Military Housing (with a minor in smokers)

I’m not one to complain about military life because I actually like it. I would not have stayed in 10 years now if I didn’t enjoy what I’m doing. However, there are some things that the military does (or perhaps it’s the freely elected civilian leadership) that irritates me.

One thing is the military’s recent decision to privatize housing on military installations. Now, being in as long as I have, I can understand the why of it. Previously, under military rule, if you had a problem with post housing you’d call the work order desk. After they took your complaint, they’d give you a ballpark figure about when the repair would be conducted. Usually, you had to be available between now and 23 years after retirement. That’s the window for showing up for the repairs. You are told to make sure that someone is home during that period, because they wouldn’t do anything without you. After hanging up the phone, they called their spy cell and sent out undercover agents to watch your house. It was a very elaborate effort, I’m sure. After waiting all day on the day they told you to wait, you decide a quick run to the mail box is in order. The housing spies immediately call in your departure from the house and the repair guys converge and ring your doorbell. Of course, you’re checking the mail only 50 feet away, but out of view of your house. Satisfied, they have done everything in their power to fix your problem, they leave a note and you start the whole process of initiating a work order all over again. They get paid, you get pissed, and the world keeps turning.

Now, though, contractors are responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of all military housing. This is actually a good thing because soldiers are no longer doing menial tasks like pulling weeds, picking up sloppy, lazy people’s cigarette butts who just couldn’t use their ashtray or stick the buttin their pocket, or sweeping gutters in the street. There are people who now come out with their loud leafblowers and clean the gutters for us. They pull the weeds, trim the hedges, and organize the rocks (we don’t believe in grass here in the desert). When we call in a work order, the wait is generally no more than a week, most of the time a couple of days. Sometimes, we get same day service. It’s a much more efficient system, which should be embarrassing to the military, but isn’t. The problem with the previous system is that there wasn’t enough oversight and the civilians working for housing were lazy and got away with more than they should have.

This actually saves the taxpayer money (at least that’s what they tell the taxpayers, I don’t know). In the past, under the Army system, when we moved into base or post housing, they wouldn’t pay us our housing allowance. We didn’t really need it, since the military was paying for housing. Nowadays, our BAH (basic allowance for housing) is given to us, but we have to set up an allotment that takes the money back from our paychecks and pays directly to the contractors. Here’s the fun part that irks me a little.

In January of each year, the military generally gets a raise in both their basic pay and BAH. I like to call it more of an allowance. It helps me buy an extra soda a month 12 times a year. I mean, how can I complain about 12 bottles of Dr. Pepper more each year I stay in the military. A few more years of this, and I should be able to start buying cases. So, this year we got a BAH raise of about $230. So, this year I get to pay an extra $230 to my “landlord” for the exact same house, the exact same loud leafblower, and the exact same lack of parking that I had last year. Next year, I’ll probably pay at least another $100 to them. Anywhere else in the country, I really wouldn’t have room to complain because I decided to live on post. And, to be honest, I chose to live on post here too. But considering the nearest town(?) is Barstow and it’s 40 miles away, I really didn’t have a choice. I would have to buy gas twice a week at these astronomical prices and would have ended up losing money in the long run anyway. So, I’m almost forced into paying over $1200 a month for an apartment I wouldn’t willingly own anywhere else.

I guess I can take solace in the fact that I’m not picking up after lazy, selfish, good-for-nothing smokers who throw their cigarettes on the ground and out their windows! I don’t feel that way about all smokers, just the ones that litter with their cancer stick remains. Of course, whether you smoke and properly dispose of the butts or smoke and incur my wrath by throwing them on the ground, I’m gonna live longer!!

So, until that life insurance kicks in, I remain…

CJ

Next Gen Spiderman ?

My youngest daughter has an unusual love for Spiderman. This used to belong to my son, but he’s outgrown it. She’s a second generation Spiderman.

