Monday, January 29, 2007

Random rambling
Current mood: chipper

Almost the end of January. Again with counting down days on the calendar. Valentine's day is fast approaching, and unfortunately Uncle Sugar took away the present most of the guys in my unit had been counting on being able to give our loved ones...namely getting our narrow asses out of a combat zone.

A quick word about operational security. Succinctly operational security is the concept covering the measures taken to protect information which might prove harmful to us were the enemy to come into possession of it. Here are wikipedia's and Defend America's articles regarding operational security.

Operational security is why occasionally some of my blogs seem to lack color or detail, and why I can't discuss precisely or sometimes even vaguely what I do on a particular day. It hamstrings me a bit, but since it's my ass and those of my crew and my platoon on the line I am not about to discuss things which could be used by a potential adversary to do us harm. I'm sorry if that means that things aren't always as interesting as they could be, but better safe than blown up.

No longer about OPSEC

Now that I've accepted our extension, and my leave is well over with I'm getting back into a groove. I'll admit I was suffering from some blues and anger over the situation that I kind of had to battle back against. Well, I won and I'm back on my feet.

This resurgence of the cheery funny me has manifested itself oddly in my case. I've gotten on an organization/cleanliness/fitness regimen. My room still isn't spotless, but it isn't the frightening cave it was shortly after I got back here from leave. Instead of collapsing on my bed, or spending hours surfing the internet after missions I've made time to get into the gym and get into some good hard Stew Smith and crossfit style working out. Also my battle buddy Nick has been on my case to start running again, and today made me go out and do two miles on the somewhat worn out new balance sneakers. That's OK, more are on order from amazon as we speak.

Speaking of amazon feel free to check out my amazon wish list. Most of it is just fluffy feel good stuff, or some things I set aside for myself to remind me to buy when I get home, but some things like the pull-up tower would really be handy over here. Y'see Anaconda has a pretty well equipped gym for the most part, but there are literally two pull up bars in the whole place and they're both stuck between the cross cable pull stations so it's always a contest or a chore to get in and do pull-ups. I like to do pull-ups. I'd like to be able to do alot more. I honestly don't think it's possible that such an item could be shipped over here, but there are some wonderful creative people out there who read my blog, so maybe something nice could happen.

Nothing new on the home robbery front. It's not really that big a deal though, just stuff. It was insured, and while I'm out the cost of my deductable it's not going to sting that much. Crazily enough they didn't get a really nice watch I had sitting on my bedside table (inside of which were my guns) or a leather Ducati motorcycle jacket that cost almost as much as the competition glock pistol they stole. I guess if you're going to be robbed it's best it were done by dumb and/or lazy criminals. Still, if I get their hands on them they'll be briefly sadly and then in enduring pain.

As I type this I'm doing some Valentine's day shopping, and listening to iTunes. It's almost 10pm but we have a late start tomorrow so I can afford to stay up for awhile. That and I just drank a soda an hour ago so it's going to take awhile for the caffeinne to burn off. I'm also playing with a new photo printer I just bought since someone requested I send them some photos she could get her hands on. Well, I'm working on it. Just trying to pick some photos out. I'm terrible at that. I'm a good photographer and a horrible model.

Hope everyone at home is safe and warm. We're doing OK over here, and multiple news reports to the contrary aren't experiencing any kind of surge in enemy activity. This makes patrols kind of dull, but keeps the loved ones happy.

Take care, and I'll write again soon.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Yesterday was a grumpy making day

It didn't start off well, the weather was rainy and nasty. We had a patrol, and the roads can get pretty hairy when the weather is bad.

Then I got an e-mail from my mom. Some asshole broke into my house and stole a whole bunch of stuff. Some guns, some change, and my remote control helicopter. Beyond that I can't be sure exactly WHAT was taken since I'm not home to be able to do any kind of inventory. So that had me REALLY po'd.

Then I saw a notification that there had been a helicopter crash south of here in which 13 Soldiers were killed. A good friend of mine is stationed a FOB near the crash location, and was due back from leave yesterday. Now there are literally hundreds of helicopter flights around here every day, and the odds that my friend was on that bird were slim, but ya' still can't help but worry, y'know?

Then just to make the morning perfect the showers were locked up for some reason no one was able to explain.

