanding Baghdad business directory.

Omar said the success of this road show, even under driving rain, inspires hope that Sadr City will again host such an economically important event in the near future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Cav Canyon Spouses' Club Luncheon

On Wednesday I attended my first spouses' club luncheon here. I went with my kindest stranger friend. We picked up another spouse, who was also new to the area.

The flyer for the event indicated there would be interactive events. Hmmm. Sounds a tad like forced fun to me. I was skeptical and kept my expectations low, which helps keep the disappointment level down.

So we arrive at the activity center on post. First, I was thinking it would be some run-down, single-room banquet facility. But actually, it is quite nice. Simple, clean, well maintained, and has loads of possibilities for hosting all sorts of events, big and small. Must keep this in mind if I am ever hosting an event.

I was warmly greeted by the cub members. Everyone was relaxed and chatty and clearly here to have a good time. When I am around people like that, it is hard for me to not be the same way. Phew! People here are, well, just like people everywhere I guess. Nice to know.

OK. So the events. The first thing they had us do was a simple treasure hunt-type activity. We had to seek out five clues and figure out what smashed the pumpkin that decorated the entryway. The clues took us around the large banquet room edged with several vendors selling jewelry, decorative signs and glass blocks, and items from local and regional artists. (I did resist buying this time around.) At the end, we dropped our guesses into a pot. Not a bad activity to get people to move around the room especially for those who would otherwise be inclined to sit down at a table during the social hour.

A couple of speakers. Then lunch, which was actually quite tasty. We had German-themed food, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised. I hope other meals there are just as flavorful. After lunch, a couple more speakers then the interactive stuff. Each table had to come up with a theme for a fall party, plan the menu, create a game, stuff and decorate a scarecrow, and decorate or carve a pumpkin. The kindest stranger and I took on the pumpkin and set about carving it. Mind you, the entire time I was using the flimsy carving tool, I was talking about my knife-meets-thumb injury from last February. This did not instill confidence in those around me. It has been maybe a decade since I last carved a pumpkin and I had never used one of these carving tools. But this was a timed event and there was only so much that could be done. The pumpkin turned out good enough (we used stencils). Each team had to demonstrate its game. Some were pretty funny. One team dressed up one of the spouses as the scarecrow rather than stuffing empty jeans and shirt. That was really cute.

After a lot of laughing and some great company, the luncheon was over. On my way out, I picked up a membership application. So far, it looks like it might be a great group to join.

And I got to bring my carved pumpkin home. :D

Good News from Iraq: 24 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, General Says Economic Progress Now Tops Anbar Priorities.

WASHINGTON — With life returning to normal in Iraq’s Anbar province, the way forward now is driven more by the economy than security, the commander of Multi-National Force - West said yesterday.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John F. Kelly spoke to Pentagon reporters from his headquarters in Fallujah (Transcript). He said Coalition forces continue to mentor Iraqi security forces, but the Iraqis are in the lead and have become more capable and confident.

Anbar has been under provincial Iraqi control since the beginning of September, and the Coalition and Iraqi forces are putting in place policies that minimize the military disruption to life in the province.

“We started a share-the-road program, where no longer would Iraqi traffic have to do anything particularly different when they came upon military convoys,” Kelly said. The command also moved most of the convoys off the roads during the day. The long lines of military vehicles and civilian big rigs now travel between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

“We started to tear down literally hundreds of checkpoints,” the general said. The need for the checkpoints is past, he said, noting he has launched “kind of an operation Rudy Giuliani” that cleans up the cities. Rolling up the barbed wire helps convince the average Anbari that the improved security situation is real, he said.

The Coalition forces in Anbar are still engaged, but are in an overwatch posture, he said. “We still have Marines and some U.S. Army Soldiers as police advisors that still live inside police stations, but down to a very small number,” he said. The Iraqis are, for all intents and purposes, on their own, the general told reporters.

The Iraqi government is funding more projects in the province. In fact, Kelly said, he actually turned in Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) money and has recommended the amount allotted be reduced next year. CERP provides commanders with money for local reconstruction and infrastructure projects.

About 28,000 Iraqi Police serve in the province, along with 9,000 Iraqi Soldiers and roughly 25,000 Coalition Marines and Soldiers.

While the security situation in the province is vastly improved compared to 2006, when Marine planners said Anbar had been lost to al-Qaida, it can still change, Kelly warned.

“Anbar is not an island,” he said. “If it was an island, we could look at doing certain things in terms of drawdown, but it's not. We have al-Qaida still here in Iraq. I'd characterize them as … ‘al-Qaida refugees.’ They're hiding out. The insurgency has lost its network; it's lost the support of the people.”

Though individual cells of terrorists remain, the general said, the insurgency has been de-clawed.

Now the impetus has to be on building essential services and providing jobs, and ensuring the Iraqi government is imposing the rule of law in the province, he said. Still, the Coalition continues to have a mission.

