Saturday, May 30, 2009

It’s Not the Humidity, It’s the Heat

Some have asked about the weather here. In a word, it’s hot. For a second word, it’s dry. For the next several months, we won’t see a drop of rain. The predicted temperatures for today through Monday are 100/68 (68 is the lowest temp I’ve seen in my 3 weeks here), 104/75, and 106/79. Although it gets cool at night, by 0800 it is in the 90s. Don't feel sorry for me though. My CHU (containerized housing unit) is well air-conditioned and I have an air conditioner in my office that I can adjust the temperature for and turn on/off. Because of the kind of work I do, about the only times I am exposed to the heat is going to/from work, meetings, and meals. The people who take the brunt of the heat are the Security Forces (SF, aka police), aircraft maintainers, airfield operators, construction, and others like that. They deserve credit for getting the mission done under these conditions.

The other day I had the opportunity to visit the base’s East ECP (entry control point), basically a base gate. This entrance is used by the local nationals (LNs, we have an acronym for everything) who need to come on base either to work or visit the Air Force Theater Hospital (As an aside, our hospital does an awesome job taking care of our troops, the locals, and even the enemy. The day I visited the ECP, a 5-month old was brought to the hospital because he wasn’t breathing properly. They resuscitated and took x-rays of the baby and we saw the family leaving as we were coming back on base). I spent an hour walking around seeing how our SFs provide base security and process people. I was VERY impressed. I’m grateful the men and women of SF are there. It is hot and dangerous work. Because of the threat, they have to constantly wear their body armor and helmet. By the end of my hour touring the ECP, I was soaked to the bone with sweat. Kudos, and prayers, to them and all the Airmen, Soldiers and Marines who are patrolling in the cities, villages, and countryside.

I said it is dry, but I should also say it is dusty. The dust gets everywhere. Sometimes the sun looks more like the moon because of all the dust in the air (makes for beautiful sunsets though). My green boots now look tan. We are told to clean our air conditioner filters weekly because of it. It does rain here though, from October/November through March/April. And you know what happens when you add rain to dirt, you get mud. Apparently it gets so muddy here that you have to take an extra pair of shoes with you everywhere so you can change into clean ones when you go into a building. We even have something called MudCon (mud condition). When MudCon is in effect, vehicles must be sprayed down with pressure washers any time they are going near where aircraft operate. That way they don't drop mud near an aircraft and the aircraft then sucks it up into its engine. It is definitely never dull here. :)

I find that I’m adjusting to the weather. Last week I wasn’t feeling well. I went outside into the heat (probably high 90s at that time) and immediately felt better. Also, I find I don't start sweating as soon or as much when I am outside. But I still get to work in air conditioned comfort, so slap me if you ever hear me complaining about the weather.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

17 years and 1 day

Normally, as the calendar approaches 27 May, I think back to my graduation from the Air Force Academy on 27 May 1992. It didn't click at all this year. Last night as I was eating dinner at the DFAC (I was told it stands for Dining Facility; I assumed each letter stood for a word, such as Dining Facility All Conditions or some other military jargon), this year's graduation was being broadcast on the Pentagon Channel. Riveting television for sure. Watching this year's class graduate reminded me of my graduation. The Vice President as the commencement speaker and presiding official. Graduates' names being read, squadron by squadron. Graduates saluting the VP, then each other, and then hugging at the bottom of the platform. The beautiful weather.

Okay, well not so much that last part. We had a driving, bordering on freezing rain the day of our graduation. The weather was so bad the VP couldn't land in Colorado Springs, but instead flew into Pueblo and was driven up, which takes over an hour. All the graduates, family, and friends were waiting, in the rain, during this time. I think all of us were soaked to the bone and frozen by the time the ceremony started. The VP gave a long (and boring) speech on family values. This was during his public spat with Candice Bergen over her TV character, Murphy Brown, becoming a single mom. The Academy uniform for graduation includes white pants. You could clearly tell what color underwear people were wearing when they went up for their diplomas. I don't think there has been a louder cheer for when the last squadron, my squadron, was announced. In the picture of me shaking hands with the VP, he is turned away and talking to the cadet holding an umbrella for him. Thanks. The traditional flyover by the AF demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, was cancelled for only the second time in the history of the Academy. If nothing else, it was memorable.