Well, today is a new day. I heard from my friend and she's fine. The showers are back on, and an annoying problem with the gun turret on my truck has been fixed for the moment. And myself and my electrician buddy from Fremont climbed up and fixed our satellite system.

My apartment being broken into and my stuff stolen still has me kinda ticked, and kinda sad. But I have insurance, apparently they were dumb enough both to steal registered firearms and to leave fingerprints, and when we get home in July I think myself and some battle hardened buddies may just track them down and have a brief discussion about why stealing from Soldiers is a bad idea.

Not much else new and interesting to report right now. Take care all, I'll keep my head up (and on a swivel), and we'll be home...eventually.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Now with pictures

Changing over to patrols from the ECP has been a good time. Still long hours, and crappy weather (mostly) but with different goals, and a different work environment it's been making the time go by a little more quickly.

Here's some photos of life on patrol in Iraq...

This is my office

My mom sent some action figures along to relieve us so we could go home. Since they won't let us leave we put them up in our gun turrets as reinforcements.

Prepping for patrol. This is when we sergeants walk around going 'Do you have everything you're supposed to have, and does it have new batteries?'

If you're going to roll into combat, it's best to do it well prepared. How could you be better prepared than with a nice hot ultimate sized cafe' latte'. This is how you go to war.

Uh-oh, we had to stop out in the middle of nowhere, what's going on?

Oh, someone had to get rid of their latte'.

Hope those were well enjoyed. Not much more to add right now. Take care, and see ya'll soon.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Here we are; born to be kings; we’re the princes of the universe
Current mood: determined

Thus begins one of my all time favorite songs, by Queen from the soundtrack to the movie 'Highlander'.

It feels like that sometimes, being a soldier. You're out amongst a population of people many of whom are violently hostile toward you, but you're wrapped in an armored vehicle, wearing sixty pounds of armor plate, carrying deadly weapons with which you're more than proficient, and you have a group of buddies right next to you who will endanger their own lives to keep you from trouble and vice versa.

Now that our extension is effective most of us have come to terms with it, and have found the positives (although persons are encouraged to write their congress-critters and have them vote us a sizeable monetary bonus). I worry more for our families who are still worried for us. I'm afraid that they some how think we're going to come back from this changed mentally and emotionally beyond recognition from the people we were when we left. It's my observation that this couldn't be further from the truth.

While I was home on leave people would occasionally ask me "So how is it over there?"

If they were veterans I'd give them some details and specifics, but no matter who they were I'd always answer "There are good days and bad days, but mostly just long boring days."

A well known military cliché' is that war is long periods of tedious frustration punctuated by moments of intense fear, and elation. I've come to realize that most of the time when something about which you SHOULD be afraid is happening around you, you're usually too busy dealing with it to even realize you're afraid. After the situation is resolved, and normally resolved in such a way that you realize you were foolish to ever be afraid in the first place, is the period of elation. Also short lived. But nothing about what we're seeing and experiencing over here is likely to make us into people who are fundamentally different than we were before we left.

Certainly our fathers had it far worse in Vietnam, and our grandfathers suffered and fought through horrific conditions in the second world war and Korea. My great-uncle (my grandfather's brother) Leonard Ulrich was a radio operator with the 734th Tank Destroyer battalion on 6 June 1944. They were on one of the very first waves ashore on Omaha Beach. He died that morning communicating with following waves out on the water, insuring they would be able to more effectively place their troops. On that single day they suffered casualties in numbers and horror that dwarf anything that happens over here.

Our enemies are cowardly, poorly motivated, poorly led, and poorly supplied. Their one advantage is the ability to melt into the local population and hide there, rendering nearly impossible our attempts to bring them to the fight. This is frustrating, but when we ARE able to engage them directly that's where the elation comes in. Anti-Iraqi forces have NEVER won a gun battle against US forces, and I predict they never will. The roadside bombs are bad news, and we do what we can to protect ourselves, but beyond that you just drive and don't worry. But we're always hoping they're going to pop up and start shooting at us. Because then we know we can win. Why? We're the princes of the universe. "I have no rival, no man can be my equal!"

Six more months and we're on the way home. At least it'll be summertime. The pool at my apartment complex should be jumping, I'll have 30 days of leave, and a brand new Italian motorcycle just begging to have its wheels ridden off. Plus quite a bit of cash in my pocket.