Next Generation Spidy Fan

Domesticated

I’ve been domesticated. I had an epiphany yesterday and decided that my fate is sealed. There are few things I’ve learned to do since I got married that I never used to do. For example, I baked bread yesterday (granted it was in a bread machine, but it’s a step), I have to clean up after myself (though this still needs some attention to perfect), I eat at the table most of the time, I sleep in pajamas, I take out the garbage (I don’t understand, it’s mostly biodegradable and will disappear one day by itself, won’t it?), my music is barely audible anymore and it’s gone from Slayer to the Spongebob soundtrack, I have to obey speed limits (though I continue to try and push the envelope with this one), etc. Married life is different, especially when you love your wife the way I do. I don’t mind changing a little, it keeps me around. It’s also warmer sleeping next to her than balancing myself on the couch.

Now, just because I’m domesticated doesn’t mean I’m not happy. Quite the opposite. I’ve never been happier in my life. To be fair, I probably wouldn’t be alive today if not for Emily. Before I met her, I was an alcoholic. At just 19 years old, I had been drinking heavily for four years when I met her. I can’t exactly pinpoint any real reason except that it got worse when my family moved to Japan during my senior year of high school. Fitting in wasn’t easy so I began to drink more. The good thing is that I was well hydrated. To even things out, I mixed my liquor with Gatorade. A drunk’s gotta keep up his electrolytes.

I’d had many girlfriends who gave me the ultimatum that it’s either them or the bottle. Needless to say, I went through a lot of girlfriends. But, Emily made me want to give up my best friend (to some Mr. Weiser, but we were on a first name basis….it was Bud to me). We had a long talk that turned into an argument, and Bud and I parted ways. It was really ugly and we don’t even send emails anymore.

As a testament to how bored I am today, I was watching C-SPAN this morning. The air conditioning bill for the House must be astronomic. There is so much hot air in there that I’d hate to be in the top rows where it all rises. They were debating whether or not the Solomon Amendment should be reinstated. What is the Solomon Amendment? Good question. Let me explain:

The 1996 Solomon Amendment provides for the Secretary of Defense to deny federal funding to institutions of higher learning if they prohibit or prevent ROTC or military recruitment on campus. The main topic of discussion today was just allowing military recruiters on campus. About 3 days ago, in a suit brought by members of the Yale Law School faculty, a federal district court in Connecticut declared the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional under the First Amendment and enjoined the law’s enforcement against Yale. The reason that Yale had banned the military from recruiting on campus was due to the military’s gay service policy. Let me remind my readers that the military didn’t set this policy, lawmakers did. We may have lobbied for it, but it’s not our policy. If the legal idiots looking out for our best interests decided gays can serve openly, we’d have to support it. Personally, I’m not really opposed to gay’s serving in the military. I don’t support the lifestyle, by any means. But, who are we to say that gay’s can’t fight and die for their country like anyone else? Our military today isn’t like the one of old, where everyone shares showers and huge bay style living conditions.

I think the main problem here is that the hippies and stoners of the 60’s who protested anything military are now running these educational institutions. They have not changed their mindsets are now thrusting their views onto anyone attending their schools. I think Ronald Reagan said it best when he was California Governor in the early ’70’s about war protesters and those who protest the military. “The last bunch of pickets were carrying signs that said ‘Make love, not war,’ he said of anti-war protesters. “The only trouble was they didn’t look capable of doing either.”

The house passed the legislation with a huge majority in favor. I’d like to know which representatives voted against this bill. If the professors want free speech, like they reference in their opposition, then let those students decide for themselves. Isn’t it a violation of the first amendment to deny a student possibilities? Down with Yale!!

CJ

The “Hostages” Home

The home he was taken from, by force no doubt.

His Home

The “Hostage” Photo

The Hostage

The Toy

Toy Hostages (Updated)

The lead story blared “Web Site Claims GI Hostage in Iraq?” Just looking at the picture made me laugh like crazy. I’ll post pictures when I get home from work. (I found a picture of the same figure online. Here’s the link.)