“Even though we're beyond the kinetic combat-type mission, there's … a sense of security we bring, particularly as we roll into the elections, which they very much look forward to,” Kelly said. “I believe most of [the Iraqis] would tell you that after the elections – so long as they go well and they're transparent and all of that – … I think they'll start to really settle down and be comfortable with their own central government and with themselves.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Ladies who lunch

I'm off to my first spouses club luncheon today.

Well, to say that it is a luncheon is an understatement. It starts at 1030 and goes until 1300. A social hour, raffles, lunch, gifts for sale.

All I know is that very kind stranger is picking me up, and I have a Lightning McQueen for a stocking stuffer.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what to expect, but I'll be sure to let you know what happens.

Good News from Iraq: 22 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Security level allows 1000s to view soccer match in Samara.

SAMARRA, Iraq – Thousands of spectators filled the stands at the Samarra Sports Complex to witness a soccer match between club teams from Samarra and Baghdad Oct. 19.

As a show of the level of security the city is now experiencing, thousands were able to gather and watch as Football Club Samarra defeated Football Club Baghdad Student Union 3-1.

This match marked the first time two soccer teams were able to play in the once embattled city since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Several months ago, Coalition and Iraqi Security forces were clashing with enemy fighters inside the city in an attempt to rid it of insurgent activity.

ISF provided the overall security for the event and the match ended with no incidents.

“Through the cooperation of Iraqi Security Forces, Sons of Iraq and Coalition forces and the active support of the city’s residents, Samarra is now safe enough to host a soccer game that attracted thousands of spectators,” said Lt. Col. JP McGee, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment commander. “This soccer game holds huge significance for Samarra and all of Iraq. After years of violence and unrest, Samarra has expelled terrorists and established a degree of security unimaginable a year ago.”

McGee said the fact that a team from Baghdad could travel to Samarra, play in a soccer match and then return home safely represents a return of normalcy to Iraq and the reuniting of the country.

“Samarra's triumph makes it all the more special,” he said. “In this type of struggle, victory will not be marked by a formal surrender ceremony as in past conflicts. Rather, events like this soccer game will herald Iraq’s triumph over terrorism and Iraq’s reemergence as a strong, united nation."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

TDY Lesson on Stuff

Things for me to remember the next time we do a long TDY and will be staying at a Residence Inn.

I think it was Sarah who suggested taking things to make the space a little more like home. We did that. We took several pictures, including the one that Jack Bauer had carted all over Iraq. We also took several throws and Jack had the pillowcase that some nice stranger had sent him while he was deployed. I think those touches made the space feel much more like our own.

Other super handy things: laundry basket, actually two laundry baskets. I spent quite a bit of time in the laundry room and folding laundry. I watched many people attempt to carry there clothes in the small laundry bags the hotel provides, in small bags from stores, in their arms. I pakced my clothes in the laundry baskets when I left for C-ville. When we left for Cav Canyon, one doubled as a box.

Low storage containers. We had three with us and with lids off, they fit perfectly under the bed. Since we had more clothes than space to store them, these were great for daily duty as drawers. We packed some kitchen items in them when we came and when we left.

A color printer. I was able to do my work and I made a card for a 4-year-old's birthday. We used the printer a startling amount. I am glad we had it with us. I used a big plastic container as my office storage space and put the printer on top.

Kitchen items. We knew that there would be the basics in the kitchenette, so we brought what we thought we'd need. A large wok. A good solid skillet. (The pots and pans provided were thin bottomed and I burned more things than I can possibly recall.) Our own knife set in a traveling knife case. A rice cooker. (Someone brought their slow cooker.) Four fiesta plates and two bowls. Salt and pepper grinders. Cloth napkins. A large cutting board.

Some things I bought once we were in C-ville. Kitchen towels. One per day was insufficient for me, and I couldn't seem to get them to part with three clean ones at a time. I bought some cheap ones at Bed Bath and Beyond. A little over-the-cabinet-door bar for hanging the towels on so they could dry. A lemon juicer. Dishwasher detergent. I got tired real fast of asking for extra everyday. Placemats. Since it was summer, I bought a second bathing suit.

Next time. I would bring our own vegetable peeler. The one in the room was super wimpy. Peeling carrots with a wimpy vegetable peeler makes me grouchy.

Good News from iraq: 21 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Primary school opens in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD – The Al Furtain Primary School opened in Baghdad’s Mansour district Oct. 12.

The ceremony marked the completion of renovations brought about through the combined efforts of members of the Khadra Neighborhood Advisory Council and the Mansour District Advisory Council, Iraqi Security and Coalition forces.

These groups worked together to add new windows, new doors, fresh paint and refurbished bathrooms to improve the school which provides education to approximately 400 Iraqi boys and girls.

“The much needed renovations to the school will assist Iraq’s future generations to enjoy school facilities that are more conducive to learning,” said Maj. Jay Bullock, operations officer, 4th Squadron 10th Cavalry Regiment, operationally attached to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Multi-National Division – Baghdad.

