Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Memorial Day was just another day

I was going to do a post for Memorial Day but our internet out here has been acting up so here I am a day late and a dollar short.

Back in the states, Memorial Day weekend meant a 96 (4 day weekend) where everybody would either head out of town and have a good time someplace with their friends and family, good times to be had for all. Being in the military, one of our defense mechanisms for dealing with death is not to think about it until it strikes. It's human nature for people to suppress bad emotions unless it strikes close to home. Most of us rarely think about the meaning behind national holidays including this one, it's just cool to have the extra time off and be someplace where we can enjoy it.

Memorial Day in Iraq is a little different, we don't get any time off and there are a few services around the base. For a majority of people it's just another workday, chows a little better and they put nice table cloths on the tables. But there's no beach to hang out at, no family to see and definitely no beer. Just another day in Iraq.

Out here we work 24/7 with a day off a couple times during the trip, there is no real down time. One dusty day after another of following a schedule that shows little change. Sleep, shower, eat, work, eat, work, eat, sleep and start over again. Maybe today you went to a brief service to pass a token gesture to those who have fallen before you then it's back to the schedule. That is if you're lucky, that's all you did on Memorial Day.

I you were not lucky, you know buddies who died in the prime of his or her life, sometimes right next to you. Their book was ended before its time by an enemy who has no face and shows little value for human life. That person has given this holiday great meaning for you and you're probably not going to forget them for the rest of your life. You have cried countless tears into your pillow where no one could see and at service of your comrades, the tears have rolled silently down your face. You don't need a holiday to remind you.

Sometimes we forget the meaning behind this holiday but just maybe, we're just lucky that we didn't have someone to remind us.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Advice for Iraq (update)

Each year I do an update on this list, so this is my current version with new things added as technology gets more advanced. This list is geared towards the RAMF guy. If I were in the front lines living out of a bag, I wouldn't be carrying around a 10th of this gear. This is just general advice.

You don't know how much you miss music till all you hear is the local stuff all the time (sounds like circus music). Bring an MP3 player and a way to charge it, good headphones will pay themselves off fairly quick.

If you actually work out of an office and can afford it buy a laptop, half of the people out here have them. Mark it, put stickers all over it and use a password. A laptop is an endless source of entertainment, you can play games, write all of your emails off line, watch movies or make them. Lots of fun to be had, just make sure you have all of your programs installed before you make it to the sand box, some games you need to register online before you can play and you might not be able to hook up the laptop out here. Be careful of the heat, if it's hot for you, don't even turn it on also don't use them during dust storms.

Bring a thumb drive to transfer files back and forth between your laptop and the world at large.

My old external hard drive was worth it's weight in gold, I came home from my last trip with more music and videos then I'll ever be able to watch or listen too. I bought a new one for this trip and I plugged it in and it let out a cloud of smoke, sigh. Remember technology is touchy.

Nothing is as important in life as a good pillow.

Write and call home often, you're afraid that people might forget you, well it might happen if you never call home.

If you like writing, start a blog, like taking pictures, start a photo page, there are a lot of people that enjoy this stuff, families back home will love you for it. Make sure you tell your command if you want to avoid trouble, there's rules for different services on how they handle blog writing.

If you get care packages, share, don't be a hog.

Be nice to everyone, remember everyone is armed, if someone wigs out and goes postal, an asshole makes a much better target then the nice guy.

Baby wipes can be used for anything, dusting, wiping down toilet seats, cleaning weapons, throwing at people, etc. It's also a common item in care packages so don't bring more then a box or two with you (they also sell them at the PX).

LED headlights are the bomb, if you forget everything else, don't forget this, they last 10 times as long on the same batteries and don't burn out, you'll probably get better deals in the states then you will out here. Bring two in case one breaks.

Always have a leatherman.

If you hear something go BOOM it's always best to duck and look foolish then have the second mortar take off your head.

You know you're used to the heat when it's 110 outside and you think it's a cool day. Whatever you do, drink water, even if you're not thirsty, you don't know if you're going to be running to some emergency 10 seconds from now.

It's always best to have more gear then too little unless you have to hump it, then it's the other way around.

If it's important to you, put it in a ziplock bag, if you're going somewhere, lock it up and if you want to get it back if it's lost or stolen, mark it.