“Hey, I have one of those,” was my first thought. The insurgents have resorted to taking toys hostage and dressing them to look like real soldiers. I guess the recent elections have affected their morale more than we can ever imagine. Heck, they couldn’t even find a miniature AK to stick to his head? Who uses those magazines in their M4’s anyway? No one in this man’s Army. I think that the insurgents should to the right Muslim thing and at least provide “John Adam” with a Barbie to keep himself occupied while he awaits his “beheading.”

You know, the insurgents might be on to something. After they behead the “GI” they can put it back on later, change his clothes, and threaten to behead him again, releasing another photo through the press that they had captured yet another “GI.” With some really good airbrushes, you could change his nationality.

I suggest they find a similarly scaled HMMWV and burn it with a lighter or set it on fire next to the Barbie mansion and use that for their propaganda as well. They could have a photo of her with her hands covering her mouth in horror reacting to the news of the death of her “husband.” I can’t wait to see the claymation beheading of “Adam.” It’s like a cool web-exclusive movie.

Oh, oh! …and then have the other Special Forces dolls rappelling from a helicopter (held up with fishing line so as to be invisible) and the insurgent Gumby dolls can repel their ambush and be victorious again. It’s good to know that the insurgents have resorted to playing with dolls. At least they’re learning valuable social skills like getting along with others and using their imagination.

This just in, Jennifer has just been confirmed kidnapped and is being held at an undisclosed location at the second house on Al Kindi Street in central Baghdad, next to the pharmacy. Here is a picture if you have any information leading the purchase of another one.

Until Geppetto prays for “John Adam” to become a real boy, I’ll sign off as……

CJ

Spades

If you don’t know how to play spades, you’ve probably never been in the Army. I had never even heard of the game before joining the Army. I’m not sure if they play in the Navy, but my father was in the Navy and he never mentioned it.

My first duty station (and where I currently lay my head at night) was Fort Irwin, CA. The whole mission of this place is to train a Brigade Combat Team. A BCT is composed of about 3000 soldiers. The last time I was here, I was a part of the OPFOR (Opposing Forces). We played the bad guys on the “battlefield” and made life hell for units coming here. The battlefield is a 1000 square mile patch of desert stuck out in the middle of the Mojave desert. Just look on any map, it’s the large black hole in middle of southern California near the Nevada desert. The nearest “town” is Barstow (see previous posts for comments on this cesspool of wretched humanity).

Anyway, every month, we spent about 2 weeks in the field kicking the butts of whatever unit would dare enter our domain that month. Every so often we’d lose a battle (you gotta stroke their egos at some point). The battles are fought like one huge, expensive laser tag match. All the tanks, infantry vehicles, HMMWVs, helicopters, soldiers, etc. are fitted with sensors and lasers that can detect when you’ve been “killed.” Every “hit” is given a kill code. These kill codes take into effect distance from the target, type of ammunition, aim of the shooter, and sometimes how well you can manipulate the transmitter. When you are hit, a buzzer goes off in your vehicle and displays your kill code: catastrophic kill (you’re dead, start assessing your casualties), mobility kill (can’t move, but shooting okay), communication kill (commo is knocked out), and weapon kill (can’t shoot, so you might as well pack your bags and stick your head in the sand). For the BLUFOR (the units that come for the training) a kill isn’t the end of your day, unfortunately. It means that you have to pull out your casualty cards and start performing first aid based on your “injuries.” Injuries are determined by a card given to each soldier at the beginning of a rotation.

However, if you’re on the OPFOR side of the house, a kill means something completely different. In the OPFOR, you almost hope for a kill on some days. A kill means that you can commence Operation Juicy Steak, Eyelid Inspection, or Cardshark (codes for chow time, sleepy time, and spades time). I think we went to the field with more pogey bait (real food, not that MRE mumbo jumbo. I’m talking beef jerky, canned ravioli, ready to eat soup, pop-tarts, etc) than we did ammunition and clothing. Underwear takes up very valuable charcoal space. We’d all pull out our collapsible chairs, MRE box tables, and dirty pack of Vegas cards and begin a healthy game of spades.