With security set and renovations complete, teachers will be able to concentrate on education, instead of fear or run-down equipment or buildings, said Haji Sattar from the Khadra Neighborhood Advisory Council.

“The renovations to this school will allow teachers to concentrate on education and not broken windows, plaster falling from ceilings, and lack of lighting,” Sattar said. “Students will enjoy the newly improved environment that is a signal for their bright future.”

Students treated the audience, which included the deputy Minister of Education, to a brief presentation and the singing of the Iraqi national anthem.

“The success of the renovation lies in the team effort. Local Iraqi Neighborhood and District Area Councils provided input on which school needed renovation,” said Lt. Col. Monty Willoughby, commander, 4-10th Cav. Regt. “Iraqi Army Soldiers provided security for the contractors to work, and Civil Affairs Soldiers provided quality assurance of the work.”

Monday, October 20, 2008

Something positive about PCSing

Alright. I must admit that I am not fully unpacked and I still cannot find the toaster. But I know it is here somewhere and it will be found.

Moving is one of the most stressful life events and as active duty military families we knowingly undertake this adventure with great frequency. And as a stressful event, when little things go wrong, they affect us, perhaps, more deeply than they would on any given Tuesday.

So while it totally sucks that the floor lamp, which sat over my right shoulder lighting the night while I wrote my blog posts and helped illuminate my IMing sessions with Jack Bauer while he was deployed, is now broken beyond repair, it is still just a lamp. Now our living and lighting situation is different here in Cav Canyon, and it is much darker while I sit with my laptop browsing the Internet at night. A floor lamp would be really nice. Right now I cannot afford to go out and replace it. (Our house in Middleville has not sold and I don't have a job. Yet.)

The boxes that have been unpacked contain things. While I love my fiestaware and think some of it is irreplacable (well, because some of it is), they are just dishes. While I love the Waterford and Tiffany & Co. crystal that fills a cabinet, it is all just a bunch of empty vessels, as beautiful as they might be. While I consider my TV to be one of my bestest battle buddies and I actually cried when it was boxed up back in Middleville, it is completely replaceable. Granted, those things all arrived intact.

But here's the thing that makes me view this move as a success. My husband and I have a wonderful home to come to every day and we get to spend every single night together. After 28 months and 5 days of living apart, I cannot begin to express how truly blessed I feel to have him home (any home) with me, because I know that not everyone is that fortunate. The doggies and kitty are all back together under one roof. And we had to move here to this beautiful part of the country in order for all that to happen.

This move is about people not things. And dogs are people, too.

Good News from Iraq: 20 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, 233 Iraqi Intel analysts graduate at Taji.

TAJI, Iraq – 233 students graduated from the Iraqi Intelligence and Military Security School here Oct. 9.

The ceremony marked the end of a 10-week period of instruction for most of the graduates. 113 graduates were from various Iraqi Army Divisions, with 36 graduates from the divisional Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance companies. 92 graduates were from the Directorate General for Intelligence and Security. The remaining graduates were from other governmental ministries, including the Ministry of the Interior.

213 students attended the Introduction to Intelligence course and then diversified into one of five specialty courses: Analysis, Counterintelligence, Human Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance, or Signals Intelligence. The remaining 20 students underwent advanced Human Intelligence training in either Source Operations or Interrogation. More than 3,000 students have graduated from a multitude of courses since the school’s inception in August 2005.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Thafer, the Director of Training for the Directorate General for Intelligence and Security, praised the graduates and instructors stating, “This is the most capable and disciplined class that has graduated from IMSS.”

In remarks to the audience, the three speakers - the IMSS Commandant, the student class leader, and Thafer - continually emphasized the need for the graduates to take their place in the Security Forces not as Shiites, Sunnis, or Kurds, but as Iraqis.

The leadership at IMSS intends to add 10-15 new specialty courses during 2009 and graduate at least 2,500 students.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I scream.

I find myself in a predicament of unprecedented proportion, well, at least for me anyway. I am on one side and the dogs are on the other, tethered to me by a six-foot leash. Between us lies a three-foot rattlesnake sunning itself on the trail floor in the late afternoon rays.

The dogs have no clue of the snake's presence. But the snake is acutely aware of the dogs standing over it. The path is essentially blocked so I yank on the leash and the dogs turn round. Bear steps on the devil's creature, which hisses as it turns to the offending paw.

My heart pounds as I back up along the trail, dogs apparently intact and unbitten and utterly unphased by the encounter. I, on the other hand, need to learn a thing or two from the dogs, as I am freaking out about it. Poor Jack Bauer, he had to listen to me for the next 45 minutes of the walk screeching and rambling on about the devil. By the way, we saw another five snakes dead on the road during the rest of our walk.

Hours later, I think I have recovered. But I will not be walking on that path in the afternoon. Also i need to make sure I get us a vet and locate the nearest 24-hour animal hospital.

Good News from Iraq: 19 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Emergency Phone Network Expands to Al Anbar Region.

