Sunday, 26 April 2009

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

If you are currently, on COB Speicher I hope not! You may be aware that the military has come under fire in the last year for at least 18 soldiers being electrocuted while in the shower due to faulty wiring. You can read more about this here:

As a result, right after our arrival end of March electrical ground crews have been perpetually taping signs to CHU doors stating that electricity would be periodically and without warning cut to conduct inspections. While I was under the impression that this would just be in our LSA (housing neighborhood) the last few days the power has been going off frequently and without warning. Yesterday afternoon it went out for about and hour and a half in my room and then again later on my shift at the office, leaving the only light coming from my computer monitor running on it's battery. It went off again this afternoon for about an hour entirely shutting down one of the dining halls and then again tonight on my shift for just a few minutes.

Although only an inconvenience now, potentially delaying casework and resetting clocks, I'd rather go through this while the temperature is in the upper 80s/90s than when we hit the 120 mark!

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Fire on the Mountain

Although celebrity tours in Iraq are quite common, I have never had the opportunity to attend any of the concerts or meet and greets, apart from my aeronautical adventures with the WWE. Tonight, however, I finally had the chance to take advantage of one of the only perks in being deployed: free concerts from amazing performers... and the Charlie Daniels Band did not disappoint. I've discovered that if you've never heard of the Charlie Daniels Band I need only mention the song "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" which appears in a bar scene from the movie Coyote Ugly and most people in my generation recognize the singer with whom I'm referring.

Anyways! The concert was supposed to be outside at the stadium but we've been having these incredible mutant dust/thunderstorm combinations and apparently Charlie Daniels caught wind of one such dust storm in Balad and requested that his performance in Tikrit be moved inside. Our Red Cross team was lucky enough to have another station cover our queue of emergency messages so we all headed over to the gym and managed to snag great seats front and center on the bleachers.

The concert was really fantastic. Although it seemed like I was the only Yank in the crowd (the audience went ballistic when he played "A Few More Rednecks") his energy was amazing for a 72 year-old and he even played Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blue's which got everyone going. He also played the most superb rendition of the Star Spangled Banner I have ever heard. It was acoustic with Charlie playing fiddle accompanied by two guitars, drums and keyboard. The crowd stood and with so many in uniform, shoulders straight, heads high as the fiddle sang, it was quite possibly the most patriotic moment of my life. Nothing short of goosebumps. He closed with the Devil Went Down to Georgia and I couldn't get it out of my head all night.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

An Easter Birthday

My Easter weekend was exhausting and enjoyable. Saturday was my team's first experience with hosting the monthly birthday party for servicemembers and civilians. We took some risks with this event as previously the event was held in the MWR (Morale, Welfare and Recreation- essentially a Rec center) which is in the building where we work. The event was not very well attended according to the team we replaced so we decided to move the event to the DFAC because not only did we need to pick up the cake from the DFAC, but why not host the event where everyone already goes to eat?

So we reserved one of the overflow rooms in the DFAC and I went over early, at 4:00pm, to meet some of the Air Force guys who wanted to volunteer for the event and we went crazy decorating the room with streamers, balloons, candy and posters. We set up a gift table where those with birthdays could chose a gift, a red cross mug or water bottle plus a calling card and the chance to win our raffle which was two fleece blankets, and two gift certificates to the PX. We put in an Eagles CD and had a beautiful cake with real frosting. We stationed the Air Force guys at the doors to invite people with April birthdays and their friends to attend. Although the room was slow to fill up (we need to do it an hour later and on a weeknight!), by the end of the hour the room was relatively full and people really seemed to enjoy themselves and appreciate the event.

After the party I was back at the office to work the rest of my shift and then again found myself staying up until 5:45am so that I could run the Easter 5k at 6:30am. Unlike my inaugural Tikriti 5k, this morning was clear and cool. I met my running buddy at the stadium and since neither of us was feeling in top shape this morning our understanding was simply that we'd run it to finish. The run was gorgeous with clear blue sky and sunshine off to the West and for once, the mountains were visible in the East with purple clouds rolling in above their peaks.

Although we kept good pace, you can imagine my shock when I crossed the finish and had dropped over a minute since the last 5k!!! That was a welcome surprise! Afterwards it was a walk back to my CHU and 6 hours of sleep before I was up again to work my Easter shift. I had received a few Easter packages from friends and family so there was no lack of chocolate eggs and jelly beans. After a quiet shift, the night worker and I headed out to midnight chow and were treated to a stunning electrical storm that was sweeping across the desert plain. Words fail to explain the awesome power and beauty that ravaged the sky, but we decided to pull off the side of the road and just sit and watch the brillance as another Easter came to a close.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Promotions & Pools & Pups

So I've had an unusually eventful 24 hours. You may have heard me reference what's known as "Groundhog Day syndrome" which is used to describe the lack of variation in daily routine while deployed due to that fact that there are no days off and the weather rarely varies. Apparently the groundhog has seen his shadow cause he's nowhere to be found!

First off, Friday afternoon I was invited to a friend's military promotion ceremony. She was being promoted to First Lieutenant at the most prominent and secure building on base because it houses the Garrison. I discovered this first hand when I attempted to breeze through the security checkpoint with my military ID and got thoroughly blocked by the Uganda guards who insisted I could not enter without the necessary badge. Fortunately there was an MP who overheard our conversation and he managed to get me an escort inside. The ceremony itself was somewhat surprising. Before the ceremony, held outside in the expansive gazebo, everyone was lounging and socializing and then LT Colonel, who presided over the event, showed up and everyone snapped to business and it became totally no-nonsense while she was promoted. Then afterwards, people broke out the cigars and dug into the food and it was back to chilling out.

After the promotion, I headed to the office to meet my teammate and together we were going to bring some video donations out to Freedom Rest which is an extremely unique aspect of the base where I reside. Freedom Rest is the military's equivalent of a resort where servicemembers can go when they receive their 4 day R & R which is too short to travel to the States. When we arrived at Freedom Rest we were lucky enough to be taken on a tour of the facility and it truly is the closest thing I have seen to a luxury setting (excluding the pre-existing palaces in Baghdad). The floors are shiny and tiled, the cherry couches are a glossy leather. The servicemembers can go and place their meal order off a menu where it's then delivered to them by a waiter. There is a movie theater, the most up to date technology and best of all, two Jacuzzis and a pool! The highlight of the trip came when our tour guide, a KBR employee said that since the servicemembers come on 4 day cycles there are the occasional off days when no one is there and she promised to email when the next one came up!

Finally, today my teammate and I got up early to play with the Combat Stress dog. You may remember when I was in Baghdad I was able to play with the Specialized Search dogs. The Combat Stress Dog is a pilot program run by the Combat Stress Clinic where the pup, a Black Lab named Boe, is actually a therapy dog whose sole purpose is to ease the stress and increase the morale of the servicemembers. My teammate and I met the adorable "Sergeant First Class" Boe who immediately made my heart ache with happiness. How do dogs do that?

The best part is that I spoke with Boe's handler and we have plans to host a morale event nicknamed "Pool Party with Boe". Because she's a Lab, but never gets the chance to swim out here, (I can relate) we are going to purchase a kiddie pool and hold the event in our building's courtyard which actually has a lawn with real grass and access to a hose. We'll buy doggie treats and people food and advertise the event around base. Boe is so popular out here that I have hope the event will be a great success!