Monday, May 31, 2010

A Memorial Day Thought or Two

Lately, while looking around the net, or in the newspaper, or listening to the radio, I have heard a couple of constant things. One is the usual "relax and enjoy the holiday weekend" blather - I have nothing against relaxing, to be sure, but today is supposed to be about a little more than firing up the grill and opening a cold one. The other is a stream of exhortations to "thank a veteran" or "talk to them about their service" - which is nice, and I always am flattered when someone does this...but that is Veteran's Day material. Not today...

Today is about those that have given their lives in armed service of this country. THEY are the ones who need to be thought of - and the Gold Star Families, those left behind without Dad or Mom, Gramps or that Uncle or Aunt that everyone loved. Today is supposed to be about them.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Somberness on Monday, today frivolity

I'll be returning to the place where I heard one of the funniest bits of snark ever... The Elgin Wine Festival.

Last year a man spilled a glass of something red and all I heard was "I'd rather a church burned!" I almost fell over laughing...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Realizing part of a nightmare? Or a dream come true?

I used to have a recurring dream, especially back in grad school - I would be at a final exam, and I realized that I had never been in the class, much less studied... yikes.

Well, a little slice of that actually happened to me today. I am in the middle of earning my ARM (Associate in Risk Management)...and it was time for an exam in the middle course. I had dutifully studied the first three chapters of the book, and sat down at the Prometric Testing Center, in front of a terminal, to take the exam. It seemed as if there were too many questions for just the three chapters.

Indeed, it was an exam covering the first FOUR chapters of the text. Whoops... was I finally living out the nightmare? Well, I didn't panic. I thought I had a great handle on the first three of four chapters, so I finished the questions that covered the part I had studied, then jumped into..."Criminal Loss Exposures". Apparently God looks out for fools, little children and former Assistant State's Attorneys.

I guess those five years in the State's Attorney's Office paid off. I passed the test.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A whiff of the mob

I have been in two different situations where you could say a "mob" formed or a small scale disturbance broke out. Both were in Afghanistan.

Tonight I got the faintest whiff of a mob here in America. Oh, not any kind of riot or criminal action... rather, it was at a Walgreens where shaped rubber bands were on sale. This particular fad has reached my children's school, and they were not immune.

So as we wandered the store, a Manager came up and asked if he could help me find anything. I replied "yes, we are looking for....what do you call them?" I asked my kids. "The rubber bands?" asked the Manager. Ha, yes, the rubber bands - he simply said "upfront where you see the kids..."
A rainy, non-descript weeknight and there was a rapidly forming crowd around a display table with packages of shaped rubber bands...there were queries as to various types of shapes, exclamations as to the price... I steered my little group up to the register and as the clerk rang me up, I mentioned how I would like to be the person who designed these things and that they had quite a crowd there. The clerk deadpanned at me "its like this everyday, all day".


I thought things like this only happened at Christmas shopping time...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Planet given Article 15, demoted one rank.

Apparently Jupiter got in a bit of trouble. He appears to have been demoted one rank - you can tell because he lost a stripe.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Our Man in Al-Asad Sends...

Chief (ISC) Francis, our man in Al-Asad, Iraq sends the following:

An Iraqi Tale

The police commander sat behind his large desk, stained a dark mahogany and covered with the symbols of office – a small Iraqi flag, a large brass nameplate, a telephone, memo tray and a lifelike statue of a pouncing cougar. A small, thin man, he held himself with the air of a man with responsibilities, a man expected to lead his men and a man comfortable in his skin. He wore his beret with the elan of a French paratrooper, and I mean that in a smart, dapper way. In his determination to fight terrorism and crime, and in the way he held his cigarette, he reminded me of Inspector Vimes.

Speaking through a translator produces a fluid two-stage form of conversation, with each side speaking in paragraphs, not individual comments. I look at the police officer and speak normally, yet I pause at the end of every sentence to await the translator who repeats it in Arabic. The first couple sentences provide background and explain context and I only actually ask a question in my final phrase. You can't just come out and ask a question most times, as the linguistic conventions behind words and phrases are too different – it invariably leads to misunderstandings. Despite how this sounds, in practice it sometimes produces a rapid, almost lyrical conversation.

In his matter of fact tone of voice he explained that only three years ago his city was a wasteland, virtually abandoned by its citizens and completely abandoned by Iraqi security forces. He himself had fled to Baghdad, which was practically as bad. Foreign fighters and local zealots had, as he put it, driven out the residents "by denying them their tribal freedoms." The al-Qaida groups broke satellite dishes, beat women who ventured into the streets and randomly executed some to instil fear in the others.