Don't smoke next to the tent and if your tent catches fire, no matter what anyone says, unless you're about to be burned to death, grab at least one uniform, your computer and weapon before leaving, most everything in a tent fire is history.

DON'T send all of your uniforms at once to the laundry mat.

Stay on your toes, if you see someone, who is not an American, doing something strange, accost him or her, it's better to look foolish then to have a bomb explode outside of a tent full of people, no need to be rude, just take a look at his badge check out what he's doing. Plus, if you're right and the character was going to do something evil like and you calling him out stopped him. You are hearbye known as a hero, just because you were paying attention. You have just saved X amount X amount of lives and chances are there's a medal involved without having to go through all of the angst of a firefight, dodging bullets and use of that posthumous word in your award (hopefully).

If you have a something wrong with you, get seen by medical, it's free.

This trip is as bad as you make it, whatever your situation, someone out here has it worse (hopefully you're not that guy).

Don't shoot people that piss you off.

Clean your weapon daily.

Check the power requirements before you plug anything in, remember most of the power out here is 220 while in the states it's 110, plug something 110 into a 220 plug and it's toast. Almost all laptops, external hard drives, portable DVD players and chargers for cameras and camcorders can take both but check it first. Power converters don't work that well so it's best to buy something that can handle both voltages before coming out here.

Sleep while you can, but don't sleep when you're needed.

If you feel like you're about to wig out or really mad, give your weapon to somebody else to hold, sometimes having a loaded weapon isn't the best thing to have when you think the world is out to get you. Step back and remember that the most important thing about being out here is getting home.

Sign up to some of these find support sites on my sidebar. You won't regret it unless you or someone else signs you up to all of them. You'll have more care packages then you know what to do with and when you get them, write these people back and let them know that you appreciate what they gave you.

Remember, stay calm. Find a routine and think of things that keep you happy, when you think of them, write them down so you can remember later. If it's material, tell some of these support site people about it and they might send it your way. If it's a person, call them or write, talk to people around you and try to take this trip one day at a time. If you think about how long you're going to be out here, counting the days off, it will compound your homesickness and make you miserable.

This trip is what you make of it, it's definitely not the end of the world (for most of us).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I wanted to say a few words of thanks to the people who have been sending me out some wonderful care packages:

First person on the list is my wonderful wife, I've got a hand written letter from her almost daily and an email, numerous post cards and all sorts of care package goodies that I didn't even think I needed till it arrived in the mail. I sometimes have a hard time believing my good fortune to be married to this amazing girl. She's everything I imagined and more in a partner and I'm very grateful that she's mine. Thank you my beautiful flower, I love you.

Next on my list is a Native Texan who lives in the Oki, Vicky Brown sent out a box full of medium and large tee-shirts saying "CORPSMAN OF MARINES" and a couple other boxes full of goodies, toys and gag gifts. From all of us here, thank you.

Ori Pomerantz sent out a box full of science fiction books and a new copy of The Two-Space War by Dave Grossman which I just got done reading. I don't think I've read more naval history and battle tactics slipped into a science fiction novel before. Dave is a teacher of the psychology and physiology of combat and by reading this novel, you can tell he knows what he's talking about. Good book Dave, have already started on the next one. Ori said if any other deployed folk our here want a copy email him ori at simple-tech.com and he'll be happy to send a copy out. Thanks for the support Ori.

Ariane also sent me a box with 30 or so fantasy books which have swelled our shelves much, I haven't heard back from her so I'm not going to use her full name, thank you very much though!

Both of you made the book readers in our squadron very happy, don't worry, they're being put to good use.
Linda Swinford of Helmetliner sent 300 or so neck coolers that are being used daily by our air crew, thank you very much.

Deb Field of Powell Goldstein LLC in Atlanta GA had a stack of boxes sitting here for all of us when I arrived with lots of good stuff inside, thanks!

I didn't get quite a million letters but I did get a box full that I passed around from www.amillionthanks.org and I wrote to no less then ten people out of the box.

Last but definitely not least, Josh Wright of Downey CA who is a Marine at heart gave many of these folk my name and sent out a couple of boxes of goodies and care packages, thanks!

While reading the news, you might see a decline in support numbers for the President there are still lots of people out there supporting the troops and speaking as a guy on the ground, we do appreciate it. All of you have been great, thank you.