I first learned how to play here at the National Training Center. Everyone plays. If you don’t play, you’re chastised and made to sit in a corner until you come to your senses and start being a real man like the rest of us. And it is a manly game (though many females play also, they must conform to the smack talk that is so prevalent among male players). If you aren’t smack talking, you are also sent to a rock to contemplate your place in this Army. There is no room for nonconformists here, no sir!!

Thank the maker for Yahoo Games too. Without them, my spades addiction would have probably landed me in a federal penitentiary. I would have probably broken into Walmarts across America and forced the night shift to play spades with me or I would have threatened to stop buying their generic soda at a reasonably discounted price. On Yahoo I could play spades ANY TIME OF THE DAY OR NIGHT!!! Now, I’m getting giddy again.

As I sit at my office today, finished with a day’s work and unable to leave, I have found myself again levitated towards spades….cyber spades. And that’s not all. They have gin, hearts, dominoes, and almost any other card game you can think of. Windows’ solitaire is a thing of the past. No more mine sweeper. This is the age of ethereal card playing. And what does all this mean? I’m way to psychotic about cards and need to find something to do with myself.

Until I do, I remain………

CJ

Lunch with Iraqis

Lunch with Iraqis, just one of many!

Lunch With Iraqis

8 Million Iraqis Can’t Be Wrong

The polls are closed! The Iraqi people have spoken. It warms the cockles of my heart (and idiom which means one’s innermost feelings) to know that despite what the American and international press wanted the world to think, the Iraqi people “have no fear,” as was shouted immediately following a suicide attack. The people kept walking toward the polling stations. All we’ve been hearing in the press is how no one will vote, and President Bush is in trouble, and…blah blah blah. I’ve made my position pretty clear about how I feel about our “informed” media in other forums, particularly the forums at AAP (shameless plug).

We might as well rename our media “Al Zarqawi’s Private Press.” They do more to further his mundane dribble than Al Jazeera most of the time. They need to show some of the backbone that the Iraqi people showed today, and show no fear. Get out there in the thick of things and put your life on the line in the pursuit of truth. Or get out of the country and go back to reporting and Britney’s Spears new tattoo here at home.

Last week, I was on AM radio talking about how all it takes for peace in Iraq to be successful was for the Iraqis to take matters into their own hands. I’ve got a lot of faith in the Iraqi people, though my opinions about them are mixed. During my time in Iraq, I sat down to meals with many Iraqis who bravely opposed the insurgents and invited us in. There are many people over there willing to risk their lives for worthy causes. I just didn’t know there were 8 million of them.

It’s sad that about 40 people died for that peace, but those are the true martyrs in my opinion. They died for a worthy cause, one that American soldiers have been dying for for almost two years. I hope that the Iraqi people see this as a first step and not just a one-time event. I hope they their newfound strength in numbers and crush the insurgents that are infesting their neighborhoods and plunging their rich heritage into the dirt.

As an American, I want to be among the first to say that the Iraqi people have my respect and admiration for their acts of courage today. It takes a special people to accomplish what they did today. It makes me proud that I didn’t risk my life for a lost cause. Soldiers over there now have reason to rejoice. You are largely responsible for a brand new democracy in a place that has never known it. Pat yourselves on the back.

CJ

The Map Revealed

This is when I told him the truth about his “map.” I feel really bad.

The Map Revealed

The Map, Cont…

Another shot of the “map.” To those sewers out there, it looks quite obvious doesn’t it?

Continuation of

The Map

Okay, so the story of the map. First, some background:

Part of my job is that I exploit enemy documents for any intelligence value. During the war, it was my distinct pleasure to search dead for any information they may have been carrying on them. As soon as a battle was over, I’d take a team and go through the pockets, personal effects, and buildings of the enemy trying to establish an identity, affiliation, and/or who else was involved. I’m not your run of the mill intel nerd. I’m a tactical intel nerd. I am on the front lines fighting the fight with whomever I’m attached to at the time. For the first week of the war I was with 3/7 Cav as they blazed a trail for the rest of the 3rd ID. Then I moved to 4/64 Armor battalion for a feint operation to draw the Iraqi military from Karbala and Hilla. Then I moved to 1/64 Armor for the “Thunderruns” into Baghdad. Once in Baghdad, I was attached to 3/15 Infantry to clean up and regular presence patrols. I stayed with them when we transferred to Fallujah.