BAGHDAD — Iraqis have been able to take charge and save lives thanks to their Advanced First Responder Network (AFRN).

AFRN works the same way the ‘911’ emergency phone service does in the United States, except they dial ‘104’ here. It serves as the backbone emergency communication link between Iraqi citizens and emergency services.

The network has now expanded across the Al Anbar region, decreasing the amount of preventable deaths across Iraq. Installed in 15 major cities, more than 18 million people have access to the system.

“Baghdad leaders depend on this network,” said Iraqi Maj. Gen. Saad, Ministry of Interior director of communication. “This is very important to us.”

With one phone call, trained dispatchers send the emergency messages to the correct responders. Police, fire and emergency services and diplomatic protection services are only some of the services available.

Before the network was created in 2006, Iraqi citizens had to find their own way to get help, explained U.S. Army Capt. Antonio McNutt, AFRN program manager.

“Now the dispatch center is receiving more than 1,400 calls a day in just Baghdad alone and dispatching the right response team,” he said.

Read the rest here.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

Last month at the SpouseBUZZ Live Event at Hampton Roads, someone (I think it may have been AirForce Wife) introduced me to a woman who was manning a booth who just happens to live close to our new duty station. What a cowinkydink! We exchanged contact information and went our separate ways.

Honestly, in the chaos of the move, I completely forgot it.

But she didn't.

We exchanged a few e-mails and said we'd hook up once I got to town.

She brought us dinner our second night in the house. Home-cooked food that I didn't have to cook has never tastyed so good. Baked chicken breast, pierogies, salad, fresh rosemary and dill bread were all perfection. A lovely plant (that she promises is brown-thumb tolerant) and a ginger-pumpkin loaf for breakfast topped off this incredible gift of generosity.

While I woofed down all the pierogies, there was enough chicken left over to make chicken quesadillas for lunch the next couple of days.

Must remember to pay this one forward. It was an incredible welcome to the area.

Good News from Iraq: 17 Oct 2008

From Fox News, Last One Turn Out the Lights: Marines Quietly Begin Leaving.

WASHINGTON — When Marine Maj. Gen. John Kelly deployed to Iraq in February, the violence had fallen so low in Anbar province that he began figuring out how to start closing bases and prepare to go home.

In the last 10 months the Marines in Fallujah have done what was unthinkable before the surge began — they have quietly transferred out of one of Anbar province's largest cities. FOX News has learned in an exclusive interview with Kelly from Fallujah that 80 percent of the move is complete. In February there were 8,000 Marines living at Fallujah base. Now there are about 3,000 left. By Nov. 14 there will be none.

"We will shut down the command function here and I will move; my staff has already started to move," Kelly, the commander of Multinational Force-West, told FOX News in an exclusive interview via satellite. "We will turn the lights off here."

They will hand the Fallujah base over to their Iraqi counterparts on Nov. 14, having relocated themselves and thousands of combat vehicles to the desert base of Al Asad to the west. Marines will no longer be seen in city centers such as Fallujah — a major step toward leaving Iraq, and one step closer to Iraq's goal of having U.S. troops out of its population centers by mid-2009 — one of the key points enshrined in the Status of Forces Agreement being reviewed on Capitol Hill today.

On Wednesday, to little fanfare, the Marines quietly closed down Al Qaim base near the Syrian border. Now it is run by Iraqis.

In Fallujah, where the U.S. Marines once had three large mess halls to feed troops, they are now down to one. The Marines have quietly disassembled the entire infrastructure of the base.

"We probably had several thousand of those large metal containers — tractor-trailer containers," Kelly said. "I bet we don't have 200 of them here now."

Of the thousands of vehicles once parked at the base, now there are only 300 left. Their transfer occurred at night, between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m., over the past 10 months so as not to disturb Iraqi drivers and clog the roads.

They dubbed it "Operation Rudy Giuliani" because they were cleaning the streets up and returning Fallujah to normalcy — taking down barbed wire and tearing down checkpoints and Jersey walls that made Anbar look like a war zone.

"There is almost no barbed wire left anywhere in Fallujah," Kelly said. An Iraqi no longer sees barbed wire when traveling in and around the city.

Between 300 and 400 concrete barriers that divided the city were removed by Navy Seabees.

One of the big changes Kelly made when he took command in Anbar was to remove fixed checkpoints, and Iraqi vehicles no longer had to pull off to the side when a military convoy was on the road. His troops risked car bombs, but the gamble paid off in what had once been Iraq's most dangerous province. The new road rules instantly lowered the tension between military and locals. Soon he transitioned to moving military convoys only at night, so they would not encounter locals. This also stymied many of the insurgents laying IEDs or roadside bombs, which they often had done at night.

Another change for the better since Kelly arrived in February: He pushed the central government to provide more fuel to the people of Anbar, so the mostly Sunni population is now happier. In February, Anbaris were receiving only 8 percent of their allocation of fuel from the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Now it's 90 percent — eliminating one of their main gripes.