Monday, May 22, 2006

When stress comes calling...

I really didn't have a reason to be feeling stress, yes it has been a little busier and we're at the 1/3 mark in the deployment. Too much work and not enough play must have been adding up. So tonight when I walked outside of my office and saw the dead camel spider sitting on the ground. A light bulb blazed to life in my head and I swear I heard a devil giggling in my ear. I had found my outlet. The idea was a hodgepodge of blog posts about camel spiders and how I was always talking about grown Marines screaming like little girls. Tonight I will have proof!

So I bent over and picked critter up, pulled my digital camera out of my pocket and started a quest to all of the shops around the squadron. My plan of attack was; I would walk up to people filming and tell them I was making a video to send home about Iraq, ask them their name, how they liked Iraq and what they thought of camel spiders and halfway through that question. I would toss the carcass onto their laps. The numbers that came from the process? Out of 15 subjects tested, 5 did indeed squeal like little girls (one was female though). The squealers as a whole did jump out of their chairs or from where ever they were standing, moving almost faster then the eye could see away from the spider. Two of the subjects started swearing a blue streak and vowing revenge upon my body. One forewarned possible subject saw me approaching his area and started picking at his fingernails with a large knife. I didn't include him in the study.

As soon as I can figure out how to make the quicktime movies from my camera into clips I can use in windows movie maker, I'll put the highlight moments together and post them on line. I'm too tired and sated with mischief to work on it tonight. Sigh, I've opened up a can of worms and I'm sure there will be some sort of payback. At least life will be interesting!

Personal Data of 26.5M Veterans Stolen

Anybody following this story? Very scary stuff.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

when it rains..

I'm still putting together a thank you post for all of the care packages I've received but I wanted to say a few words about safety. If you're a civilian, you wouldn't believe the levels we go to concerning safety programs. We have rules about everything, get on an aircraft you have to wear a cranial and hearing protection, helmet while riding bikes (good idea), every vehicle out here looks like something out of Mad Max, wearing reflective vests after dark and they're even issuing ear plugs for fire fights (about time). Every nut and piece of safety wire in the aircraft has an SOP on how to put it in properly. Each of the Armed services put out well written safety magazines in all of the separate fields with horror stories of bad things that happened to people who weren't paying attention.


This week has been a trial of bumps, bruises, cuts and broken bones. For my unit, the biggest enemy isn't insurgents, its accidents. Being in the medical field is like fishing; some weeks you don't get a bite and others you get a flood. That's what this week has been like, bike accidents, sprained ankles, chipped teeth, getting poked with sharp objects, you name it. Not one thing life threatening but the feeling is in the air. Everyone is walking around a bit softly, each injury means a small stack of paperwork about what happened, how medical fixed it and lost man hours which means someone has to take the slack.

Far from sitting around this week being happily bored, I've been sewing, splinting, putting on Band-Aids and dressing non battle wounds. Don't worry about me, I'm paranoid about safety but even paranoia doesn't cover all of the bases. I'm just trying to get all of my Marines to develop the same mindset as I have. Our number one job, before any other job, is to make it back home safe and in one piece.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

I've posted pictures

Since I'm slacking this week on my wordsmith skills, I'll use my camera instead, pictures are over here.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Milbloggers Live

Sorry about the lack of posting but I've actually been a bit busy taking courses online and working on a warfare device that I've been slacking off. But enough of me, the great milblog fathers have come together to do a group blog called Milblogs (imagine that!), none of us are quitting our day jobs but we're using this as a forum to toss ideas back and fourth. I've had the honor of being of being invited and have already done a post. Check it out, some good stuff going on. Other then the added work, life out here isn't too bad, still have all of my limbs, my wife writes me daily and the food doesn't give me the runs. What more can you ask for?

Let me catch up on some sleep and I'll post something of substance, take care and have a great week!

PS people who have sent me care packages, Thanks! You guys and gals are the greatest!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Camel spiders, dust storms and acts of god

The camel spiders and scorpions are coming out, every night you can hear cheering coming from one of the maintaince shops as they put their latest contender into battle. You can preach the dangers of playing with poisonous insects but boys will be boys. The scene of Jarhead where they’re fighting scorpions? It’s been relived every night in multiple units out here and probably has back into prehistoric times.

