Monday, November 10, 2008

Life at Leavenworth

8 Nov 08
It’s been a long hiatus since I was blogging in Iraq last year but I’ve finally had time and tales to share that you may find interesting.

This past summer we moved to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where I was selected to attend the Army’s Command and General Staff College. We are divided up into some 80 classes of 16 students. Of course, the preponderance of students are Army, however, each class has one Air Force officer, one Department of Navy officer (either Navy or Marine) and one international office.

My class has a Marine officer and our international officer is from Montenegro. Montenegro is a small country of some 650,000 people and only established in 2006 in Europe when Montenegro amicably left Serbia and the Former Yugoslavia. Until 2006 our officer served in the Serbian Army. During the U.S. war with Serbia over Kosovo Ilija was a student in the Serb equivalent of West Point.

We live in a very small house on post but the convenience of living near my school and literally next door to the kids’ school was too good to pass up. Everything on post is very close and parking is sometimes problematic so I ride my bike everywhere. In fact, I sometimes go 2-3 weeks without driving.

In addition to convenience, living on post comes with unique opportunities. We live in a horseshoe of three housing units. Each housing unit has four houses for a total of 12 houses in the horseshoe. In the 12 we have families from Brazil, Morocco, Mongolia, and Serbia. Additionally, several of the Americans are married to international women. Specifically, guys are married to women from Ethiopia, Japan, and Myanmar. With the exception of the Serb couple and the Myanmar woman, everyone has kids in elementary aged kids. It makes for a great experience for Susan and I but especially from the kids. In addition to the international kids in our neighborhood they also have friends from Albania and Egypt.

It has been a wonderful experience.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Doing the Deid

3 Aug 07
Mike and I said our goodbyes the afternoon and evening of the 1st. I was surprised at the number of Brits that caught us in the halls, in the dining facility or came by to wish us well. It was a nice send off.

Several of the guys there really looked after us and we wanted to do something nice for them. Ultimately, I decided to get them an American flag and picked some up while I was on my R&R last month. We folded them up and Scifi flew them on a mission over Basrah then we made a really nice certificate stating who the flag was for, when it was flown and where.

Of course we gave one to the Grp Capt because without him we wouldn't have been living in the relative safety of the RAF camp. He commented that in his 30 yrs he's worked with the U.S. a number of times but had never been given a flag and that he would cherish it.

We also gave one to the Senior Warrant Officer who provided us with just about any piece of equipment we asked for up to and including a movie screen so we could watch movies in our corridor. He also gave me a couple of British desert uniforms for Justin and Josh to take antelope hunting in Wyoming...they'll be great in the dry grass.

We gave one to the physical trainer, Ben, who included us in every sprots tournament and was so gracious to the Iraqis...he allowed them to use the gym and even built individual physical training plans for them.

The last flag we gave to our friend Lee who provided us with hours of comic relief and, more importantly, camaraderie in addition to setting up one hell of a good time on the range.

I told each that we appreciated how they had taken care of us and likewise we knew they would also take care of the flag. They were all very touched and assured us the flag was in good hands.

Lee and Ben are roommates in Basrah. Lee planned to make it a centerpiece in his office in his house and said that he and Ben had talked about it and agreed is was the nicest thing they had ever been given. He also asked us to put comments on the back of the certificate which we did gladly.

We folded the flags in a proper triangle and explained the significance of the stars, the stripes, and the fold. I asked them how they folded their flag and they weren't really certain. Lee had never owned a flag and explained that flying a flag on their homes, et al, wasn't really something the British did though everyone knows the significance of the patterns in the Union Jack.

After our goodbyes I got a couple of hours of sleep before Mike and I pulled an all nighter to make it to Al Udeid yesterday morning (2 Aug). Our reporting time was 0200. We got up at 0100 to make it and when we arrived they said it was delayed until 0430. We just slept a bit in the terminal tent there at Basrah. We finally left at 0630.

When we arrived at Al Udeid the British collected all our information and inprocessed us into the base...all we had to do is sit there and wait for them to return which saved us quite a bit of running around. I'll miss the British.

After inprocessing we went to the travel office to check on our flights thru Germany. They rearranged our flights but mine stayed relatively consistent. Mike's on the other hand was pushed back another day so he now stays two nights in Frankfurt for some reason. We tried to get the arrangements fixed and they agreed they could fix it in a matter of about 10 minutes but their office didn't make the initial arrangements so refused to fix it. We spent 3 hours in their office trying to fix our travel arrangements but getting redirected back to Baghdad to fix it at every turn. Welcome back to the USAF!

The rest of the day I spent just wandering around the camp trying not to sleep so I would sleep last night. We catch a late night flight tonight so I'll probably try to sleep the majority of the day.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dinner and Farewell

1 Aug 07
You may have heard by now that my departure has been moved forward. As opposed to having to extend 3 extra weeks to spend quality time with my replacement, they actually moved my replacement's report date forward by 3 weeks so I actually leave Basrah in the early morning hours tomorrow. Mike is also leaving with me.

