Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hot for Teacher? Nope...It's Hot for Everybody

It's been 110+ every day out here for about the last 2 weeks. We work inside a warehouse, so we're out of the sun, but it increases the temp by about 10 degrees. Hot really can't describe how it feels.

So my boy Faleh was having trouble focusing on learning in my classes due to GI issues (I assume...he grabbed his stomach every time there was work to be done). We got him some pain meds, and voila! He's become my star pupil.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Where Have I Been? Where Have You Been?

Alright. My bad. It's been what, over 2 months? Let's catch up. When I last posted, we were winding down the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) missions with the State Department, as they're closing up shop up here in the north. We were waiting to find out whether or not we were going to train the Iraqi Army in the fine art of field artillery. On May 15, I decided since it'd been 8 months since I'd been in the United States, it was time for a little break. On a 12 month deployment, they allow you 15 days of uncharged leave to return for "rest and recuperation," a nice way to say they're getting you out of the suck for a while. There's something to be said about coming off the plane and walking over Terminal D in DFW to hundreds of strangers standing on their feet applauding and cheering. Incredible, really. So, I took my uniform off for 15 days, didn't shave, saw some friends and family, and had a wonderful time. While on leave, I received word that I had been put on orders to Ft Campbell, KY (most of which lies in Tennessee, but the post office is in Kentucky). So, the next chapter of my life involves me leaving the Great State of Texas. It's exciting, but sad at the same time. This was poor timing in just about every way imaginable, but I still enjoyed my time and had one of those "defining moments" in my life after a fortuitous mechanical problem at DFW caused our flight to be delayed for a day...but that is a subject for another blog that I'll likely either never create or create and neglect. Like this one.

So, I got back to Mosul just in time for my birthday and to start training the Iraqis on the M198 (as previously mentioned in my blog somewhere). As I'd said before, we have no prior experience with the weapon, but while I was gone, the guys seemed to pick it up rather quickly. We've had the Iraqis for a week now and they are refreshingly eager to learn, and, quite frankly, fun to have around. It's pretty neat watching them learn the piece and their respective roles on the crew. Though there is a major language barrier, we've managed to bond a little with them and now joke around with them between classes and testing. The idea of them firing without us there to ensure they shoot safely is still a little frightening, but they will undoubtedly nail it, and might just become some pretty good redlegs after a few years of trial and error. The work is exhausting, it just keeps getting hotter, and the soldiers' eyes are beginning to glaze over knowing there's 2 months left, but apparently what we're doing has gotten the attention of those back in Washington and elsewhere: <---I'm not what you would call "blog-savvy," so copy and paste that badboy and it should whisk you away to the article I'm referencing. Or one of you readers could tell me how to insert a proper link so I don't look and/or feel so incompetent.

This is a proud moment for our Platoon, knowing that this New Iraq Army Field Artillery will be a lasting legacy for 2nd Platoon, B Battery, 5-82 FA. We literally are standing up nearly the entire branch of artillery for this country. I am filled with pride knowing that "Teacher Duns-by" and the rest of the NCOs in this platoon are ensuring that these Iraqis have the knowledge and training to be the best possible artillerymen in the region, and with time, can impart their knowledge to their peers subordinates. It's exciting times again, folks. We're writing the history.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

We Landed on Mars! (Or Spring has Sprung in Mosul)

This is what my afternoon looked like today. No camera was that eery. Needless to say, I found myself quoting Total Recall all day today -- because of the Mars-like glow, not because that movie is completely awesome and should be quoted at every opportunity or anything.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Lesson In Control

Last night was a pretty nice evening in Northern Iraq, so three of us were standing outside enjoying the weather and conversation. Every now and again, the guys up on radar hill will pick up signatures of indirect fire (IDF -- mortars, rockets, etc...) being fired from around the city. Sometimes these signatures are just random explosions that are not related at all to IDF. As a precaution, however, these signatures trigger an alert that goes out over the PA system that sounds like an awful alarm clock, followed by "INCOMING! INCOMING!" When this is heard, you can usually find me going on about my business as usual. We've been pretty lucky over the course of the past six and a half months to not have anything land close. As we were standing outside last night, the alarm went off again. When it goes off, the conversation usually pauses so we don't have to speak any louder, and to see if something actually lands. After it finished it's last "INCOMING!", a friend of mine looked at me and said, "You know, one of these days, a rocket is just gonna land right on top of u...."