But perhaps the biggest sign that the situation has changed for the better for Sunnis living in Anbar: With the help of the Marines and the Iraqi police, nearly 100 percent of the eligible voting population were registered a month ago to vote in upcoming provincial elections.

"They seem to add another political party every day," Kelly said. "We didn't have a single security violation of any kind. They're at least going to give the electoral process a shot … at least going to give democracy a chance."

The Sunnis, who fueled a large part of Iraq's insurgency, boycotted the last election for Parliament with only 3 percent of Sunnis participating. Now they feel they have a stake in the government.

"This is an amazing indicator as to where this province is," Kelly said.

He and the Marines no longer use violence as an indicator of how much progress they have made. Two years ago they had 400 attacks — roadside bombs or shootings — at U.S. forces every week. In February it was down to 30 attacks per week. Now it is down to under 12 attacks per week. There hasn't been a Marine death in a few months.

Troop numbers have dropped, as well — down by 40 percent since February. About 26,000 Marines still serve in Anbar.

"In Anbar there is no longer an insurgency," Kelly said. "Unless someone does something stupid (for instance, if the Coalition were to accidentally kill a large number of civilians), this place will not go back to the way it was."

In football terms, Kelly says, the Marines are "in the last 10 yards of this fight."

"Could it go back? I don't think so," he said firmly. "We are winning this thing."

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Phase 4 AAR

All the household goods were delivered on Tuesday.

We had spent the night at a hotel in town. We got up early to get some muffins, coffee, sodas, etc. But as usual, I was trying to do too much in too short a time so the morning was off to a frantic start. We did arrive at the house with about 10 minutes to spare, scooped the cat into the laundry room for her own protection, and put up the signs for each room.

0800: Waiting. Waiting.

0815: Jack Bauer calls the moving company. The movers are loading the truck and we are told not to expect them soon.

0816: I begin to wander around.

0900: I stop wandering when the movers arrive with 4 crates on a flat-bed truck. That cannot be all of our stuff. Turns out, it's not. There is another crate and our sofas and chair-and-a-half. Phew!

The first thing I am asked is if I have done this before. I don't take this as a good sign. Either they want to take advatnage of me or they don't know what they are doing. There are three of them and no one seems to be in charge. Luckily, I am in a completely bossy mood so I tell them what to do but they don't listen. I try to show them around the house so they will know where things go, but they are not interested. This is not going to go well.

Jack sets up outside with a clipboard and pen and checks off numbers as boxes are moved into the house. I stand inside and direct the stuff to different rooms. After about an hour of this, I am convinced we have dyslexic, memory-impaired thugs unloading our goods. I remain patient but firm with them and that seems to work sufficiently enough.

By 1130 they have all 4 crates unloaded and into the house. They leave to get the remaining goods and tell us they will be back by 1300. I run out to get some lunch for me and Jack. Those monkeys can feed themselves while on their 1.5-hour break.

So lunch. Yeah. We live about 12 miles from town. So a quick run to get lunch when I have no idea where a sandwich shop is takes about an hour. It is almost 1300 by the time I get back to the house. We are able to sit on our barstools (some of the first things to be unloaded) at our kitchen counter and eat our Schlotsky's Deli meal in peace and quiet for a ferw minutes.

1300: Our neighborhood remains silent. Since we are expecting them to do a full unpack for us, I don't want to start opening boxes.

1330: Two hours after they left, the movers return. With TWO crates and our sofas and chair-and-a-half. Now that makes more sense. We all get back to work. Jack's checking, I'm directing, and they are putting things in the wrong rooms. How nice. I get that straightened out with the oldest of the movers (who tells me that he is retired from the moving business, but is ust helping out today).

Anyway, by 1500 things are mostly in place in the house. They start to put things back together. For tools, they have a philips-head screwdriver and two allen wrenches, which of course, don't fit our screws. Jack manages to find his own tools, including his sets of allen wrenches and the furniture manages to get back together somehow. Even the dining room table slides appear to function just fine.

We double check to make sure we have all the numbers accounted for. We only have to search for a few numbers and they quickly turn up.

Then we begin to note the damage on the stuff not in boxes.

  • Floor lamp from Pottery Barn: Base sheared off.
  • DVD stand: a crude cut made to the backing making it into two pieces. Will need to be covered in order to be usable. Of course, the hardware would have to show up before it could be used at all.
  • Queen mattress: Pillow top with multiple slashes on it from thugs opening boxes with reckless abondon.
  • Vacuum cleaner: Filter is missing from the front of the unit, making it completely unusable (perhaps it is packed in a box somewhere). FOUND!
  • Black shelves: One piece that holds up the unit broken. I suppose the 4-shelf unit could be used as a 3-shelf unit. That is if the hardware shows up somewhere.
By this time, I am tired (we are at a killer elevation here) and I want these people out of my life for good. The apparent man in charge asks if we want them to unpack. Uh, no thank you. I would like some of my stuff to remain intact. They will come back in a few days to pick up the boxes and packing paper.