Despite all that, I am very grateful for that day and all my family and friends who sat through it to support me. I am also grateful for the intervening 17 years and all the support I have received during them. I firmly believe each military assignment is what you make of it. Some have been better than others, but there is something good about all of them. I feel blessed by the places I've traveled, the experiences I've had, and the people I've met. Okay, I better stop before I get too sappy. Not to mention, I'm not done with this career yet. There is still more good to come.

Okay, that didn't really have anything to do with being in Iraq, but I warned you.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Post 1, but not Day 1

It took me a while to set this up and find out I could do it while at work. It is somewhat difficult to get on the Internet outside of work, so I couldn't do this if I couldn't post at work.

For those of you I haven't been updating, let me catch you up. I arrived in Iraq on 8 May after leaving the US on 3 May (I stopped in Qatar for a few days). The guy I replaced greeted me at the terminal and helped me get settled in. We had a week of overlap, so more than enough time for him to hand the reins over to me. Yes it is hot and dusty here, but you get used to it. I've been told a lot of people develop respiratory problems here, but so far (knock on wood) I haven't had any problems.

Let me run you through a typical day of mine. I wake up at 0530 (military time, it's just easier). I go to the gym to do CrossFit. I love CrossFit because it changes everyday and it kicks my butt. After my workout, I go back to my room to shower and get ready for work. I go to the chow hall (they're called DFACs here; nope, I don't know what that stands for) and grab breakfast. I'll usually get it to go so that I can check e-mail and read intelligence reports while I eat. When I get to my office (I have my own office), I check work and personal e-mail to see if anyone loves me. Then I'll read reports and take care of any hot or quick tasks before going to the daily 0900 wing update. That runs about a half hour and it is back to my office. My meetings vary, but there aren't too many of them. Most of them are on Friday and Saturday, and there is even one on Sunday. Most people work 10-12 hours a day, 6 days a week. I work 7 days a week, but I have reduced hours on Saturday and Sunday so it is about equal to 6 days. We are here for the job, so might as well be at work. When I am in my office, I am usually reading messages, fighting the e-mail monster (it exists even here in Iraq), coordinating with people locally or even back in the States, or working on my list of to-do's. There is always plenty to do, so I am keeping busy and time is passing fast. I'll call it a day between 1800-2100, depending on what I have to do and how motivated I am. So that is a day in the life.

A little on the living conditions. When I first got here, I was in what is called a dry CHU (containerized housing unit). It is a roughly 10'x10' room with two bunk beds, two wall lockers, two night stands, and a few other odds and ends. Dry means it doesn't have running water. So I had to walk to another trailer to go to the bathroom and yet another to take a shower. This past weekend though I moved into a wet CHU. I still have my own room, but I share a bathroom with another guy. It is wonderful not having to get dressed and walk outside when I have to go to the bathroom or take a shower. My new CHU also has a single queen-sized bed instead of the bunk beds, only one wall locker but it also has a closet, a desk, and a recliner. It is also much bigger than the other room. I get the better room because of my rank and because I'm here for a year. I'm grateful.

Many of you know that I have been a vegetarian for the past 3+ months. I have been able to maintain it, but it has been difficult. The DFAC near me is small and has limited food choices. I find myself eating too many grilled cheese sandwiches and onion rings. If I drive farther (I have a Ford F-150 to drive around--boo Ford, but yeah I've got my own set of wheels), I can go to a larger DFAC that has more vegetarian options. Still, I'm thinking I may eat vegetarian most of the time but have meat (but never red meat) now and then. I'm concerned about getting enough protein since I don't have access to soy or tofu products here. I figure I need the protein with the workout program I am doing. Separate from the vegetarian issue, the food tastes good and they serve you too much of it. Also, dessert is available at every meal. I need to workout just so I don't gain weight.

There is more I could say but it is dinner time so I'll save it for another post.