Saturday, June 20, 2009

Several Things

The Heat

You may have heard the saying, “the dog days of Summer”, in reference to those hottest days in summer when the sun’s heat sinks into the very soul of your body causing an almost uncontrollable desire to simply sit and do nothing - like a bloodhound on the porch of a dilapidated wood-slat house in a holler of the West Virginia hills. Do you know that feeling?

Well, that’s what it feels like 24 hours-a-day, 7 days a week here in Iraq. We all just feel like doing that bloodhound thing. However, wish as we might, to sit on the porch and drool our way into oblivion, the mission goes on and our porch sleepin’ days will just have to be a mirage on the desert sands for now.

It’s simply amazing just how hot it can get here and we have yet to reach the hottest part of the summer. A few days ago temps climbed to an incredible 120 degrees! Now maybe in central California and some parts of the great state of Texas that’s no big deal, but for us it’s only the beginning – there’s promise on the horizon for that temperature to go up and up and up.

Now imagine yourself in this weather. Perhaps you have on your favorite OP shorts (a throwback to the 80’s there) and maybe your favorite pink Izod LaCoste pullover (second throw back, okay so I’m an old guy), multi-colored Vans sneakers and a pair of Vuarnet’s (alright I was born in the 60s and found fashion in the 80s – so sue me). The bottom line is – we don’t have those things here.

The fashion my soldiers are sporting these days is a set of full-length flame-retardant cargo pants and long sleeve shirt, 35-pound protective vest, leather boots, 3-pound helmet, gloves, knee-high boot socks, Camelback type personal hydration system, M-4 Rifle (6 lbs), 7lbs of ammo, and up to 10 lbs of video or photographic equipment. Do the math and you’ll find that when our soldiers step outside the wire they have added anywhere from 60-70 pounds to their body weight (not including their snacks and goodies to chomp on during the day, their notebooks, tapes, extra batteries and so on).

The temperatures are still climbing and my soldiers are still working, no dog days here. I’ve had my days in the sun too, but this is their time and they are doing a great job. I just thought you should know what your sons, daughters and friends are doing out here and the conditions 
they do it in. 

I dont' tell you this so you can develop a greater appreciation for them, those feelings are probably pretty strong already. I tell you this so you can know just how dedicated these great soldiers are. They go out every day in hopes to tell the story of the American soldier here in Iraq - no matter the weather, no matter the danger. I just thought maybe someone should tell their story too.

The Dust

Two days ago we had an incredible dust storm. Now, I know I have mentioned this in a previous post about how crazy the dust storms are here in Iraq. But, this one was simply amazing. Think of a blizzard in the dead of winter somewhere in Wisconsin (or some other icy cold place of your choice). This was a dust blizzard. Hot winds gusting, dust blowing so thick you can’t see 4 feet in front you. At the same time the dust was so fine that it blew in through every nook and cranny of our CHU’s, filling our rooms with a billowing mini storm inside.

In the morning, although the dust was still settling, there was literally a blanket of dust all around. It reminded me of the pictures and video I saw back in 1980 when Mt. St. Helens erupted and ash had settled everywhere. The dust left behind had stolen any color around us, everything was the color of a potato skin just digged up. With so much dust still hanging in the air, there was a lingering smell that reminded me of those first days of summer when you sweep all the dust out of the garage for the first time – musty and dusty.

I’m including a picture here to give you a glimpse of what a storm like this looks like as it rolls in (I'm trying to find out the name of the photographer). This is the edge of the storm that hit us as it comes in over the Al Faw Palace at Camp Victory. We’ve been coughing it up ever since (okay, that might be a bit gross).


About 50% of the unit has now or presently is on R&R (rest and recuperation leave). Even as we speak one of our soldiers is headed to meet family and friends in Thailand. That’s a pretty exotic place and of course most of us haven’t and won’t go to such places, but it doesn’t matter. What’s important is that no matter how or where we choose to spend our 15 days of time away, the fact that it is away from here and with those we love most, is what makes the difference.

We are about half way through the deployment now and even though we are busy and doing a great job, the tempo of all work and very little play can wear you down. I’ll be honest, there are times here that feel like a prison sentence. Accommodations, although nice compared to other places here in Iraq, are still pretty crappy. From shower points and latrines to round the clock sweating and long walks to get a meal. No matter how much we love our work here, this lifestyle eventually gets to you and you need a break.

I went in May. It took me 49 hours to get home, from the moment I left my CHU to the minute I stepped off the plane to see my family in Idaho. The two weeks that followed were worth every second it took to get back home. You forget how colorful life is outside of Iraq. Back in the states, trees are green, cars have colors (other than tan, white or dust); clothes have patterns and variety. There are other food groups besides chicken, chicken and chicken. The latrine is just a few steps away from the bedroom and you don’t have to put on all your clothes to get there. Nobody is yelling at you to get your work done; instead they say things like, “just sit down and relax for a while”, “watch TV”, “take a nap,” and “I love you.”

I love the Army, I really do, and I love my job, but nothing compares to being home. For those that have had their soldier come home for R&R, I hope you enjoyed your time together. For those still looking forward to that R&R, I encourage you to spend it wisely. Make every moment count, don’t quibble over the small stuff, focus on the quiet moments, don’t over plan, don’t try to live a lifetime in two weeks, you simply can’t do it. Just spend time talking, laughing and looking forward. Before you know it, we’ll all be home again.

That's all I have to say about that. Good day.

1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/22/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.