It nearly did. At that point, we decided to see what the inside of our bunker looked like. See, when they shoot rockets, they shoot them in groups off rails. They've been finding them with 9-12 rockets per rail system. Because these guys aren't exactly proficient at their jobs, you can usually expect only about 4 to 5 to actually land near where they are aimed. Of those 4 to 5, only around 2 to 3 will actually explode. When that first one landed near, we knew 3 to 4 were still en route. 2 more exploded once we were inside the bunker, though not nearly as close as the first one.

In my 27 years, I've found nothing nearly exciting as a rocket exploding nearby. As I was sitting in the bunker, I started thinking. There is literally nothing you can do to avoid one landing at your feet. Now, the laws of probability really work against a rocket actually landing close enough to kill you, but there's something sexy about one landing nearby and you being able to blog about it 24 hours later. After seeing and hearing explosions on the countless war movies I've watched over the years, let me assure you that when they happen in real life, they sound completely different...just like gunfire. You might feel the bass from the sound effects in the theater, but you don't feel the ground shake beneath your feet from a real 107mm rocket exploding. Luckily no one was killed during the attack, but it really brings you back to reality when something happens like that.

For years now, I have been a man who needs to be in control. I would rather drive than ride along. I don't like tour groups. I don't like other people making plans for me (which is ironic, based on my career choice). I would rather fly the plane than sit in the cabin (knowing full well that it probably wouldn't end well for me and the rest of the passengers). However, last night was a great lesson from the "You-can't-always-be-in-control" school of thought. See what they did there? These violent extremists are teaching me lessons in life even while they're trying to take mine. Kudos, guys. Kudos.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

An Open Letter to My Mustache

Author's Note: Some of you might have seen this on my facebook. For the roughly 3 Americans still out there that do not yet have a facebook (give it'll happen when you're ready.), I repost this here for you:

Dear Magnum P.I.,

Let me preface this letter by saying that I've truly enjoyed our time together. You always (and I mean always) bring a smile to my face. When I have bad days, you're always there to lift my spirits. In fact, you've lifted the spirits of many in and around Mosul. But, like a baby panda, you have reached your peak of pulchritude. You came to me a nervous little shadow, and have blossomed into such a glorious spectacle. I am proud to call you mine. Your function is two-fold: 1) You make people smile (and the occasional child cry...though I really believe someone took his ice cream cone right before he saw me) and 2) You keep my lip warm during the cold Iraqi nights. Since spring has arrived, you serve only one purpose, and as Alton Brown says, a fire extinguisher should be your only unitasker. We both knew from Day 1 of "New Year, New Mustache" that there would be a wear-out date. Though I wasn't sure of how long you would be with me, I knew that you could never be a permanent fixture on my lip. That may come off as harsh, but understand me here: Personally, I think you are a great facial accessory. Some of the greatest men (and women!) have sported such lip warmers. Women, however, are not always so fond of the soup strainer. Furthermore, I am 100% sure that I could not trust any woman that truly believed you to be sexy. I'm not saying I don't think you're sexy. Let me rephrase: I don't think you're sexy. I'm 27, nearly 28, and I feel like it's probably about time to settle down and find a good woman to make me look better. You very well may stand in between me and my happily ever after, Magnum. I can't stand idly by while life passes me by. Thus, April 1, 2011, you will no longer be a part of my life. I'm giving notice so you can have a few days to get your things together, and possibly put out some feelers for future employment. I have nothing but good things to say about you, so if you do decide to seek employment elsewhere, you can count on a great letter of recommendation. Unfortunately, I just can no longer afford to keep you lip. Good luck in your future endeavors, and vaya con Dios.

With All Sincerity,


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Boosting Morale 7,000 Miles From Home