So don't feel down for us. We'd rather be home, but we're also ready for another opportunity to take the fight to the enemy. So bring it Muji, me and my guys are coming home on our feet, and we'll see you in hell.


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Well, it's official
Current mood: crappy

We had a formation tonight and our commander informed us that the extension order had finally come down and we are oficially extended for 125 days. We're staying in place here, so everyone back home keep your blood pressure down, I'm not going to Baghdad to kick down doors.

I did get moved off the ECP to the patrol element for a few weeks. This was something I was expecting, and doesn't really elevate the danger level all that much, but it is more interesting than sitting in one place staring at your buddy and watching him either sweat or shiver depending on the weather.

I got some neat pictures yesterday, and I'll be editing and posting them in another blog entry in the next few days.

I know some folks are disappointed that I won't be home as soon as expected. I'm one of them. But I'm still proud to be over here doing my duty and taking care of my guys. Oh yeah, I bought a brand new high end Dell laptop to quell my hard feelings.

Take care all, and may the force be with you.

SSG Murf

Friday, January 12, 2007

Rumor control

Rumors are very powerful in a military organization.

My brigade has a whole web page devoted to combatting rumors which can be viewed here.

The latest rumor that's been making the rounds is that the brigade to which I'm attached is being extended in Iraq for 120+ days. Everything I'm seeing from 'unofficial' channels, that is news media and officers not in my direct chain of command, indicates that the extension is a done deal and we'll be here until July.

If I were a gambling man (and I am) I would bet that these rumors turn out to be true.

An important fact though is that we've received NO official notification yet. Our orders to redeploy on time had already been approved when this rumor started to make its rounds in the news media, and as of yet no orders extending our tour have come down. That's not to say that they won't, it's very likely that the process of writing and pushing those orders down is taking a little time. Troop movements of this size are large and complex endeavors and the lag between announcement of intent and the delivery of specific orders could take time.

I'm still hoping to redeploy home on time, but at this point I'm not counting on it, and most of us have already accepted the fact that we will probably be over here until summer. On the plus side I think about how much more money I'll be able to save. Perhaps enough to just pay cash for my new Ducati.

I've already contacted the dealership that they may have to delay delivery and I'm waiting to hear back from them.

So long story short, we may be staying a bit longer. We're a little bummed out about it, but we're disciplined and capable soldiers and we'll do what's expected of us to the best of our ability. If we DO end up being extended I'm not going to attend any schools, and will instead return home with the rest of my unit.

As soon as we receive official word I'll let everyone know. I miss you all, and I'll be home as soon as I can.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Plane Crash

Well, yesterday was a bit hectic. A Russian aircraft full of Turkish contractors crashed right outside our base. The last numbers I heard were 35 dead, one survivor badly injured. I wasn't involved in this in any way except to hear alot of discussion on the radio.

Nothing else too exciting going on. We have to take a physical fitness test tomorrow morning. We're hoping for good weather. It's been raining alot, and the whole base has turned into a big muddy swamp. The forecast says it's going to be nice, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.

I've been procrastinating on laundry, and I've GOT to get some taken in in the next couple days or I'll run out of underwear!

Sorry this one isn't particularly fun or interesting. Be well, and we'll be home soon.


Thursday, January 4, 2007

Welcome back to Iraq

Well, I can't give out dates or anything like that but we're definitely on the downhill side of our visit here, and accelerating to the end.

It was SO nice to get back here after two weeks of R&R at home. Let me describe a couple of my experiences that were real 'welcome back' moments.

Alot of IEDs and other explosive ordnance are found before they detonate. They're transported safely and detonated in a controlled manner where they can't hurt anyone. But detonating things are loud, and the word about when they'll be detonated doesn't always get put out. It's always fun being awoken early in the morning or if you're a soldier suffering from jet-lag being awoken from an afternoon nap by several explosions which shake your living box and literally rattle the fillings in your teeth. After five or six of these you finally here the sirens and the public address system announcing the controlled detonations are complete. Not gonna miss that...

As I said in my previous blog entry the movement here was quick, without much pause at any one location, but lots of time on airplanes. All in all it was about forty hours between taking a shower and shaving at home and being able to settle down and do the same thing here. So I was really looking forward to a hot shower. I did my research by asking my buddies which shower trailers had hot water lately, and waiting until I knew the showers wouldn't be too busy. Of course my efforts were for naught.