Dan left last night and was to meet up with us in Qatar to catch a rotator back thru Europe. However, when he got to Al Udeid he checked with the Brits to see if they had anything moving to the UK (he’s stationed at RAF Mildenhall). True to form, the Brits added him to a flight this a.m. bound for London just 4 hrs after he arrived at Al Udeid…as easy as that. Mike and I will be required to wait 3 days at Al Udeid for the rotator to arrive.

Last night Grp Capt Burt invited four of us (me, Mike, Dan and Scifi) to a formal dinner. The night began with a social hour in the pub to begin the evening with “a pint.” Afterward we moved to the chow hall for dinner. The table was beautiful—for the first time in 5+ months we had table cloths, real plates and a full/formal setting of silverware. There was a nicely presented shrimp and tuna steak salad for starters followed by a personal Beef Wellington and ended with a Neapolitan mousse.

Throughout the meal white gloved waiters in black bow ties and pin striped vests circled the table with white and red wine as well as water. Following a brief intermission we rejoined the grp capt’s table and the waiters circled with wine, cheese, crackers, cookies and tea.

After tea the grp capt said a few words about everyone that had been invited to join him for dinner (some 30 guests). To us he passed his appreciation for integrating so well into their camp and for becoming a defacto part of their wing. (We were just thankful to have somewhere safe/sanitary to live.) Then he thanked us for everything we did on 19 Jul and gave us an update on each of the wounded men we helped.

Finally, he told a joke then opened the floor for anyone else to tell a joke. They circled the table several times as various career fields told jokes about one another or their service. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and airmen/officers of all ranks stood up to tell a joke.

One of the many things that impresses me about the British is the sense of familiarity they have with one another. Though they may not know someone they’ll sit down at the table and pick up a conversation and start to laugh and joke as if they’ve known each other for years. Additionally, they have a much smaller sense of personal space. Where American airmen will leave a “man space” between them at the table the British will sit side-by-side at the table no matter how many other chairs/tables are available. Working with them has been a pleasure and truly one of the highlights of my career.

We went into work this a.m. to do some last minute laundry and say farewell to Dhiia, Col Sami, Andnan, Kaiser, Abdul Aziz and many others. I will miss them. They all asked that we send their well wishes to our families and their hopes for our future. We all agreed that we would like to come back someday when Iraq is safe so we can truly experience their culture. Until then I hope for a safe/secure Iraq for them.

Lastly, Col Sami and Abdul Raheem asked us to remember Iraq and the people serving here. Particularly they asked us to tell American people about the true Iraqi people—peace loving people including those serving in the military and the government, people who want a safe Iraq. (Their words.) They want Americans to know that the insurgents and militia do not represent Iraq.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Generals and Desertion

30 Jul 07
Adnan was a lieutenant at the end of the first Gulf War. After the war the base was summoned to the south of Iraq to help put down the Shiia uprising. Adnan was left in charge of a small contingent of maintainers. Late one afternoon some 100 villagers from a nearby town attacked “Saddam’s forces” (Adnan’s 15 maintainers). Adnan ordered the men to fire their weapons over the villagers heads to push them back. He didn’t want to shoot the villagers at the risk of angering them and starting a full attack. Adnan fired the first round then the rest followed but every villager stopped and fired on Adnan’s position. “Why me?” he thought. He ducked behind a wall and saw a huge mural of Saddam above his head. Seconds later he fell back to another position.

The next day he was ordered to abandon the base by the base general. He got into his civilian clothes and walked home. Several weeks later he was summoned to the base general’s office. There were several other generals in the office and his general demanded to know why he had abandoned the base. Adnan chuckled and said, “because you told me to.” The general disputed the claim and said he had ordered Adnan to attack the forces.

Later the general came back to Adnan and said, “Of course I told you to abandon the base. There was nothing left to defend but if you tell them that, we’ll both go down.” Adnan took the blame for abandoning the base and as punishment was sent to the base in Kirkuk far from his family for several years.

We’ve experienced this same mentality of "blame it on the junior, less experienced guy" quite a bit. At times, the Iraqis even blame a fault or error on us Americans. We don’t speak the language so we can’t contest their stories and their bosses won’t follow up on any stories their told. Losing face is a huge deal for Arabs particularly the higher up they go so no one wants to investigate contentious matters for fear of bringing shame on one another. It’s a widespread Arab phenomenon that it is simply not acceptable to shame one another with the facts. We experience it all the time.

You may remember Major Ghassan who defected to Norway some time ago. I spoke with Adnan about it. Adnan said he called and talked with Ghassan’s wife about Ghassan’s whereabouts after he didn't return to duty. She asked to meet Adnan somewhere but Adnan told her to stay put; he would come to her. She explained to Adnan that Ghassan had fled the country and would not return. He did not take his wife or any of their three children but Adnan thinks he will send for them. Hopefully, he will. There is no penalty for desertion in the Iraqi military. As a matter of fact, service members can quit or be fired at any time though it is rare that one is fired and I can’t imagine how bad one must be to get fired.

Adnan and Ghassan are good friends so I’m surprised that Adnan didn’t know anything about Ghassan leaving beforehand. As a matter of fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Adnan knew (if not helped him) and didn’t say anything.