With the movers gone, Jack and I set out to make our bed and find a few essentials, like the coffee pot, but we are exhausted. After Jack picks up the dogs from day care, we go out to a good Mexican restuarnt close to the house. We collapse on the couch to watch Dodgeball. The doggies are so exhausted they barely stir when a neighbor shows up to deliver our garage door openers.

And finally, after months of sleeping in hotels and in strange beds, we get snooze for a few peaceful hours in our very own bed. Back to work unpacking in the morning.

Good News from Iraq: 16 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi National Police Improve Checkpoint Search Technique.

FOB LOYALTY — Iraqi National Police (NP) worked to improve vehicle search techniques to speed up car checks and to reduce traffic congestion in a security district in eastern Baghdad, Oct. 8.

Coalition forces regularly visit checkpoints throughout Baghdad to ensure that Iraqi Soldiers maintain security to standard and ensure traffic flows effectively.

“You just got to make sure that you keep the vehicles going,” said Lt. Col. Donn Hill, a Louisville, Ky., native, who serves as the deputy commanding officer for 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Multi-National Division – Baghdad, to the NP officer in charge during a checkpoint visit.

The NP OIC explains his implementation.

“We have explained to all of our Soldiers how to do this new plan, even our off shifts Soldiers know how to follow this new technique,” said the NP OIC.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Operation Eagle Eye: Phase 4

Final Phase of Operation Eagle Eye to begin promptly at 0800 today.

Expectations: All household goods will be delivered and unpacked by careful operators. All packing material and boxes will be removed from the premises. Identify every blue tagged item and account for every box. Inspect all dishes and glassware for nicks, cracks, dings, etc. Assure recently reunited kitty remains inside the laundry room and undisturbed.

Personnel: Black Bear 6 (AKA BW) will be in charge of internal direction of goods. Black Bear 7 (AKA Jack Bauer) will be in charge of checking off numbers as the goods are unloaded from the truck.

Equipment: Lightning-fast eyes to catch all possible moves by the operators to get past BB6 or BB7 without proper direction. Signage labeling all rooms including those indicating "DO NOT ENTER" for the laundry/kitty room. Clipboard and pen for careful review of documentation.

Sustenance: Coffee and muffins for AM energy and pep. Sandwiches and sodas for lunch to keep the operators going.

Other pertinent information: Doggies are safely off premises for day care.

Good News from Iraq: 14 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Rusafa ‘Sons of Iraq’ Now Under GOI Control.

FOB LOYALTY — Government of Iraq (GOI) officials and Coalition Soldiers recently gathered at Forward Operating Base Volunteer in the Rusafa district of eastern Baghdad to transfer responsibility of the ‘Sons of Iraq’ (SOI) over to the GOI.

Iraqi officials, Iraqi security forces (ISF) and members of the Sons of Iraq invited Soldiers from 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Multi-National Division - Baghdad to the Iraqi Army headquarters in order to officially sign over responsibility of the Sons of Iraq to the GOI.

Col. Craig Collier, squadron commander for 3rd Sqdn., 89th Cav. Regt. signed responsibility of the SOI in Rusafa over to the GOI. Representing the GOI in the signing was Brig. Gen. Haitham Al Awani, 43rd Brigade, 11th Iraqi Army Div.

Coalition forces originally handled SOI payments. However, the signing now transfers that responsibility over to the GOI.

During the ceremony, Al’aa Dagher, the Rusafa District council chairman spoke about the importance of the SOI and their role in the security of Rusafa. Dagher likened the SOI to a “pure seed,” which has spread throughout all of Iraq and has helped stabilize the country by partnering with U.S. and ISF to establish security.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Almost home

While we were back in C-ville, Jack started looking on (Automated Housing Referral Network) for a place to rent. (Yes, our house in Middleville is still not sold; think that is going to change soon? Yeah, us neither.) One house in particular seemed to suit our needs. Jack was in touch with owner of the house through a few e-mails.

We checked it out a couple days ago and decided to drive by a few others that looked like they would suit our needs.

The house is just lovely. Three bedrooms + den, 2 full baths, large master suite with very large soaking tub and walk in shower, great kitchen/eating area/family room (perfect for how we live), washer/dryer, 3-car garage (i.e., extra storage area after getting both cars in the garage), 1.5 acres of low maintenance yard, and a formal living room that we don't know what to do with. AND it is within our BAH.

Down sides? It is about 12 miles from post. The yard is not fenced (we'll set up a couple of dog runs; we wouldn't be able to leave the dogs outside unattended anyway due to local wildlife). The painting inside, well, is, um, interesting. The master bedroom is a steely gold, one wall in the master bathroom is bright purple, the formal living room has a sponged yellow on it that does not go all the way to the ceiling or even cover much of the wall. And it looks like it was done by someone who has never painted before. Of course, paint is easily fixed.