The Sahwah (the "awakening"), and the extra 5-Brigade surge by us, brought an end to that terror. In a lot of ways it is a prime example of a "Tipping Point", as once the Iraqi Sunni's turned on al-Qaeda and the foreigners, the Islamic State of Iraq terror network in Anbar collapsed virtually overnight. Sure, it took longer in Ramadi and Fallujah, where cells had to be
dug out of neighborhoods, but they and their collaborators were killed or driven off pretty quickly. The policemen says many are still around though, especially the collaborators. And many of them are protected by powerful friends. Still, if they get out of hand, he says, "We will use the hammer on them, it is what people respect." Mayberry, this place is not.

A few days later I am in a room listening to a group of Iraqi's who have come to our Iraqi Security Force compound for help. They fill the room up with tobacco smoke as they talk, which wears on our clean American lungs, but it does have the advantage of thinning the cloud of flies overhead.

X is an old man from a city in northern Iraq. After 35-years in the trade he owns a welding company. He's been to Egypt and the Gulf States but likes home. It is where he grew up. He wears traditional clothing and sandals. It is cooler in the summer he says.

A family friend is an Iraqi police officer in the same town. Y is younger, but has the weathered face of a man who spends most of his life outside. He wears fashionable dark slacks, a clean white shirt and a black tie.

Z is a smiling young man, in his twenties. He wears an Adidas track suit and sandals. His feet are dusty. He seems bemused, like someone just told a bad joke or he's listening to something only he can hear.

All three smoke constantly. They have brown skin and thick black hair. They also carry ghosts. All three have that look in the eyes, a look of sadness, of pain and of loss. I suspect it will never go away.

Two of X's sons joined the police. In 2005-06, before the Sawah - when the Sunni tribes tired of both al-Qaida's brutality and its' hypocrisy – the Iraqi Police were called traitors or worse, for working for the apostate Shi'ia government and, perhaps still worse at that moment, siding with the infidel Americans. Both his sons were kidnapped by al-Qaida, horribly tortured and beheaded. He blames Americans for what happened, for working too closely with the police and staining them as "Crusader infidels." He says this matter of factly, without rancor or even much bitterness. We offer sympathies in the uncomfortable silence, what else can you say?

Y's father was an Imam, a kind man who walked to the mosque every day and taught his son how to live properly. In 2006 he spoke against violence and the insurgency. An al-Qaida killer (or "executor") shot him in the street and then sawed his head off with a knife.

In 2007, Z served in a very dangerous city alongside American advisors. He was forced to wear a mask every day to hide his identity. But still people knew. In a tribal society everyone knows everyone, you can tell what province, city, town, village, neighborhood, even street someone is from by the way they walk, their mannerisms and especially their voice. One day, at his police station, he received a box. He opened it. Inside was the bloody head of his youngest son, sent to him by al-Qaida. The only thing he remembers from that day is that the American Army Captain with him could not stop crying.

All three demand justice. Who can blame them?

The Iraqi police show me jihadi videos, of captured fellow policemen – dazed, hands bound and terrified – confessing to working for the apostate Shi'ia led government and then they are dragged outside and have their throats cut in a dusty trash strewn alley. The blood is bright in the sun.

They demand justice. Who can blame them?

They tell me many killers captured by the "Ameriki" were sent to Camp Bucca, the giant camp prison for Sunni's in southern Iraq, and spent a couple of years there before being set free in 2008-09. The Iraqi's say "Bucca was not really a prison, it was too soft" and that "the terrorists got off too easy." I turn to an American next to me and say "Tell that to the ACLU" and we laugh. In a way, it also says – from an Iraqi perspective – that we're still too soft. Given all the heart ache, spilled ink and ruined careers from Abu Ghraib, I imagine most Americans (and Europeans) would find the idea that the Bush Administration was "too soft" hard to digest.

Welcome to life without our kind of justice, i.e. the justice of enforceable legal codes. Makes me thankful to be an American.

They say the same murderers have been set free now that the Americans are leaving and are walking the streets, returning to their old ways. Corrupt judges let them go when they are captured again. X says he would kill the murderer of his sons, but cannot afford to buy himself out of jail. We sit in silence, the cigarette smoke pooling thick above our heads, a mirror to the storm clouds outside.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Donut of an Army Career?

Looking at my time in the Army, if my anticipated retirement date holds. 93% done, 7% remains....
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