We have these trailers with about 12 shower stalls, sinks and mirrors in each. Each trailer has two large water heaters which should theoretically provide plenty of hot water. However all the water feeds down the same line. So there I am, enjoying a nice hot shower. Somehow I didn't hear the other soldiers walk in and turn on their showers at the same time. My first clue to this was the blast of ice (not cold water, it literally felt like being hit with ice) pummeling me from the shower head, and I'm pretty sure I screeched like an angry chimpanzee.

My platoon sergeant (who's a pretty good guy, and a friend back home) had a heart when he saw I hadn't slept at all the day I got back and gave me the next day off. But he still has responsibilities to meet too, so I was back on duty yesterday.

It's cold in the mornings here, but warmed up to about 65 in the afternoon. I of course was dressed in my thermal under-armours and was roasting when I had to go out on the lane in my body armor and try to drill some big signs into concrete barriers. Of course the drill, the drill bits, the screws, and the anchors were none of them designed for the task, and we had to push, grunt, swear and improvise. We managed to get two of the signs up. Then backed up and re-planned and we'll finish that little task up today. But that's typical of Iraq. Some stupid little job that is probably important but seems trivial. And it has to be done with the wrong equipment by people not really trained for it in a short amount of time.

I hope that doesn't sound like I'm bitter. I'm sure the story reflected above has more to do with us being National Guard than the military effort here in general. The Guard is a bit different. Special in a way. Most of us have whole separate careers for which we're well trained and qualified. This means that we usually expect to just take these little jobs and run with them rather than bothering with the rigamarole official channels necessitate. When it's something we can do like in my case setting up computers or writing a news release it all comes together well. When it's something we can't do like in my case drilling holes in concrete and mounting signs it can be sort of frustrating. But we're a 'can do' organization and when someone says something needs to be done we look for ways to do it rather than reasons not to.

Well, it's almost six AM here. I'm going to see what the shower situation is like.

Love and miss you all, only a few more months to go.


Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Just the facts
Current mood: tired

I'm back in Iraq. That happened fast! Yes, I was on airplanes forever, but unlike the trip home from here the trip back went very quickly. It seemed to be raining and crappy everywhere, and our plane in Chicago broke down, but they quickly put us all on another flight and we left only about two hours later than originally scheduled. I arrived in Atlanta, checked in and had about two hours in which to catch something to eat and call friends and family (Hi Mom, Dad, Joy and Tamara) before the plane took off.

The flight crew from Atlanta to Germany were very nice. Just as we were passing over Newfoundland they passed out apple juice (no drinking allowed...sigh) and we had a new year's toast. We landed at the former Hahn air base in Germany, and there were little sandwich stands and a duty free shop to spend money in while we waited for our plane to be refueled. Two hours after landing we were back in the air.

I landed in Kuwait and got through our various briefings just in time to run over to the morale tent and watch Nebraska lose to Auburn (big frown face). I sent out a quick e-mail over the world's slowest internet connection then grabbed a few hours of sleep and we were on our way again by 6am. I arrived here in Iraq around lunchtime today. Like I

To all my friends and family with whom I discussed timelines regarding our return it looks like I was right on. Only a couple more months here. Instead of my first training evolution being in Ashland it's now going to be back at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. After that it's over to Montana for a couple of weeks, but I'll still be all done and arriving home for good at about the same time.

I had a great time home on leave. It was kind of like being a rock star. People would just come up to me in the airport while in uniform or bars and stuff and thank me for my service, and buy me a drink, or just pat me on the back. In a way it was sort of difficult as I'm not really comfortable being in the center of the spotlight. I don't mind being recognized for having done something, but I honestly don't feel like I deserved all the attention I was getting. The free beers were nice though.

Nothing much has changed here, except it looks like I'll be finishing out my tour quietly on the entry control point. Not much glory, but not much physical danger either. And all I really want now is to get all my guys and myself home in one piece and let us go on and enjoy our lives.

So to sum up; I've arrived safe and sound, not much longer to go, not much danger to worry about, and I had a great time on leave.

Thanks to all, and I'll see everyone again soon.