Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Poultry Without Morals

I do a little bit of browsing through other blogs, especially mil blogs. I enjoy reading about the experiences of other soldiers and how they differ from mine. To be sure the experience here is highly individual. However, there are some things that are the same for every soldier, everywhere, at just about every point in history. One could, if one were so inclined, put the wartime experiences of the average soldier on something of a continuum. It would range from that which is perfectly individual (such as the fit of the uniform) through the semi-individual / semi-corporate (such as the sound of gunfire at various times of the day and night) all the way through the entirely corporate (such as dust and heat). And on the corporate end of that spectrum would be something that every soldier experiences every day, if not multiple times a day. I am, of course, referring to chickens.

In my humble estimation, chickens are THE common denominator of daily life for the American soldier. Because different soldiers are on different schedules most chow halls offer not a mere three meals but an impressive four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the ever popular and name free midnight meal. And while each meal will offer a variety of foods from which to choose, such as veal, green beans, milk, burritos, etc. Without exception something in the meal cornucopia is made of chicken.

It is staggering, when you think about it, the number of ways the average chicken can be prepared, modified, recycled and reused. It can be fried, broiled, basted, roasted, and barbecued. Truly unique among the ingredients of the world. And as everyone knows, anything that is either unidentifiable or heinously unpalatable is usually said to taste like the wonder food, chicken. It would take volumes to adequately explain the creativity with which the food service personnel manipulate this culinary delight. And as I think back on my many months overseas in support of the war effort, I believe I can say with very little uncertainty that the US Army euthanizes and consumes at least one hundred billion chickens a day.

While I normally try to include in my entries some point, reason or moral, today I have none. Today's entry is little more than an ode for the food of the masses...our friend, the chicken. That said, it's dinner time and today I'm in the mood for a big, succulent piece of meatloaf.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The Power of a Pear

It's only 9:20am but it's been a pretty good day so far, if for no other reason than that it was different. There is a bazaar just off post where local craftsmen and businessmen come to sell their wares. It is a good source of revenue for the locals, which works to our advantage. See, if there is any kind of attack against coalition forces during the week, the bazaar is cancelled that week and the local economy takes a hit. The locals are then pressured to cough up whoever was responsible for the attack so as to kick start the income producing wares sell-off. That may sound kind of harsh but it keeps coalition forces from being harassed or hurt, keeps the bad guys at bay, and offers local tradesmen a source of income.

The bazaar offers everything from local clothing, to pseudo antique stuff, to bootleg DVDs. It is a great place to buy souvenirs for folks back home or find a keepsake from the war. It was fun because if you even said "hello" to the sales guys they would point to something they thought you were looking at and say, "You're my friend. How much for that?" The game was to lowball the seller and see how far down he would come on his price. I wanted to find a teacup for my wife to add to her small collection. I thought it would make an interesting addition. But there were none to be found. The only thing I found was a small holy-grail-looking chalice made out of stone. Rather old looking but who knows. They guy said it was 2000 years old and cost $75. I chuckled and offered him $5. He chuckled back and said $75. He was the only guy who wouldn't budge on his prices. Most of his stuff looked like real antiques but you can never tell. Plus, he had unique stuff whereas most of the other guys were selling multiple copies of the same item.

I bought my boys some shepherd hats and a small walnut jewelry box for my daughter. I also found a small shield like you might see in a movie about the middle ages. The guy wanted $80 for it and I told him $20. He said no so I walked away but stayed in the area knowing he would make a counter offer. He did. $60! I said I could pay $20. OK, then $45 but no lower. How about $20, I countered. Final offer, $25. I'll pay $20, no more. As we stood there not budging, I pulled a pear out of my pocket that I had left over from lunch and began to polish it on my sleeve. That did the trick and he flinched. "OK, I'll take $20 and the pear".

I'm sure some of my readers may be thinking how cruel I was to lowball this poor man. Here I will interject that in fact the shield in question wasn't worth $15 and certainly not worth my pear.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Global War Against Groundhog Day

It could be called several very appropriate names. The most popular of which is unquestionably, "The Global War On Terrorism" or GWOT. It's a good name. After all, we are here to fight terror. Peace loving people from many nations are dead because of terror. And the goal is to defeat the scourge of terror around the world. It's a good name and a good goal.

It could also be called "Groundhog Day". Each day is a near carbon copy of the day before. In fact, it can be outright boring. Sure there are the occasional heart-stopping experiences that seem to come out of nowhere, but the mundane, everyday stuff is nothing to write home about.

We are sleeping in 8 man "B-Huts" that are not unlike your grandfathers tool shed, except without the tools or the accompanying yard. Plywood and bunk beds round out the decor. Privacy is the rarest of commodities. However, when you exit your living quarters, the drabness of plain plywood gives way to a sight right out of a movie, if that movie were titled, "The Day The Earth Turned Brown". Man is it brown. The dirt is something of a light mocha color, like the perfect cup of rich, dark coffee destroyed by a touch of milk. And to ensure that depth perception is next to impossible, the Department of Defense Hue Equivalence Team has developed an exterior paint that perfectly matches the dirt. It is the most impressive display of chemistry in action that I think I've ever witnessed.