When we got Baghdad, there was no shortage of information to sort through. The worst part was searching the guys that had obviously been dead awhile. You cannot understand the sights and smells of combat until you’ve been through it. The smell of a decomposing human body is one that will never leave my nose. The site of one will never leave me mind. Picking through the pockets of one to find out why he was shooting at us or why he had so many RPGs in the trunk of his car is an experience I hope I never have to relive.

themap2After every mission, the leaders would bring my team and me whatever documents they thought were of intelligence value. One day, I got an urgent call from the S2 (battalion intelligence officer) that some maps had just come in and I needed to go over them immediately. I rushed up to the makeshift office, took whatever information they had, and went back to my area to begin the tedious process of going through hundreds of papers and maps. I went immediately to the map in question and stopped cold as I began to open it up. For those that aren’t too indocrinated about how the Army works, officers are commissioned after completing college degrees. Usually, they are commissioned through military academies or ROTC programs. Sometimes, they branch over from enlisted guys to officers (a program called green to gold). So, the majority of second lieutenants (the lowest officer ranking) are children, no older than 22 years old most of the time. As soon as they graduate college they are placed as platoon leaders in charge of anywhere between 15-40 soldiers. It’s the job of the platoon sergeant to properly train the platoon leader on military matters and assist with leadership decisions. At times, we also help change their diapers.

The story goes that as the patrol was clearing an area a man took off running. As he ran from the patrol, he dropped a map. The platoon leader picked it up and brought it in for me. I looked at the map and instantly began formulating how I would deal with this “important” information. I went back and told the S2 what we had and asked if he could get the Lieutenant (LT) to come in immediately. He was on patrol but would be able to come in about an hour. As we waited, I got my team together and briefed them on their jobs during the meeting: We needed someone to take detailed pictures of the map, someone to agree profusely and sternly to everything I said, and someone to apply the pressure. I would ask the questions.

When the lieutenant was brought it, I assembled my team, the S2 and the S3 (operations officer). I laid the map out on the table and asked the LT if he recognized it. His eyes lighting up, he answered, “yes, that’s the map that guy dropped as he ran off.”

I asked him to tell me in exact detail where he was when the map was found. Where was the guy running from? Where did he think he was headed? What did the guy look like? Did he have any other maps on him that he could see? How old was he? Would he be able to get there again? Were there other people around? Did they see the man drop the map? Does he know what this thing is?

He answered everything he could and I pulled out one of our tactical maps and laid it beside the map he brought in. I showed him how certain lines on his map corresponded with our entry routes into the city. One box represented Baghdad International Airport (at the time, we called it Bush International Airport after removing Saddam from the name. That didn’t last long.). Some of the circles around the routes represented underground bunkers where chemical munitions were being stored. I explained the significance of all the markings on the map he gave me. Then I said, “and the one thing that really told me exactly what we were dealing with is this.” I unfolded the top right hand corner that I had previously wanted hidden during my oration. Unfolding the corner, I read “Pattern #326” and the name of the dress pattern for a little girl. After wasting about 35 minutes of the LT’s time explaining what he had brought me, his face turned bright red as he realized that his “map” was actually a sewing pattern!!
themap
Everyone in the room burst into laughter, something you could tell everyone was trying hard to avoid throughout my entire presentation. And we made sure that we got it all on film.

The Map

This is a story for a post by itself. I’ll explain it later this afternoon in my next blog.
The Map

Iraqi Family

This was a girl that we “adopted” along with her family while we were in Baghdad. An Iraqi man was threatening to rape her and we found the guy and arrested him. He confessed to it all and we kept visiting the family.
Family Adopted by my Unit

Cj In Iraq

Me in the pose made famous by Saddam at the same location.
Pose made famous by Saddam