Overall, it is perfect for us to unwind and relax.

We drove by a couple of other places. The first was off a dirt road that was in desperate need of improving (in fact a sign in someone yard looked like a campaign was being started to do just that) and our wimpy, decidedly un-Texan cars would crack under that kind of abuse and likely get stuck any time there was a rain. The next place we drove by was in a very crowded neighborhood right off the of the main highway. If I thought we lived on top of each other in Middleville, this place was at least twice as bad.

With limited options, we just decided to go with the one absolutely gorgeous, more-house-than-we-need with lots of breathing room. The lease is now signed. The utilities are almost completely set up. Movers deliver next Tuesday.

Good News from Iraq: 9 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police Making Waves.

HADITHA DAM — The Euphrates River fulfills many of the economic needs for the people of Iraq. For all of its advantages though, it does create a challenge for the Iraqi Police (IP) who are in charge of security for the area.

To remedy this situation, Sailors with Riverine Squadron 3, Riverine Detachment 2, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 5 have been holding classes for the IP on basic seamanship.

“We are teaching them the basics so when we leave they will be able to take over patrolling the river,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason H. Gialenes, 24, from Huntington Beach, Calif., who is a gunner and instructor with Riverine Squadron 3.

The policemen in the class came from all over western al-Anbar province to learn everything from knot tying to boat maneuvers as they learn to adapt their police knowledge to aquatic patrolling. For many of the policemen, the 21-day class is there first experience working on boats.

“They are already police officers, so they know how to patrol and move on the land,” said Gialenes. “We are trying to get them comfortable with operating the boats.”

With policemen from several different departments in western al-Anbar province and different backgrounds, the Riverines, as the Sailors like to called, make a point of teaching the policemen to work together.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

First day on post

Yesterday, while Jack Bauer was working on in-processing, I spent the entire morning wandering around post with the doggies. I started by looking for a good cup of coffee. I found one at the mini mall. Uh, mini? Yep. I think it was 1" scale. The coffee is good enough and sufficient to power me for a few hours.

I had a map with me but I didn't want to rely on it. I believe that the best way to learn a new place is to get lost. So every time I stopped, I unfolded it and tried to figure out where I was.

I really fought my inner voice that told me I shouldn't be going on some of the more remote roads. If there wasn't a marked sign with "RESTRICTED AREA" or "HIGH SECURITY AREA" or "RESIDENTS ONLY," I took the road. For the most part I had no idea where I was going or what to expect. I figured if I was caught some where I wasn't supposed to be, someone would tell me. But of course, that never happened. It was all a bunch of worry in my head.

I found the stables, the ranges, a ton of picnic areas, the dog park, the museum, the historic part of the post, the cemetery, and the entrance to two of the marked canyons.

In the afternoon, I was told, was an appointment to get me transferred to the correct Tricare region. I was expecting this to take 15 minutes. Ha! An hour and a half later, I emerged from a power point presentation (what else could have been done) explaining all the nuances of getting health care on this post, which has a health care center not a hospital. (Mind you the hospital in town is also a "health care center" so does that make it not a hospital? I digress.)

Trying to distill it down into something workable, I think I am supposed to call the appointment desk after 7:30 AM M-F for appointments; if they are full and I need to be seen that day, I call the advise nurse; if it is after hours, I call the PCM (I was hoping for more acronyms than there actually were; darn). Bottom line: YOU MUST CALL SOMEONE FIRST IF YOU DON'T WANT TO WIND UP WRITING A CHECK.

At least we made it someone interesting by sitting in the back row and giving each other running commentary.

Boy, I can't wait to sit through that presentation every single time we move!

After that 90-minute session that could have easily be summed up in 5, we went to look at a house and drive by a few more. Come back tomorrow and I'll tell you all about that.

Good News from Iraq: 8 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqi Police Take Over More Security Roles.

BAGHDAD — Security improvements in Baghdad continue to progress as Iraqi security forces conducted a transfer of authority in more than 10 Muhallas (neighborhoods) yesterday in the Karkh Directorate of Baghdad.

In the Kindi and Qadasiyah Muhallas of Baghdad, Iraqi Army (IA) Soldiers handed over security responsibilities to the Iraqi Police (IP).

“In the past months, the improvement in the security situation and the Iraqi Police capability gains have provided the IP the opportunity to take on independent responsibilities for security in their neighborhoods,” said Lt. Col. Michael Indovina, spokesman for the 18th Military Police Brigade, Multi-National Division – Baghdad.

IP in the past 12 months have expanded their forces to more than 10,000 shurtas (policemen). Through the expansion and development partnership with the 18th Military Police Brigade and other Coalition efforts, the IP have grown and built their capabilities steadily and are preparing to take over more Muhallas in the near future.

IP continue to train daily to develop their community policing skills in order to take over security and police operations here in Baghdad.