In stark contrast to the extreme brownness of the world outside is the little dabs of color and life God puts on display. This morning, as I languished in my 8-man den of public non-privacy, I happened upon the smell of coffee. One of the guys in my room had brewed a fresh pot of coffee and man did it smell good. Side note here, the coffee was actually Starbucks that was donated to the American Red Cross and handed out to the troops. Wow, was that a nice smell to wake to. So I got up, grabbed a cup and headed out the door to enjoy the morning air and the fresh coffee. It was relatively quiet and there was a light rain coming down. Not the soggy type, but the kind that makes everything smell damp. It was actually quite lovely. Some things, like the smell of morning, are the same around the world (except in Korea of course). Just beyond the front door of our B-hut is a wall made out of Hesco Barriers which are essentially 6 x 6 x 6 foot sand bags. So we have what amounts to a large, 12 foot wall of very brown paint-colored dirt just outside. As we sat and talked and enjoyed that beautiful cup of Joe, I noticed something. There atop the brown wall, silhouetted in a dusty brown sky was a single, scarlet flower. It stood out like a lit match in a dark closet (not that I ever lit any matches in the closet, mind you. It's just a metaphor...or simile...or metaphor). The thing is that one flower had the potential to become a whole acre of flowers, given the right growing conditions.

Here is where reality punched me right in the face. We are fighting a fight against an enemy that is all around us but so blended in that you can't see him. But despite the violence and hatred, a seed of freedom has been planted and watered by the scarlet blood of combatants and non-combatants alike. And given the right conditions it will eventually become a huge field of color where only drab brown reigned before.

When that happens, look out, 'cause a whole bunch of tired GI's are coming home.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Self-Inflated Travel

This trip began much the same way my previous deployment did (as recounted in "The 50,000 Foot Nap of Death". After rising early in anticipation of freezing my tail off for several hours on end, my wife and I hurried to prep the kids for another day of school. After dropping them off we stopped for breakfast at a local greasy spoon and then she drove me to the air field. I hate saying goodbye but even more, I hate saying goodbye over time. So I checked in, walked her back to the car, and sent her off with one more kiss.

The first leg of our journey was again on a C-17 which took off right on schedule. As we sat and waited to depart, I glanced around the plane, which is really little more than a flying tube. It was loaded to the gills with all manner of equipment, ranging from large vehicles to small people. A vehicle near me had a warning sticker on it that read, "No Smoking Within 40 Feet From The Vehicle". I couldn't say what was wrong with it but I knew an English major had not composed that sentence. I figured that would not be a good time to take up smoking as I was well within 40 feet from the vehicle.

If you have ever graced the tubular interior of a properly functioning C-17 with your presence, then you would know that the sound is not unlike the sound of an industrial strength shop vac running at full bore inside an echo chamber. So, to ensure that passengers and crew exit the aircraft with the ability to hear a normal human voice, we were issued ear plugs. These are wonderful little devices. They are small bullet-shaped chunks of foam that can be rolled up like a playdough snake and inserted into the ear canal where they expand. This serves two major functions. The first is that they protect the hearing of the wearer by basically forming a sound barrier inside the ear. The second function they serve is to cause such pain that the wearer is forced to make a judgment call as to whether it is worse to loose his hearing altogether or be subjected to a lifetime of aural bruising. I like to think of myself as a practical man, but I'm not sure I did the right thing, judging from the lack of hearing in my left ear and the excruciating pain in my right.

Once at altitude, we were allowed to find a comfortable spot on the floor and try to catch a few hours of sleep. I happened upon a cozy portion of flight deck right next to the non-smoking vehicle and something that looked like a big box on wheels. The first thing I did was to reach for one of the greatest pieces of equipment ever devised...the self-inflating sleeping pad. I think the idea is that this pad, when released from the confines of whatever is containing it, will slowly inflate and offer a comfortable surface upon which to repose. So, I released my self-inflating sleeping pad to do it's magic and after a few moments of sleeping bag preparation and combat boot removal, I curled up on said self-inflating sleeping pad with no small measure of anticipation, only to find that it's self-inflating feature seems to work best when manually-inflated by mouth. Thus, I began to assist the self-inflation process until my cozy little pad resembled a thin, nylon hunk of three quarter inch plywood. Finally, with my manually-inflated-self-inflating pad ready to go, I climbed aboard in search of my friend, Sleep. Sadly, he was nowhere to be found! Besides the sensation of thumb screws jammed in my ears, my sleeping pad did not appear to be doing it's job. In order for the reader to understand why this is so, it is important to know that I weigh approximately 150 pounds when wrapped in a soaking wet yak fleece. Therefore, I have many pointy parts, including my hips and my shoulders (both principle sleeping equipment). Thus, in order for me to experience pressure pointless sleep, that upon which I seek softness must, by definition, be at least 13 inches thick. You, the reader, can approximate my experience by doing the following: First, get a large plastic garbage bag and lay it flat on a concrete surface (this will serve as your manually-inflated-self-inflating sleeping pad on the metal floor of your standard C-17). Next, find two large marbles. Laying on your side (as though feigning sleep) slip one marble under your shoulder and the other under your hip. Isn't that comfy? It doesn't end there.

As I mentioned, I had taken up some prime real estate between the non-smoking vehicle and a large-wheeled box. As I looked at this box I could not figure out what it was for. However, once I snuggled up to it for about 2 seconds, it became very clear that this thing's sole purpose was to smell like diesel fuel. And I must say it did it's job very well. The result was twofold. As the plane continued to climb, I flew even higher, reaching a place of euphoria rarely experienced by mortals. It also produced one of the most intense, brain wrenching headaches I've ever known. Fortunately for all, the smelly box car was not a smoker either as it too was within 40 feet from the other vehicle.

All that said, God bless our medics for providing Ambien(r)!

The final show stopper came as we approached the end of our first leg of travel. As I awoke from my drug induced, gasoline assisted, manually-inflated-self-inflating slumber, my eye happened upon one of my soldiers sleeping soundly in the arms of his teddy bear!