We've been lucky these past 6 and a half months. We've run over 50 missions through some of the worst areas left in Iraq and haven't lost anyone. The rockets and mortars that occasionally make their presence known have been off-target, and other than an isolated incident involving a violent extremist (that's the new politically-correct term, FYI) posing as an Iraqi soldier, there has been no violence to speak of on our base. All that to say this: regardless of all those good things, this is not an easy deployment for anybody. Marital strife in the Army has almost become the norm, rather than the exception. One of my soldiers is dealing with that as we speak, and I can't imagine what he's going through. I spoke with another soldier on the bus yesterday who is on his 4th (yes, fourth) deployment. His daughter was born shortly before his first deployment, and is now 8. He has spent 4 years TOTAL with his 8 year-old daughter. That's another untold cost of war. Military divorce rates were through the roof but are finally starting to level off, but only now that the deployment cycles have slowed. A lot of the reason I'm here in this Army right now is so that that Staff Sergeant won't ever have to miss another year of his girl's life. Largely symbolic, but better me than that husband and father. We are halfway done here, but these kinds of stresses are huge burdens on us over here trying to finish the job so we can get back home to our loved ones. Unit morale is often affected by it inside the unit, problems back home, or just soldiers getting stuck in a rut. Morale in the workplace, regardless of the workplace, is INCREDIBLY important. It doesn't matter if you're a dishwasher at the Olive Garden or the Army Chief of Staff. If your morale is low, your job is affected. So, what can be done to boost morale in the workplace? Today, it was throwing a whole bunch of meat on the grill and pumping out awful hip hop music through computer speakers. It never ceases to amaze me how such a simple thing like a "backyard" BBQ can improve our morale. It's rare to have a "fun" day out here, but today was fun. I saw a platoon come together to put this "grillstravaganza" together and every single one of us had fun...for hours. 3 bags of charcoal, and roughly 30 pounds of meat were consumed and every soldier left with a smile on his face. Did we solve all our problems as a result of John's famous (near-)beer brats? No. But we were reminded of the fact that every single one of these soldiers here has whatever support that they may need, regardless of the situation, and that DOES (re)build morale.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Would you believe that the internet has been out for the last month? That's not even nearly true, but it would excuse my lack of musings. So, over the course of 1 month (these gaps between posts are growing, it seems) things have changed from week to week and even day to day. As I'm sure you're all aware, dear readers, we (the U.S. Army) are tentatively scheduled to leave Iraq completely by the end of this year. That being said we'd be remiss to not at least attempt to train the Iraqi army in the fine art of field artillery. Now, when the United States replaces old weapons systems with new ones, the old models are typically either scrapped and sold for parts, left to rust in "graveyards" somewhere, or given to third world countries as a show of compassion...or something like that. A few years ago, we replaced our M198 howitzer (dating back to 1979) with the M777. Now, I understand these numbers are probably Greek to the lot of you, but I will give you the most important differences between these two guns. The old one weighs every bit of 16,000 pounds and is manipulated completely by those unfortunate enough to be assigned to the weapon. The new one weighs just over 6,000 pounds, and has a lot in the way of hydraulic assistance. Needless to say, we don't like the old one anymore, so we're giving over 100 to the Iraqis. Now, that sounds like we're giving them our hand-me-downs...but these guns aren't bad. They're combat-proven, reliable pieces of equipment. Ironically, it's likely at least some of these guns sent what the Iraqi army called "steel rain" into Iraq in '91 and again in '03...So, they're getting a good deal (in terms of the guns, not in terms of ACTUAL cost). Anyhoo...these guns are essentially just 8 tons of steel unless somebody shows you how to properly operate them (and safely). Seeing as how my section is the best in the battalion, what other choice do they have but to have us train these future Iraqi Redlegs? Answer? Plenty, but they chose us. In the world of U.S. Field Artillery, there are essentially two camps: towed, and self-propelled. Most artillerymen spend their careers in one or the other. Based on the pictures I've posted, it's probably obvious to you, dear readers, that I fall into the "self-propelled" category with our M109A6 Paladins. The main difference between the two groups is that the towed guys LOVE to run around and are, for all intents and purposes, gluttons for punishment. See, my office is inside the Paladin, which means I only have to move slightly to perform any job inside the gun. The towed folks are constantly running and gunning outside the gun, wherever their helicopter or truck drops them off. There's a saying in the Army..."work smarter, not harder"...and the towed fellows definitely work harder. So, when it came down to find some Redlegs to train the Iraqis on a towed artillery piece, people with towed artillery experience would be the obvious choice. But our Creator has a wonderful sense of humor, apparently, because my platoon was chosen to first learn about this behemoth, then teach it to a group that knows probably 30 English words between them, none of which relates to artillery. Hilarious. Will this event ever come to fruition? Stay tuned, sports fans, because I don't even know since the plans keep changing from day to day and week to week. See how I tied that all together? Nice.

In other news...we're over halfway done here. Unbelievable, really. Seems like last week I was staring into the nothingness that is Kuwait wondering what awaited me. Now, I just can't wait to see Kuwait again, because that means I'll be headed home for a spell. Thanks for keeping up with me and my occasional ramblings, but feedback is always welcome...I might even post more often...just sayin'.