In past weeks, IP and IA have conducted a relief in place (RIP) in selected areas of Baghdad. The RIP is a process where the IA Soldiers transition with IP to ensure there is a seamless transition of responsibilities and duties.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Live from Cav Canyon, It's BW!

We have arrived safely in the town that is our new home. It has been quite a long time since I have been on an Army post. And even then it was just for a few hours. I really don't have much exposure to life on post. I guess I am about to get a big dose of it.

We're in temporary lodging within walking distance of the PX and Jack Bauer's office. That's pretty cool. It has been about 10 years since I last stepped foot in a PX. But I already discovered the benefit: no tax. How cool is that?

I figured out fairly quickly that there are several items that I will need to invest in living here:

  1. lotion
  2. eye drops
  3. claritin
  4. cough drops
  5. decongestants
  6. a ton of bottled water
  7. sunscreen
  8. dark sunglasses
I am soooo dry and allergy-ridden already, my head may explode. Good way to start our stay here. But it is just beautiful so that makes up for the suffering.

The doggies are enjoying trying to catch crickets. Not sure if they have ever seen crickets in this quantity before.

Off to find a more permanent place to live. Have a great day.

Good News from Iraq: 7 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Marines Help Iraqis Rebuild Schools Destroyed by Terrorists.

SAQLAWAIYAH — It was local Iraqi’s unshakable resolve which stood at the forefront of a project to rebuild two schools destroyed in the wake of two terrorist bombing attacks last year.

The Iraqis, with assistance from numerous Coalition Civil Affairs Teams, finished reconstruction of the al Iqitdar and al Churhabil schools here, Sept. 21.

Marines with Civil Affairs, Detachment 3, Team 4, attached to Task Force 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, managed the Iraqi-led reconstruction projects for the past six months.

“We assisted in the funding, oversaw each phase of reconstruction and held Iraqi contractors to the standards of reconstruction in the work contract,” explained Gunnery Sgt. Anthony Zamora, the chief for Team 4.

The completed projects met, and in some areas, exceeded the team’s expectations, said Sgt. Aaron M. Raher, a 28-year-old security chief with Team 4 from San Diego.

New structural support, refurbished class rooms and sustained electricity throughout the schools came just in time for the approaching school year.

Read the rest here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Texas Road Rules

1. Don't drop your cigarette when forcing cars off the road.

2. When traffic on an interstate highway comes to a complete stop due to accident/construction/armadillo crossing, you are free to drive off the side of the road and on to the service road, but only because you all drive Silverados.

3. Because you drive a Silverado, you have the right of way. All the time. Regardless of other perceived rules of the road. Especially in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. It is perfectly acceptable to drive the wrong way and play chicken with a dorky Honda CRV from some other state. Dipshits should have known better than to mess with Texas.

4. For those 5 people not driving a Silverado, beware of tumbleweeds. The small ones could get caught under your car. The large ones will take out your car, especially since it is bigger than your Toyota Solara.

Good News from Iraq: 6 Oct 2008

From MNF-I, Iraqis Improve Irrigation in Amarah.

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE ADDER — Local Iraqi construction workers recently completed an irrigation canal and water pump project on the outskirts of Amarah, in the Maysan province.

“We are very appreciative of these improvements,” said Sheik Haj Hatim Sadkhan, a local city leader. “We will continue to support the government of Iraq and Coalition forces.”

The new structure will give 20 local farmers the ability to farm an additional 400 hectare of land annually.

The month-long project, which was completed Sept. 29, provides the farmers with an improved irrigation system to grow more crops during the upcoming season.

This project and similar ones can now be completed due to the increased security in the Maysan province. The 38th Iraqi Army Brigade, partnered with the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment is conducting counter- insurgency operations along the southeastern border of Iraq.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Calling all moms

My baby Bear appears to have stepped in some gum and got it mushed in between his nails, pads, and hair real good and tight. And of course, he is super wiggly and won't cooperate letting me just try to pick it out. Not sure he'll let me try ice.

Some people (yes, people on the Internet. How reliable can they be???) suggested peanut butter to let the oils break down the gum and then the dog gets to lick it up the mess. Of course, I'm not sure I really want to try that in a hotel room or my car for that matter. Sounds very messy, but the breakfast buffet will probably have some.

Do any of you moms out there have any advice on how to remove gum from hair?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hitting the road

The chapter called C-ville is closing.

Now we are off to OFDSville. Heh.

I hope I have some good Internet access on the road and once we get into town. I'll check back in when I can.

Catch ya soon.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Graduation Day

Today my super spectacular husband graduates! Yay!

Then shortly after that we get to start packing up and loading up the cars. Although we had very little use for two cars this summer, two are definitely needed for getting our stuff to its destination. (Linda - no, the town where we are headed to is not called OFDS, or our first duty station. Heh. Just a few more days to the big reveal.)

I just finished up a big project yesterday and it feels soooooo goood to be done. Feel like I really accomplished something. And I got paid to do it. Even better. Woohoo!

Gotta go get dressed for the big graduation ceremony. Catch you later.