And just so nobody out there thinks we are constantly bored either, I can assure you there are great many more days of action and adventure.
With those bases covered, I want to focus on the days of boredom. Any deployed soldier knows that slow days are our enemy - days when the time passes so slowly that you feel like you have been and will be in Iraq forever. The way to fight this enemy is with busywork, whether it is directed from higher authority or at your own initiative, busywork helps the slow days to move along a little faster.
However, if you have a choice between busywork at the hand of the commander and first sergeant or to take the initiative to find your own - the latter is always, hands-down, without argument the best way to go.
Of course living on a forward operating base (FOB) in the middle of Iraq doesn't offer much in the way of entertainment and variety when you are looking for a way to keep busy. So, for most of us we make a new project for ourselves or find some out-of-office (like out-of-body) diversion to keep our minds occupied and the second hand spinning.
Here are a few examples.
A few weeks ago, SSG Burrell came to me with a proposal to enhance the visual appeal of our office. Note to all future leaders who may lead SSG Burrell someday - keep him so busy he doesn't have time to think up "projects".
"I have it all planned out first sergeant," says Burrell. "I've taken measurements, we can get some wood and I've made a drawing for the KBR contractors to follow. I even talked to 1Lt Sarratt and he thinks it's a good idea."
For the record, another interesting note about Burrell; when he wants to do something, he goes to everybody else to get a consensus about his scheme before he approaches those who make the final decision. I believe he does this to show how he isn't the only one who believes in a project or idea - it's his way of "closing the deal".
"Alright, tell me what you want to do," I say.
"I want to have some framed boards placed on the walls in the hallway of the building where we can hang examples of the photos we have taken on assignments out in the field," he says. "Then I want to have a special board strategically placed
across from those boards where we can hang framed portraits of ourselves so when people come to visit us in the MOC (media operations center) they will know who each of us are. I've talked to everybody about it and they all think it would be a great idea," He adds.
"How are you gonna pay for it?" I say.
"Well, what do you mean?" he says, "you just tell KBR to make it and they just do it!"
After some discussion about how to get the project off the ground, I agreed and away he went. It wasn't a full time job to make it happen, but when he had time to follow up on the project the busy work he had created for himself helped the slow times pass, and in the end we have a shrine of photos in our hallway - most of which are SSG Burrell's or at least 25 - 30% of them. It looks good and it really does add to the aesthetics of the place.
There are other ways to pass time too, though not quite as involved as Burrell's Board.
There's a bridge that crosses over a canal on the way to the DFAC (dining facility) here on Camp Liberty. On any given day, around the meal hours you can see a collection of soldiers standing on the bridge gazing into the water. Some are pensive, some are laughing, some are being mischievous. You see, it's not just feeding time for the restless soldiers, it's also feeding time for a school of canal carp and box turtles gathered in the murky green canal water below the bridge.
Some soldiers stay for just a few seconds and others stay for a while to feed the fish and turtles the leftover bread, cookies, cereal, chicken or whatever morsels they have left from the breakfast, lunch or dinner meal. I've done it myself, even in the hottest temperatures of the day. I don't know why it fascinates us so much, but it does, and those few moments we spend on the bridge just seem to help the moments pass by a little quicker.
I think part of why we are drawn to the bridge is that when we arrived here over 5 months ago the little swimmers were just tiny fishys and turtlettes. Now, after eating Coco Puffs, special K, herbed chicken and leftover dinner rolls, the once tiny animals are getting huge and it's fun to watch their progress. The bigger they get, the closer we are to heading home. Maybe that's not what's on our minds all the time, but it is a marker for the passage of time.
Blogging, reading, coffee, religion, golf and bootleg movies. These are a few more things we've found to help pass the time on slow days and for the down time between missions. As I mentioned before, we actually don't have too many boring, do nothing days around here. Most of the down time we have is between missions. Sometimes a couple hours here, twenty minutes there and late nights in our CHUs.
For folks like SFC Burke, PFC Ward or SGT Fardette this is the time for coffee. Discussions about coffee, what's the best way to make it, what's the best blend, who can we get to send us free coffee. I know it doesn't seem to be a way to pass time but it is. It's not so much about the content of what you do to pass time, it's the mental break you get from being here that makes the time pass.
For the commander, blogging has become a way to pass those in between moments. She is one of our most consistent bloggers and she like to read too. It's her way of getting away. 1Lt Sarratt has taken it upon himself to help me pass the time by teaching me to drive a golf ball - how to stand, how to hold the club, how to keep your eye on the ball, how not to throw my back out in the process.
Some lift weights, others sit and watch bootleg copies of recently released movies. Heck, we had a copy of the new Star Trek movie here on Liberty before the week of its release was out. I personally spend my after hours time with other soldiers of my religious faith.
That's the way it is out here. Every hour is counted, every moment away from home is apparent. Time does not get away from you here, whether on mission, eating chow, cleaning your weapon, writing a story, preparing a brief or taking a dump in the latrine, the time does not pass without notice. So, we fill it up with something that makes the time well spent. Minor things maybe, but certainly not mindless.
Most of my blogs take several days to complete since I try to write them in between the normal events of the day. Today, I have a block of time to focus. And well, what do you know, almost 2 hours have passed and I have a completed blog. I guess that's two hours closer to home.