My mom was always a bug squashier and her lessons backfired on me, turning me into a lover of small things creepy, crawly and slithery. I don’t take parts in the fights because I feel guilt for putting these critters in the ring, I catch them and then let them go far away from work. Yeah, I’m a big softie. Growing up in Arizona, I’ve never grown a healthy amount of fear of bugs or snakes. They were just a part of life and I let them go on their way unless they were taking up residence in my house then I would catch them and let them go outside.

We had a sand storm come in this afternoon, it hung over the valley and you could see it creeping across the landscape, swallowing everything. I made a video of it then ran into the exchange for cover. The sky darkened and the dust in the air added a fog like quality which unlike fog, made you cough and seeped sand particles into everything. I was going to the exchange to see this 8mm camcorder they had the day before but it was sold out (ended up not being the model I was looking for anyway, no USB or Firewire plug). So I made my way over to the covered bus stop, taking what shelter that I could from the wind and dust. Without goggles, you’re blind in weather like this.

I had sat down in the shelter from the wind when I noticed that the bus stop across the way had blown over and there was a group of people milling about someone on the ground. Being the corpsman, I rushed out back into the elements to provide assistance. The covered wooden bus stop had blown over and landed on a contractor.

I asked, “Has the ambulance been called?"

“It’s on its way”

An Army 1st Lt had taken charge and was doing an excellent job, I just provided support. We gave the patient C-spine precautions and held that position till the rig arrived a minute or so later, there's no reason in this kind of situation to move the patient any more then you have too. We turned the patient over to the good hands of the paramedics and walked away into the swirling dust.

I went over to my bus stop (after making sure it was anchored) and got on the next bus. The sand was still blowing and lightning started to flash through the clouds of dust and halfway to the squadron, rain started pouring down like god had thrown open the switch. At my stop, I made a mad dash to my building and said whew! Half an hour later, the rain had stopped, the sun was shining and all of the dust had been knocked to the ground. Crazy weather out here, you never know what you’re going to run into when you wake up.

A word of advice, don’t take shelter in anything that isn’t anchored down during a dust or wind storm, on my first trip, one of my warrant officers was in a port-a-john during a dust storm a gust of wind blew the entire row over on their doors into the street. Brown out conditions, you couldn’t see anything ten feet away, he was lucky that a passing humvee saw them lying all over the road and stopped before hitting the pile of them. And even more lucky that noticed that one of the John's was rocking back and forth making panicking sounds. He got out of it with some minor abrasions, a bath in that green stuff and I'm sure a mild case of post traumatic stress having to do with port-a-johns, yuck! Ever since, all of the other port-a-johns at this base have been anchored down.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Labor of Love

We’ve been at this base a little over 3 years in some form or another and each unit to roll through here has left books behind. Fast forward to the present, our unit has a couple thousand books spread out through a couple different buildings on stacked 3 deep on shelves and in boxes.

Being the reader that I am, it was driving me nuts so I finally got off of my rear and did something about it.

Started off with making some shelves out of the crap we had with the help of Sgt Elka and Sgt Delacruz. Took most of a day to tear everything down then it was time to make order of the chaos. So I started to put everything in alphabetical order, for a week, Marines were coming by ever few minutes, saying “who did you piss off?”, “that’s crazy trying to get all of that in order”, “that’s going to take forever”. I replied with “I’m doing this because I want too”.

I went around to all of the different places we had books stashed, pulled whatever letter I was working on and hauled it back to be put in order.

While I was doing this, several thoughts rose in my head. Why in the heck do people send so many romances? How many copies do we need of this book or that? What happened to all of the good science fiction/fantasy? We definitely had an excess of romances, so I gathered up the cheesiest of them and donated them to the book collection of a fellow unit one night and saved several small stacks to stash in some of the desks of some rather gung-ho Marines. I did leave some but they had to have at least good reviews or be on a best sellers list. I took all of the duplicates and put in a box for later donation to some other in need except for ones that I’ve read and thought were really good, which I let keep two of. Send more S/F/Fantasy!

I separated the books into 5 groups, fiction, non fiction, horror, science fiction/fantasy and hardbacks. Here’s a picture of one of the 3 shelves. No I haven’t arranged the hard backs yet but the bulk is done. Anyone want to hire a librarian without a master’s degree in library science? I’ve got the love and talent. Take care everyone.